‘First family’ of The Union
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part story on the Ingram family and their connection to The Union newspaper. See next month’s 150th anniversary edition for the second part of the story.
Back in January, when The Union published the first in its monthly series of 150th anniversary editions, Jennie Ingram picked up her paper and saw a familiar face among the men captured in the front page photograph of The Union newspaper’s print shop at the turn of the century.
“I said, ‘There’s Peter’s grandpa!’” she said with a smile.
The second man from the left in the faded black-and-white photo, wearing a bow tie and an apron, was Thomas Ingram, who had joined the staff of Grass Valley’s Daily Morning Union in 1893 at the age of 24 after emigrating to the United States from Redruth, a community in Cornwall, England.
When he joined the staff of new publisher William F. Prisk, a Grass Valley native who became a leading innovator and California Newspaper Publisher Association Hall of Fame member, Thomas Ingram embarked on career in the newspaper industry that began somewhat of a family dynasty with The Union.
Thomas Ingram’s son, Robert T. Ingram, followed in his father’s footsteps and eventually rose through the ranks and became publisher of The Union. His own son, R. Peter Ingram, kept alive the family tradition, working various positions within the paper before serving as editor and later publisher of the paper.
The Ingram family’s leadership at The Union stretched 82 years, from 1893 to 1975, more than half the history of one of California’s oldest newspapers.
In fact, it was due to the steady leadership at The Union that Prisk was afforded the opportunity to retain ownership of the Grass Valley-based newspaper for 53 years while venturing off to broaden his broadsheet horizons in Southern California, where he and his younger brother, Charles, purchased the Pasadena Star and the Long Beach Press.
Prisk said as much in a column he penned on Oct. 28, 1934, celebrating The Union’s 70th anniversary, while alluding to a bright future ahead for the paper with a “younger generation” of The Union family taking over.
‘From the start’
“Associated with me almost from the start (in Grass Valley) were M. Henry Argall, now manager of the paper, the late Jo V. Snyder and the late Thomas Ingram. I have no hesitancy in saying that whatever success had come to The Union has largely been due to the efforts of these splendid newspapermen,” Prisk wrote.
“With the exception of Henry Argall, general manager; E.G. Kinyon, managing editor, and John W. O’Neill, editor of the Nevada City department, the younger generation is now largely responsible for the production of The Union,” he continued.
“Robert Ingram, city editor; Earl Caddy, assistant advertising manager; John Truscott, foreman, are proving their mettle, and I am sure will measure up to the traditions and accomplishments of those who have gone before and Nevada County will have continuing reason to be proud of The Union.”
The initial Ingram to join The Union team, Thomas, was not far removed from his first venture, leaving his home and parents behind in Cornwall.
“He came as a young man in the 1870s,” said Jennie Ingram, wife of the late R. Peter Ingram. “And then his parents came after.”
Thomas Ingram, the son of Thomas Ingram Sr. and Christiana Tonkin, was born Sept. 26, 1869, in St. Ives, Cornwall, England.
According to the “History of Placer and Nevada Counties,” published in 1924, Thomas Ingram and his father first came to Virginia City, Nev., before moving on to Grass Valley in September of 1882. Thomas Ingram Sr. served as a head pump man at the Empire Mine. His son soon found his own trade.
“At the age of sixteen he entered the publishing business as an apprentice to the printer’s trade,” the book’s editors wrote. “Later, in company with Rufus Shoenecker, he became publisher of the Daily Telegraph of Grass Valley; and since … has been identified with the Morning Union as managing editor.”
It was during Thomas Ingram’s tenure at the newspaper that Prisk relocated The Union in downtown Grass Valley to 151 Mill St., a building that was built around a new, large state-of-the-art press unit and that still bears “The Union” name atop its brick facade. It was also in the early days of Prisk’s ownership that Thomas Ingram and the newspaper staff joined as members of the Associated Press.
The innovations taking place at The Union building played a key role in the paper surviving early competition.
Also an astute businessman, Thomas Ingram served as president of the Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce and eventually as mayor of Grass Valley — a post his great-granddaughter Patti Ingram Spencer, the daughter of R. Peter and Jennie Ingram, would hold 100 years after her great-grandpa held the gavel.
