Leader has long tradition of
serving South Belt
In the 1980s when Texas Super Foods was building a grocery store on Scarsdale Boulevard, the company commissioned demographic studies of the community.
The study found that the area had one particularly unique attribute: an unprecedented 85 percent of the residents in the South Belt area read the local newspaper, the South Belt Leader.
No other community in the nation had such high readership of a single newspaper.
Though Texas Super Foods is no longer, the Leader (which changed its name to the South Belt-Ellington Leader in 1987) has continued to be a vital part of the community.
The paper started in 1976 by two housewives, Marie Flickinger and Bobby Griffin, who had an uncanny sense of what people wanted to read.
The women had become close friends when they lived in the Genoa subdivision. Soon they moved across the freeway to the burgeoning community they would later name the South Belt area. They were especially interested in Little League baseball, since their sons, Fred Flickinger and David Griffin, played ball together.
So it was that their newspaper, which was first named South Belt Press, brought hundreds of parents and players news of their games, along with standings and articles on the boards of the local sports association. People were hungry for this news they could get nowhere else.
For the past 33 years, the paper has continued to deliver news that could not be obtained anywhere else. The PTA stories. Civic associations. Articles on road construction. Features on South Belt area residents. It was news of the community.
And when there were problems or controversies or tragedies, the Leader was at the forefront of informing the community of these, too.
One of the area's first controversies was when Sagemont Park residents stormed the Pasadena school board meetings demanding that their children continue at Stuchbery Elementary instead of being transferred to Meador, which was less crowded. (The parents lost.)
When hundreds of area houses flooded in 1979, it was the Leader that stepped forward and worked with county officials to alleviate the problems that cause flooding.
Marie spent thousands of hours working with residents, meeting with county officials and spearheading meetings. She worked probably 12 hours a day, solely on addressing the flooding issues.
Her efforts resulted in a $30 million flood control project in the South Belt area.
For one of her flooding articles that then editor Cheryl Bolen co-wrote, Marie won the Leader's first journalism award. It placed second in the Texas Community Newspaper Association contest in 1984.
Bolen also won a second in the same contest for a series of articles she wrote on pregnancies in the Pasadena schools, a series suggested by Marie, who has a remarkable nose for news.
Bolen had worked for a rival paper, and Marie had commended her on her writing. (Bolen holds a journalism degree.) In 1979 Marie persuaded Bolen to come to the Leader, which had just moved to an office in the strip center at Hughes and Beamer, where The Gardens is now located. For that first office, Marie's and Bobby's husbands, David and Kenneth,did the interior partitions. For the first three years, Marie's and Bobby's homes had housed the newspaper offices.
Another minor change Marie made was to revamp the widely read gossip column (now named Over the Back Fence). Prior to that it had been named Who's Who and was formatted as one very long paragraph.
In 1984 the Leader also began its annual Christmas food and toy drive for the needy, which has continued for the past 24 years. It all began when a Scarsdale man, who asked to remain anonymous, dropped off a turkey dinner at the Leader offices with instructions to "find someone needy."
The Leader is so much a part of the community that residents call the Leader office when they want information on trash pickup or on who their congressman is.
They've even been known to call the Leader office when their toilet gets stopped up, their house is on fire or someone is having a heart attack.
The 1980's were profitable years for the community and for the Leader, which sometimes ran 30 pages weekly.
By the late 1980s, though, growth of the community and of the paper stopped. The paper even declined. This can be attributed to the Brio Superfund site, located at the corner of Beamer and Dixie Farm Road.
When news of the site first came to light, Bolen was news editor and was one of the skeptics who thought everything was fine. Shortly after that, she left the paper not to return until 1991.
Marie got involved, some would say obsessed. She dug deeper and learned many disturbing things, including a high number of birth defects in children living in the Southbend subdivision adjacent to the site.
At her own expense, she attended conferences all over the country to learn about toxins.
Though she had no formal education, she could intelligently discuss toxic waste with any Ph.D.. She became totally obsessed over Brio, working on it 18 and more hours a day, seven days a week.
As she had done during the community's flood crisis a decade earlier, she organized and listened to community groups.
All of her findings were printed in the newspaper. This was a costly move because the community was so polarized over the toxic waste site. Many people firmly believed there were no problems. Others blamed the Leader's publicizing of the situation for the total lack of growth in the community. Realtors and others dropped their ads. The paper began to struggle financially.
Marie was vindicated when Weber Elementary, a beautiful school that was only 13 years old, was demolished along with the 677-home Southbend subdivision.
Now measures have been taken to stop the toxic air emissions, and new homes are being built once again.
Because of Marie and the South Belt-Ellington Leader, the air in the community is safe.
Many things about the paper have changed over the years. In 1998 Bobby sold her interest to Marie and Marie's son Davy, who had worked in the company's print shop since he was 16.
Bobby works part time for the paper now, and Davy is the president of the company.
The paper became totally computerized (no more paste up) in 1999, with Davy designing and installing the computer system.
Though many things have changed, one thing has not. The Leader continues to bring the community area news that can be obtained nowhere else.