Garrick Feldman (1948–2021)

Garrick Feldman’s Jewish parents escaped the Holocaust during World War II while other family members perished, and as a boy he fled Hungary in 1956 with his parents and brother ahead of the invading Soviet army. They would make their way to the United States, where Garrick would take up journalism and found, publish, and edit one of Arkansas’s most honored newspapers, the Arkansas Leader (or the Leader), in Jacksonville (Pulaski County). The harrowing history of his forebears during the rise of fascism and antisemitism in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s consumed Feldman all his life and made him and his newspaper fervent champions of democracy and the country’s long quest to deliver the equality and individual freedoms promised in the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights.

Garrick Feldman was born on August 30, 1948, in Nyíregyháza, Hungary, a city in the Great Hungarian Plain east of Budapest. His mother, Ilona Klein, and grandmother had been put on a transport train to take them to Auschwitz, where his grandmother was immediately put in the gas chamber. His mother, then a teenager, survived slave labor at Auschwitz and eventually escaped. Feldman’s father, Ferenc Feldman, was put in a slave-labor battalion while the rest of his family went to Auschwitz and died in its gas chambers. At the war’s end, American GIs, including Black soldiers, rescued Ferenc and other slave laborers, weeping at what they saw.

Ferenc and Ilona were married in 1947 in Hungary, and Garrick was born a year later. After a democratic uprising in communist-controlled Hungary in 1956 took control of the government and promised democratic elections, the Soviet Union sent its army to crush the democracy movement. Garrick, his parents, and his younger brother, Steven, fled on foot through the wilderness. The Feldmans and another family paid a farmer to smuggle them across the border at night through heavy snow into Austria. He remembered holding his mother’s hand while the two fathers carried their sedated infants in backpacks, and they took refuge in an abandoned farmhouse—a manger, Garrick would say—to avoid border guards and flares. They spent five years in refugee camps and eventually made their way to America, where Feldman’s parents lived long lives and his brother settled on a career at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, helping scholars get their work published.

The family moved to Chicago, Illinois, where Garrick developed a fascination with baseball and newspapers, particularly British publications like the progressive journals The Spectator and The New Statesman. He eventually decided to change his name from Gary to Garrick, which he thought sounded more literary. He attended Fasman Yeshiva high school, famous for educating future rabbis, at Skokie, Illinois, on Chicago’s northern border, and he sold soda and popcorn at Chicago Cubs and White Sox games. He got a bachelor’s degree in history from Loyola University and worked part time for a string of suburban weekly papers that included a cultural publication called Skyline, for which he conducted interviews with political, music, and art figures. Many years later, his regular columns in the Leader were often expositions on jazz and blues.

It was while working for the community newspapers that he met and married Eileen Mulcahy, a Chicagoan who would join him in all of his newspaper enterprises. They would have three children and looked for a quieter place than Chicago to rear the children. They drove to Arkansas and briefly rented a cabin on Petit Jean Mountain. He landed a job in 1976 as editorial assistant to Paul Greenberg, the editorial-page editor of the Pine Bluff Commercial, before taking a job at the Jacksonville Daily News and trying to buy the paper, which the owner thought was absurd.

In 1980, he was in Van Buren (Crawford County) and saw a small plaque on the side of the building where the community’s weekly newspaper, the Press Argus, was printed. The plaque, put up by the Daughters of the American Revolution, said that Cyrus Adler, a prominent Jewish leader and historian, was born there.

“When I saw that plaque, it simply astonished me,” Feldman recalled. “I thought, ‘how nice for them to have done this,’ and it made me realize I had come to a wonderful place.” He also was impressed by the paper’s history, including the perseverance of its owner during the Civil War, when Union forces destroyed his press and threw the type into the Arkansas River. The editor had gotten more equipment and printed the paper on wallpaper that he posted on the outside of the building so that people could keep up with the news. Feldman bought the Press Argus in 1980, describing it as “old and tired [it was founded in 1859] and losing the battle against a shopper.”

He built the small weekly into a newsy and flourishing newspaper while his wife worked at Fort Chaffee, the nearby army training post. In 1986, he sold the Press Argus and started a twice-a-week newspaper called the North Pulaski Leader at Jacksonville. Originally, he published three editions, one for Jacksonville and others for nearby communities in White and Lonoke counties. Soon they were collapsed into one edition, which became the Arkansas Leader.

While other newspapers, in Arkansas and nationally, were shrinking and folding, the Leader flourished. It became a consummate community newspaper—attractive, modern, and filled with community news and features, including sports, business, and the arts. It regularly swept awards in annual newspaper competitions, including those of the Arkansas Press Association. It nearly always won the general-excellence award in a category for large weeklies. His wife and his son Jonathan joined him in writing, editing, and the business side of the operations. The Arkansas Society of Professional Journalists started an annual award in 2022 called the Garrick Feldman Award for excellence in focused coverage of a community. His newspaper led the fight to sever Jacksonville from the Pulaski County Special School District and form an independent school district, and his editorials criticizing Governor Mike Huckabee’s frequent commutations of rapists and murderers attracted wide attention, especially during Huckabee’s two runs for the presidency of the United States.

Feldman died on December 5, 2021, of complications from cancer. He is buried in the Oakland Jewish Fraternal Historic Cemetery in Little Rock (Pulaski County).

For additional information:
Benton, Ray. “Child Refugee Built Legacy in Arkansas.” Arkansas Leader, December 8, 2021.

Massey, Kyle. “Garrick Feldman, Resilient Jacksonville Publisher, Dies at 73.” Arkansas Business, December 7, 2021.

———. “The Leader Honors Founder, Family Man, Journalist.” Arkansas Leader, December 8, 2021, p. 1.

———. “Paper in Van Buren Marks Milestone, Starts 125th Year.” Arkansas Gazette, July 3, 1983, pp. 1B, 2B.

Ernest Dumas
Little Rock, Arkansas


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