Thomas Ingram apparently found public service pleasing as he continued on to become a California state senator, serving at the Capitol as what was then the 3rd District senator after being elected in 1916.
“For eleven continuous years Senator Ingram was a member of the Grass Valley Board of Education, the greater part of that time serving as president of the board; and he has filled the office of city trustee and mayor of Grass Valley,” editors wrote. “Since his election as Senator from the third district, his activities in the Senate have been engaged with forestry work and road-building. He has filled the position to the entire satisfaction of his constituents, who have repeatedly returned him to office. Active also in business affairs in Grass Valley, the Senator is president of the First National Bank of that city, which institution he organized in the summer of 1923.”
“It would be hard to find a man more thoroughly in accord with the preservation and upbuilding of California’s best interests and resources,” the editors continued, “or one who sees more clearly the path to a great and glorious future for Superior California.”
Thomas Ingram, who died in 1928, and Mary E. Thomas, who were wed in 1898, had five children. The family would gather each Sunday after church in the house parlor, where Thomas would play the violin and the family would sing along, Jennie Ingram said. Thomas also was an early fan of the automobile, buying one of the first Fords in production, although Jennie said the senator always left the driving up to his son, Merris.
Merris Ingram and two of his brothers followed in their father’s ink-and-paper ways. Merris worked at The Union’s commercial print shop for many years until eventually taking a similar position with Nevada County.
Gordon Ingram served as a printer for 39 years at the California Printing Office in Sacramento, having started in the business at the age of 19. He also would make repairs to machinery at The Union’s office every few months, Jennie Ingram said.
“I think they got into that from their father,” she said. “He probably had them working and helping there. He had Merris driving, so you know, he’d take them to the office with them and taught them the business.”
But it was Robert T. Ingram who followed his father into the newspaper business.
The next generation
“If you hear me say ‘Grum,’ that’s what I called my grandfather,” Patti Ingram Spencer said during an afternoon chat in her mother’s kitchen, remembering the days when life in the Ingram family revolved around news cycles and press deadlines.
“People really loved R.T., or Grum, which the family called him,” Jennie Ingram said. “They called him ‘Bob’ … if you were a friend you called him ‘Bob.’”
But family members called Robert T. Ingram “Grum.”
“Peter said one time, ‘that’s because he was grumpy,’” Jennie said. “But then I said, ‘well maybe it was because you pronounce ‘Ingram’ In-grum.”
“He was an interesting man. I guess really a bit short … ”
“Not in stature,” Patti Ingram Spencer added, “but the way he talked.”
“… but he mellowed over the years. And of course when she was born,” Jennie said, pointing to Patti across the table, “that was it. That made his life perfect. He was crazy about Patti.”
Before joining the staff of The Union, Robert Ingram studied at the University of California, Berkeley. Once fully on board with the paper, he learned much of the business firsthand on the job.
“His degree was in political science. And that may have been because his father was a senator,” Jennie Ingram said.
It was while at Berkeley that Robert Ingram met Vera Wallstrum, whom he married in June of 1925. They had two sons, Robert Peter — R. Peter, who later became editor and publisher at The Union — and Russell “Pat” Ingram, who served as a city engineer in Grass Valley and later owned an engineering business.
Vera Ingram was an English teacher at Grass Valley High School and tennis coach.
“So the story is that if anybody asked my dad or my uncle where they lived, they’d say Memorial Park,” Patti said with a laugh.
And so Robert Ingram, who once rose through the ranks of the newsroom, was the man The Union turned to lead it when its longtime principal owner and publisher William F. Prisk finally decided to sell his beloved hometown newspaper.
“William F. Prisk, California publisher, has sold his stock in the Grass Valley Union to employees of the newspaper he has headed since 1891, it was announced today,” the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported on April 19, 1946. “City editor Robert T. Ingram was named president in the reorganization and Earl Caddy, secretary. Henry Argall continues as manager.
“Ingram and Caddy acquired Prisk’s interest. Prisk, president of the Union Building Co. here, will devote his time to Southern California interests, including the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Pasadena Star-News. He is president of these companies of which the Prisk brothers own controlling interests. The Grass Valley Union is one of California’s pioneer newspapers.”
To contact Editor Brian Hamilton, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4249.
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