Banner courtesy Del Mar Historical Society
Peter Kaye | Ocean View Avenue
Dateline: Oct. 10, 2001. This piece, reprinted with the permission of Peter Kaye, appeared in the North County Times.
Q: What grows on a Quackenbush? A: Newspapers.
In a career spanning 50 years, Van Quackenbush founded a dozen newspapers in the Midwest and California. His first venture locally was the Del Mar Surfcomber established in 1958.
By any standard, the Surfcomber was a quality newspaper. Utilizing the newest technology, it was a sharp, clear, innovative weekly. Each cover was a graphic; it could be a startling aerial photo of Del Mar or an intricate illustration of the business district with identifiable sketches of 50 citizens. Articles were informative, timely and well-written and the Surfcomber took editorial positions.
“We strongly supported the incorporation of Del Mar,” says Quackenbush, “because we thought it would be better for the paper.”
But the Surfcomber was fair. The issue with the pro-incorporation editorial contained a lengthy story citing opponents’ claims that incorporation would be bad for the community.
Augmenting news coverage were a weekly column by Lee Shippey, ‘a retired Los Angeles Times columnist, and Pat’s Patter, a chronicle of the social scene by Pat Johnson Jacoby.
Quackenbush was a prototypical small town publisher. His paper covered everything that moved and he joined every organization around. “Except the Rotary Club,” he says. “Don Lapham (publisher of the rival San Dieguito Citizen) blackballed me.” His wife, Marjorie, ran the business office and sold ads.
“I didn’t have a car,” she says, “so I went door to door pulling my daughters in a little, yellow wagon.”
Her daughter, Ann, waited in the wagon at the train station while Marje scored a scoop interviewing Richard Burton who was in Del Mar filming “Bramble Bush.” It was the only story she ever wrote.
The Quackenbushes sold the Surfcomber to Pat and Johnny Johnson in 1960. They ran it well until Johnny’s untimely death in 1963. It was purchased by an Encinitas publisher, resold and renamed. Eventually it sank into oblivion.
For a few golden years, the Surfcomber was everything its successors are not -- a newspaper published by professionals who lived in the community and cared about it.
“There’s satisfaction in starting a small town paper,” says Quackenbush. “You’re in on the ground floor and can help a town grow and become better.”
After Del Mar, Quackenbush operated papers in California, Iowa and Illinois. He taught journalism at Palomar College, worked for dailies in Reno and San Diego and founded the Poway Chieftain and Valley Center Road Runner.
“Van had itchy feet,” says Marje.
In 1990, he sold the Road Runner and retired to a hilltop home with a view across Valley Center to Palomar Mountain. He writes a column for the Road Runner and stays in touch with friends via the internet.
At 80, he’s scratched his itch.