Al McCombs, newspaper legend of the Chino Valley, dies at 91

Apr 1, 2021


Allen P. McCombs, publisher emeritus of Champion Newspapers who shaped the Chino Valley community for 64 years, died Friday, March 12, 2021, at Inland Christian Home in Ontario, California, from complications of pneumonia.

At 91, McCombs was still driving to work to oversee the opinion page and to pen his long-running “Rolltop Roundup” column for the newspaper he loved and owned from 1956 to 2017.

His final column was published last month.

He became publisher emeritus in 2006, naming Bruce Wood as publisher, who retired to Texas in 2017.

McCombs sold the Champion in 2017 to Will Fleet and Ralph Alldredge of Golden State Newspapers.


McCombs was well known for “prodding” government officials to adhere to open meetings laws under the Brown Act and defending the freedom of press as a safeguard of liberty.

For his efforts, he was awarded the first Freedom of Information Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005 from the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA), of which he served as president in 1982.

He was a founding member of the California First Amendment Coalition and was president of the California Press Association (Cal Press), for which he received the newspaper executive of the year award in 1997 and its Philip N. McCombs Achievement Award in 2014.

The award was created in memory of McCombs’ father, who was Cal Press secretary-treasurer for three decades and owner of Allen’s Press Clipping Bureau that provided newspaper clippings to clients.

“Before the internet, the bureau served as a browser for information,” McCombs previously said.

He was a sustaining supporter of Cal Press and funded an annual internship grant named for his father.

Fleet described McCombs as a strong and highly respected voice among California publishers for freedom of information and the First Amendment.

“Al McCombs was not only a tremendously successful newspaperman; he was a true community leader who made enormous contributions to help make our town a better place,” Fleet said. “Although some shout from the sidelines, Al chose to put himself directly in the game, and the Chino Valley is much better for it.”


Another passion of McCombs was sharing his love of history with the community.

He made countless presentations to clubs and organizations and gave teachers an orientation on the history of Chino Valley at the beginning of each school year for many years.

His Rolltop Roundup columns were famous for their accounts of the history of Chino Valley, and in earlier years, his vacation experiences in each of the 50 states, which he either visited or passed through, and various countries around the world.

He was a life member of the Chino Valley and Chino Hills historical societies.

During a presentation to the Chino Hills Historical Society in 2014, the audience burst into laughter when he showed an old photo of a rundown, three-bed Chino city jail from days gone by and said, “The jail housed drunks who were fed by family members through openings in the building.”

More laughter when he remarked, “The jail is still in Chino, on 11th and B streets.”


McCombs was born Aug. 8, 1929, in Oakland, California, and grew up in Berkeley, California, graduating from Berkeley High School in 1947. He worked for numerous newspapers during college vacations.

His parents were Philip and Ceda McCombs.

His first venture into the industry was when he was 10 years old and he partnered with the girl next door to create the weekly “Hilltop News” for 75 subscribers in their Berkeley neighborhood.


McCombs was a part of history himself, having purchased the Champion at the age of 27 when there wasn’t a single traffic light in Chino.

The oldest business in San Bernardino County to be published under the same name, the Champion was founded on Nov. 11, 1887, by Richard Gird, a silver mining magnate from Tombstone, Arizona who scraped out dirt streets for the “Town of Chino” that he lettered and numbered, making Seventh and D streets his initial focus.

Gird built the Champion on D Street, and on Seventh Street he built a boarding house, a bank and his office.

McCombs often spoke about Richard Gird as the creator of the Champion legacy and founder of Chino to ensure the community knew its heritage and roots.
He displayed Gird’s framed photo in the Champion’s conference room, along with other historic photos.

As evidence of “putting himself in the game,” McCombs led the City of Chino’s freeway committee in the 1960s that negotiated with the State Highway Commission to build the 60 Freeway north of the city at ground level to keep the growing community from getting cut in half.

The 60 Freeway is lower in Chino than in Pomona and Ontario.

In the same era, he became one of the principal founders of the Chino Council of Social Services in the 1960s, forerunner of many of the community’s present social programs such as Head Start, the boxing program, youth counseling, the YMCA and job training for adults.

He ran for school board in 1969 and served for 10 years. He also served as a Chino Planning Commissioner in the early 1960s.


He was president of the Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, the former West End United Fund, the Chino Toastmasters Club of which he was a founding member, and the West End YMCA, of which he was named to its Hall of Fame in 1996.

He was on the Chino Valley YMCA board of directors since its founding and was chairman of the YMCA building finance committee that raised $1.5 million for the new Chino branch in the 1990s.

In 1998, he was chairman of the school bond steering committee that developed a bond measure for the school board.


When the City of Chino Hills incorporated in 1991, he made sure the Champion was in line to receive the first business license issued by the city.

Four years earlier, he established the “Chino Hills News” during the housing boom created mostly by young couples from Orange County seeking their first homes in the more affordable San Bernardino County.

“Chino Hills was in our circulation area, and we wanted to make sure they realized we were their hometown paper,” he previously said.

The Chino Hills News was distributed on Wednesdays, along with the Chino Valley News and the South Ontario News. He also was the former owner and publisher of the Courier News at Crestline and the Riverside County Record at Rubidoux.


His business savvy and love of journalism led him on an educational path to a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Stanford University in 1951 and a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard University in 1953.

“Back in those days, people in Chino were not at all impressed with college degrees,” McCombs said in a Champion interview on the newspaper’s 50th anniversary. “They thought I was some young guy who didn’t know what he was doing.”

He married Gretchen Deckelman in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1953 and served in the U.S. Naval Reserve on active duty from 1953 to 1956.

He was discharged three months before coming to Chino to take over the Champion.

Gretchen died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2016.

Two years before his wife died, Al sold his Chino home and moved to Inland Christian Home to be closer to her.


In 2002, Al and Gretchen received the City of Chino Laymen of the Year award from the Community Services Commission for their support of local arts, cultural, recreation and youth activities.

Until recently, he was active on the boards of the Chino Valley YMCA and Chino Cultural Foundation (formerly the Chino Community Center Corporation), the Chino Valley Historical Society and was a member of the Chino Rotary Club.

His longstanding efforts were rewarded by the City of Chino with the Edwin Rhodes Community Service Award and the Chino Spirit of Achievement Award.

Al is survived by his son, Bill, and daughter-in-law Brandi; grandson, Nick, and brother John McCombs.

A memorial service is not planned at this time.