Media Pioneer: Eugene Souder

Media pioneer: Living’s founder, Eugene Souder

He could craft a headline that wrapped around your head and drew you into an article. He could design pages that jumped off the newsprint and compelled you to pick them up and enjoy the artful, well balanced look. He could handshake a deal helping a reluctant advertiser invest tight dollars for a year’s worth of advertising or a full page ad—or talk a church into sponsoring a newspaper outreach publication. All this from a man who was also a part-time pastor who has lived in the rural village of Grottoes, Virginia, for many years.

Eugene Souder had a knack for reading an audience—and enough energy and ideas and vision to help start a radio program, a church (in New York), a couple of organizations and at least four publications. Along the way, he spent years pastoring a small church, raised four children, and sang in a quartet off and on for than 60 years. Eugene is also the grandfather of twelve and a growing list of great grandchildren.

One of Eugene’s concerns over the years was family issues of all kinds, which is what compelled him to start Living. In the late 1980’s and early ‘90s, he felt many families were hurting and struggling for direction, and wanted to provide a free periodical with good, positive information—especially for those who couldn’t afford to subscribe to other publications. So he looked at business models and liked the idea of it being fully advertiser supported—which it has been to this day, (along with appreciated donations from board, churches and community members at critical times).

Eugene said he wanted the publication to “light a candle for families,” rather than to just curse the darkness of contemporary culture. He assembled a board, staff and proceeded to find advertisers. At one point the publication appeared in four different communities, sponsored by local boards, staff, and advertisers: Lancaster, Pa., Bucks and Montgomery Counties, Pa., Tuscarawas County, Ohio, and the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, totaling more than 200,000 in free circulation. The Ohio edition is the only one that has dropped out and overall, the Living publication has paid its own way by advertisers after a few years of getting on its feet.

Part of this Living venture was initially funded by income from another brainchild of Eugene, the Together publication, started in the early 80’s, which at one time was in use by 80 congregations reaching an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 homes by bulk mail. It was sponsored by local churches that carried stories focused on drawing persons to church.

It ceased publication in 2011, due mainly to changing technology, churches doing their own publishing, Facebook communication, and websites. A number of the Souder family helped with the operation through the years, doing most of the work from their basement.

In 2000, Eugene gathered resources and staff to begin another publication, Our Faith Digest, and served as its editor until July 2007, with 52,000 copies sent to more than 1,000 cooperating churches. It ceased publication in 2009.

Now in his mid-eighties, Eugene admits he is finally slowing down. He visits people, sings and plays guitar in various retirement and nursing homes, enjoys his many grandchildren and great grandchildren, travels to see them, takes daily walks with his wife, Alice, and spends time in prayer and Bible study. After almost 60 years of meeting relentless deadlines, the entrepreneur is kicking back and enjoying life.