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Long-term Daily Leader publisher announces retirement

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Rick Hohlt, who for 26 years has served as publisher of the Ruston Daily Leader, has announced his retirement effective April 28.

Hohlt has a total 38 years of service at the newspaper, having worked as assistant advertising manager, advertising manager and general manager before being named publisher in 1991.

The Shreveport native joined the Ruston Daily Leader after graduating from Louisiana Tech University.

“I am grateful for the tremendous community support over the last four decades. We have been successful because of that support. To all of our subscribers, the business community and legislators, our friends, my staff over the years and to my wife, Jamie, and my kids Adam and Leslie, thank you for your love and support. It’s been a fantastic journey,” Hohlt said.

Hohlt also serves as the Ruston Daily Leader’s editor, as well as vice president of Ruston Newspapers, Inc., overseeing operations in Ruston and for the Gazette in Farmerville.

“Rick has worked tirelessly, honorably and with a great deal of longevity and energy for Ruston, Farmerville, Lincoln and Union Parishes, and North Louisiana — championing uncountable causes, cases, people and possibilities in a relentless quest to make a better community experience for everyone,” said Marc A. Richard, vice-president of Ruston Newspapers, Inc. “His work as publisher has proven solid for the Daily Leader and its staff, as well as the community. We must do our best to build on the foundation Rick leaves in legacy. We wish him all the best in his days ahead.”

Richard said the Daily Leader longtime General Manager Cody Richard will serve as the newspaper’s top management official while assisting in a search for the Daily Leader’s next publisher, currently underway.

Under Hohlt’s leadership, the Daily Leader has won Louisiana Newspaper of the Year honors five times and General Excellence in Newspaper Publishing honors 13 of the last 15 years.

In 2006, Hohlt and the staff were honored by the National Newspaper Association as the “Best Little Newspaper in America.”
In 2014, the paper won the Ruston-Lincoln Chamber of Commerce “Business of the Year” award.

“Rick is a true Chamber supporter.  He has served on the board and he recognizes the importance of community,” Chamber President Judy Copeland said. “As a newsperson, he hears things other leaders in the community may not.  Instead of just using it for his benefit, he reaches out to those who need to know and helps to resolve issues in order to make our community better.”

During his tenure as publisher, Hohlt and the newspaper pushed a number of economic development initiatives including initiating and supporting a successful restaurant referendum that allows eateries to sell alcohol.

Development officials have said passage of the referendum spurred one of the biggest economic growth spurts in Ruston’s history.

“I hope that everyone believes the Ruston Daily Leader has helped build a more prosperous Ruston and Lincoln Parish since the first newspapers were published in 1894,” Hohlt said. “A lot of good people have come and gone over the years, but they all shared a common belief: That we work each day to build a great community. We have been blessed in our efforts. Any viable community must have a viable community newspaper to partner success.”

Former Lincoln Parish Police Jury President Mickey Mays praised Hohlt’s pro-business stance saying Hohlt always tried to cast Lincoln Parish in a positive light.

Mays said Hohlt was also instrumental in urging active partnerships among the city of Ruston, the parish and Louisiana Tech University.

In 2001, the newspaper took an active role in finding solutions to save the Sparta Aquifer. The aquifer is the primary domestic water source for 16 North Louisiana parishes, including Lincoln.

Water was being pumped out of the aquifer faster than it was being replenished naturally.
“We have literally published hundreds of stories, columns and editorials since 1991 to encourage conservation, education and surface water solutions,” Hohlt said. “I believe that as a community newspaper we were able to change the culture and hold officials accountable in better management practices of our primary water supply.”

Hohlt’s involvement led to an appointment on the Sparta Groundwater Commission by Gov. Kathleen Blanco and again by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

“We worked closely with elected officials and advocates to push for reform and a plan to get the Sparta to sustainable levels. That sustainable goal was achieved in 2014 after decades of major overuse. There were many advocates throughout north Louisiana and south Arkansas working at the local level to make this possible,” he said.

As a result of his work to reclaim the aquifer, Hohlt received commendations from the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources and from the state House of Representatives.
Lincoln Parish Sheriff Mike Stone said Hohlt has been more than a newspaperman.

“He was, and is, a concerned and involved leader in the community,” Stone said. “I consider him a friend and an important player in helping make Lincoln Parish a progressive and forward-looking community.”

Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker praised the long-time newspaperman for his personal, as well as professional involvement in community causes.

“I hope he will continue to be involved in activities in our community even in his retirement,” Walker said.

Louisiana Tech University President Les Guice said Hohlt has always had the community’s best interest at heart.

“The importance and impact of Rick’s leadership of the Ruston Daily Leader and his coverage of Louisiana Tech over the years cannot be overstated,” Guice said. “He has been a fervent advocate for our university and the Ruston community, and has always had the public’s best interest as his highest priority.  Rick’s journalistic integrity and commitment to highlighting our community have been a constant in our region.”

Hohlt was a 25-year member of Rotary International. He was a Paul Harris Fellow in the organization and was honored as Rotarian of the Year in 2006.

Hohlt has also served on the board of directors of the Northeast Louisiana Literacy Consortium, the Lake D’Arbonne Watershed Board of Commissioners and the Katrina Foundation for Recovery.

“After Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, I felt that we needed to take a more active role in helping our southern neighbors, as did many people in Ruston. A local resident, Kathy Reeg, was heartbroken with the devastation. Together, we decided to form a charity to raise money to send to organizations working directly with the recovery efforts in south Louisiana. The Katrina Foundation was born,” Hohlt said. 

“The good people of Lincoln Parish were generous with their support. Working through public service announcements and stories published in the newspaper, and selling wristbands for $5 each, we were able to raise $130,000 for the recovery effort.” 

In 2008, Hohlt was named the Northeast Louisiana Family Literacy Consortium’s Family Literacy Champion for his and the newspaper’s successful effort to have $52 million in federal funds restored for literacy programs nationwide.

The programs, including one in Lincoln Parish, gave parents who had not finished high school the opportunity to earn their Graduate Equivalency Diploma and learn parenting skills, while, at the same time, providing early childhood development programs for their children.

But funding for the program was scheduled for elimination at the federal level. The newspaper wrote stories and editorials on the situation. Hohlt organized many tours of the local facility for the region’s state and federal lawmakers.

“Our goal, as a community newspaper, was to lobby and educate legislators and the public on the upcoming elimination of a worthwhile literacy program, as well as functioning as a major advocate,” Hohlt said then.

Because of Hohlt and the Daily Leader’s intervention, the funding was spared.

“We would not be here today without that man, Rick Hohlt,” Kaye Sharbono, the former consortium’s director, said at time. “We call him our advocate, our savior and our champion.”

Hohlt has also been an advocate and fundraiser for Patriot Paws Service Dogs and Habitat for Humanity and advocate for the Domestic Abuse Resistance Team.

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