Fellow Rotarians honored outgoing Topeka Capital-Journal publisher Zach Ahrens Thursday, saying he’s been a powerful and uplifting influence here.
“Thank you, Zach, for the many gifts you brought our city, and for reminding us — if only for a brief period of time — of the important role our local paper can have in building a better community,” said Grant Glenn, past president of the Downtown Topeka Rotary Club.
The club honored Ahrens as a Paul Harris Fellow during a luncheon meeting attended by about 65 people at the Capitol Plaza Hotel.
The honor acknowledges those who contribute, or who have contributions made in their name, of $1,000 to the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International. Rotarians may designate a Paul Harris Fellow — as they did in Ahrens’ case — to recognize someone whose life demonstrates a shared purpose with the objectives of Rotary and practices its motto, “Service Above Self.”
A surprised Ahrens said he hadn’t realized the full extent of what was going to happen, adding that he felt humbled to receive the award.
Ahrens, 37, has been publisher of The Capital-Journal since November 2015. He announced last week he was taking a job with WEHCO Media in Jefferson City, Mo., as general manager of Central Missouri Newspapers Inc.
Glenn recalled that before Ahrens came here, some Rotarians had sought to see that the next publisher of The Capital-Journal became a Rotarian. Club members consequently were delighted, after Ahrens was hired, to learn he was already a Rotarian, he said.
Glenn said that under Ahrens’ leadership, The Capital-Journal has focused on government transparency and speaking in favor of the importance of the protection of our freedoms.
The newspaper has also actively covered local institutions, organizations and people who make a difference, Glenn said.
“We usually have been able to read a story that makes us feel good about our community each day,” he said.
When people from community organizations see articles about their work published in the newspaper, that makes the staff, volunteers and contributors feel important about the mission of the organization, Glenn said.
“The boost that these stories gives to these organizations is immeasurable,” he said. “That community focus comes from the top. The man at the top opened his door to the community, democratized the editorial board and encouraged his editors to join community organizations.”
Likewise, Glenn said, Ahrens has been active here with organizations that make a difference in the lives of the vulnerable and less fortunate.
“His impact on Topeka as publisher of the Capital-Journal has been enormous,” Glenn said.
Ahrens said he’s been excited over the past couple years to focus on the good things that are happening in this community.
He encouraged those attending Thursday’s meeting to continue to support local journalism “and the people who are fighting for the things they believe in.”
Those journalists are not doing it for the money but “because they care,” he said.
Reporter Tim Hrenchir can be reached at (785) 295-1184 or @timhrenchir on Twitter.