Industry groups create scholarship honoring Tonda Rush

Dec 1, 2023

“My life is flashing before my eyes,” Tonda Rush, NNA legal counsel, said as she joined a Zoom meeting on the premise of discussing scholarship opportunities, only to see decades of NNA past chairs — formerly presidents — in addition to current colleagues, NNA and NNA Foundation board members, NNA staff and friends.

“You have no idea,” Bradley Thompson II, CEO of Detroit Legal News, responded with a chuckle.

On Friday, Nov. 10, NNA members gathered online with the explicit instructions from NNA Executive Director Lynne Lance to keep it a surprise.

Thompson began the meeting, “Tonda, this is an opportunity and occasion I’ve looked forward to for some time. Your very limited travel schedule over the last few years has effectively thwarted our plans. You have been a critical component of our success for years, and without your tireless efforts and brilliant strategies, many of us would not be here today. I know that in my case, our organization would not still be viable without your help with ACCN (American Court and Commercial Newspapers) and the creation of PNRC (Public Notice Resource Center).

He continued, “I have long wanted to recognize these exceptional efforts and accomplishments in a meaningful way. My plan, which was very enthusiastically adopted by NNA, ACCN, PNRC and numerous people in our industry, was to establish a scholarship fund in your name for you to administer through the NNA Foundation.

“I am thrilled and honored to announce that we have raised over $62,000. While undoubtedly significant, it’s just a fraction of what you have provided to all of us. I’m looking forward to seeing how you will use these funds to advance journalism.”

“This is astonishing. What an amazing thing to do. I have no words,” Rush said.

Members then stayed on to express thanks to Rush, recalling times when she was a frequent voice on the other end of the phone.

Rush became NNA’s Chief Executive Officer in 1992 when NNA had a staff of 20 in Washington, D.C. She also became CEO of NNA’s advertising arm, American Newspaper Representatives, which was sold in 1996. In 1997, she left to practice law with law firm King and Ballow, Nashville, where she represented NNA’s postal interests. She and her business partner, Carol Pierce, also opened an association management company, American PressWorks Inc., whose first client was National Federation of Press Women, an organization to which many community newspaper employees belonged. With American Court and Commercial Newspapers, APW founded the Public Notice Resource Center in 2002 to educate the public on the value of newspaper public notice.

Following the nation’s post–2001 financial stress, APW took over NNA’s public policy work as University of Missouri, Columbia, offered NNA a management agreement with strong support from Missouri Press Association. In 2010, NNA brought its full management back into Washington, D.C., with an APW management contract, an arrangement that continued until Rush began a long retirement transition in 2015. American PressWorks Inc. was sold to Karpel Public Affairs, and Illinois Press Association took over NNA management. Rush and Pierce continued to work with NNA as Six Ideas Before Breakfast, a title chosen from their favorite Lewis Carroll quote, until 2020, when the pandemic accelerated Rush’s retirement plans. But those plans were slowed again with the death of NNA’s postal guru, Max Heath. Pierce entered semi-retirement in 2021. In October, Rush informed the NNA Board of Directors that she was again ready to hand off the public policy work to firms recruited to represent the organization.

Rush said in a follow-up conversation, “When I first was recruited to NNA by its leaders Max and former chairman Jack Fishman in 1992, I never dreamed I would embark upon such a long and rich relationship with champions of the community newspaper industry. Publishers work hard, but they find time to protect and advance the industry and support the First Amendment. I could not have asked for a more rewarding path.”

Rush will continue as NNA’s general counsel in 2024, assisting public policy teams headed by NNA’s new Public Policy Oversight Committee. Former NNA Chair Brett Wesner, president, Wesner Publications of Cordell, Oklahoma, heads up PPOC, and it will oversee two lobbying firms engaged to assist NNA, Morrissey Strategies and Cogent Strategies, both in Washington, D.C.

NNA members can access a recording of the meeting here:

To donate to the Tonda Rush scholarship fund, visit