James A. Sherman Sr., publisher of the Clarkston News from 1966-93, enjoys a good laugh during the roast that the Rotary Club of Oxford held in his honor in April 2014. File photo by C.J. Carnacchio.
By C.J. Carnacchio
Special to The Clarkston News
Former Clarkston News publisher James Allen Sherman Sr. of Oxford wore many hats during the course of his lengthy career. He was a successful publisher for 38 years. He was a wordsmith. He was a shrewd businessman. He was a devoted community leader. He was an enthusiastic supporter of worthy causes.
Sherman was all of these things and more, but he never saw himself as anything other than an old-fashioned newspaperman, plain and simple.
On Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, the founder of Sherman Publications, Inc. (SPI) passed away at Independence Village of Waterstone in Oxford. He was 92.
Nicknamed “Big Jim,” the 6-foot-4-inch Sherman was well-known and respected in north Oakland County for having established a prosperous chain of publications that continues to serve Clarkston, Oxford, Lake Orion, and Brandon/Ortonville with a combination of local news and advertising.
“Icon” was the word that Oxford resident Mickey Hiatt used to describe his dear friend of 40 years. He believes north Oakland’s communities owe Sherman a debt of gratitude for creating strong weekly newspapers that report on and reflect every aspect of local life.
“I think our community papers are more valuable today than they ever were. They’re the backbone of the community,” Hiatt said. “I think (Sherman) did a fantastic job for the paper(s). I really do.”
Bob Holt, a longtime friend and the associate pastor of LakePoint Community Church in Oxford, characterized Sherman as “a newspaper guy” through and through.
“He told it straight. He said what he thought,” Holt said. “He didn’t mince words. He didn’t beat around the bush. He didn’t like dishonesty. He didn’t like somebody trying to pull the wool over his eyes. If you were straightforward with him, he was that way with you and you’d get along fine.”
Holt noted that beneath the “tough exterior (Sherman) had to have to be a newspaperman” beat “a heart of gold.”
“He was a pillar of the community for a lot of years,” Holt said.
Longtime friend and former Oxford Bank President Jeff Davidson saw Sherman as a man with “tremendous integrity.”
“He always had your back,” he said. “You knew he was always there for you.”
Davidson said Sherman could have an opinion that differed from others’ views and passionately argue his point, but at the end of the day, he was able to set his feelings aside and never let them interfere with friendships or business.
“That’s just the sign of a good leader,” he said.
SPI Assistant Publisher Don Rush thinks very highly of Sherman as a boss, a person and a friend. Rush will always be grateful to the former publisher for hiring him as a reporter straight out of college almost 34 years ago.
“Mr. Sherman was a generous and kind man,” he said. “He gave to his family, his community, his industry and employees – and not just monetarily. He was quick with a smile, to tell a bad joke, (to give) words of encouragement and counsel if asked. Good mentor. Good man.”
Rush expressed more of his thoughts, feelings and memories about Sherman in his column, “Don’t Rush Me,” on Page 7.
Sherman’s career in the newspaper business began in January 1951 when he took a job in sales at the Gladwin County Record.
Six months later, Sherman, who studied journalism at Michigan State College (now University), went to work as a salesman and sports writer for the Clinton County Republican-News in St. Johns.
He made the big leap from employee to owner when he purchased his first newspaper in 1955, the Oxford Leader. Sherman served as its publisher until his retirement in 1993.
Moving to Oxford wasn’t a huge adjustment for Sherman because he had spent most of his life growing and learning in small towns.
He was born in Owosso on Aug. 10, 1926 to parents Dair and Clara Sherman. Growing up, Sherman’s family moved around a lot as his father worked for the Grand Trunk Western Railroad. This gave Sherman an opportunity to experience other small communities in Shiawassee County, including Laingsburg, Bancroft, Morrice, Durand and Vernon. He graduated from Vernon High School, the salutatorian in a class of just nine students.
“I’m a small-town boy,” proclaimed Sherman in a November 2011 story the Leader published about him being named grand marshal of Oxford’s Christmas parade.
In that article, Sherman explained why he never had any desire to move to the big city and compete amongst the daily newspapers that once dominated the concrete jungle.
“I’m afraid of failure,” he admitted with his usual frankness. “I always felt more secure in smaller communities. I had more confidence. There was more opportunity to succeed here.”
When Sherman landed in Oxford, he discovered a community that was experiencing a changing of the guard.
He became part of the rising generation of entrepreneurs who were buying businesses and breathing new life into the local economy. These men related well to each other because they were all around the same age and many, including Sherman, were World War II veterans who were chasing the American dream they had fought so hard to protect.
Sherman forged friendships with them and soon, he was among a group of prominent local businessmen who met for