Jon K. Rust

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian and co-president of Rust Communications.

Chuck Drury's comments about Gary Rust

Drury Hotels president and CEO Chuck Drury, left, congratulates Rust Communications Chairman of the Board Gary Rust Sr., at the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce dinner Thursday at the Drury Conference Center.

We are pleased tonight to join with the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce and all of you to recognize the very first recipient of the Drury Family Spirit of Entrepreneurship Award.

This award builds upon the powerful example of entrepreneurship expressed by three hometown sons of Cape Girardeau, the founders of Drury Hotels: my father, Charles, and his brothers, Bob and Jim.

By financing the award and its Hall of Fame, we pay tribute to the region's hometown heroes who have built their foundations for success as members of this community and generated opportunities for others to contribute and thrive.

There are four criteria for this award: The recipient must be from the Cape Girardeau area, studied here, or achieved entrepreneurial success in the region. He or she must be recognized as an entrepreneur by others -- having started at least one venture that is very successful regionally, if not nationally or internationally. The individual must be at mid-career or older, and the recognition may be awarded posthumously. Finally, the recipient must be of high character, well-respected and worthy of the award.

Tonight, it is my honor to announce the first recipient of the Drury Family Spirit of Entrepreneurship Award. He is a gentleman whose life has paralleled and intersected with my father and uncles. They competed against each other in baseball as youths and at one point, also competed in business. We have enjoyed a front-row seat on his accomplishments and he has had a front-row seat on ours.

This hard-working and generous individual has fervently cheered on the success of others in notable ways: investing heavily in this community; encouraging and helping other entrepreneurs; building a successful and influential business; and

developing a team of exceptional employees.

He is a man of passion, humor, honor and integrity, whose name we are proud to have associated with this award: Gary Rust, founder and chairman of Rust Communications.

Gary began his career in his family's local furniture business after graduating from Washington University. Then in 1967, he took the risk of leaving the family business to embark upon a new enterprise. Short on money but long on ambition, he and his wife, Wendy, bought the Weekly Bulletin newspaper in Cape Girardeau County. It had fewer than 1,500 subscribers and its competition was the local daily.

But Gary had a unique understanding of local retail marketing needs. He also had imagination. His first visionary step was converting the paid weekly newspaper to free distribution, and delivering it to every home in the city.

He was a fierce competitor -- and that was key. His fledgling enterprises competed against mighty conglomerates that did everything they could to defeat him. But Gary had a bigger dream, and he had the confidence to pursue it -- along with a group of talented employees that eventually included his children.

His one small newspaper turned into three, then four. The international owners of the Southeast Missourian tried their best to lure him into joining them as publisher. When he declined, they sold him that flagship newspaper in 1986.

Rust Communications grew over the next three decades to 50 newspapers in eight states with readership of more than a million people each week. Gary Rust's mission to serve was his driving force -- and 1,500 employees joined in achieving his goals.

This inspiring entrepreneur took extraordinary business risks, time and again, leveraging all that he owned to pursue growth and make a greater impact. And while there were more than a few setbacks along the way, the combined strength of faith, family and a core group of employees led to incredible and lasting success.

Under his leadership, the Rust newspapers became known for community commitment and high quality journalism in winning thousands of awards.

The Southeast Missourian won the Suburban Newspapers of America Newspaper of the Year Award and placed in the top four nationally as Local Media Association Newspaper of the Year three times in the past 13 years. Gary Rust was inducted into the Missouri Hall of Fame and the Missouri Press Hall of Fame, among many other awards and honors.

Today, Cape Girardeau-based Rust Communications owns and operates 44 newspapers and more than 100 web sites and specialty publications in nine states. It also owns a minority position in 17 radio stations in Missouri and Illinois.

The family enterprise includes a digital agency specializing in web site development, social media marketing and other digital services.

Gary Rust and the company he founded have come a long way -- from an audience of fewer than 1,500 people in 1967 to engaging now with more than 10 million people each year across all platforms. What an impact!

One of Gary Rust's peers once advised, "Never fall in love with a community. Keep buying and selling, and move into bigger cities. This way you maximize the opportunity."

Gary Rust did the opposite. He fell in love with his towns and with his employees. He reinvested in them and the business grew. His reward has been a wife, family and group of friends he cherishes beyond all measure.

Gary Rust exemplifies the kind of entrepreneur this award is meant to honor. It is a great privilege to recognize this humble, hard-working leader as the inaugural recipient of this award. We thank you, Gary, for taking risks to create great job opportunities for others by reinvesting profits in growth -- and by working hands-on for so many years to make this community a better place to live.

Please help me welcome Gary Rust to the podium. (See Gary Rust's comments nearby.)

Chuck Drury is president and CEO of Drury Hotels.