Finding a 'route' to success

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

ALBANY, Ga. -- Fred Sumter has regularly been trusted to handle large sums of money throughout his professional career, both as a banker and a stockbroker.

Although he became a conduit for huge amounts of funds, Sumter says he learned to handle money years ago -- at the rate of 36 cents a week.

That's the amount he collected from each of his approximately 135 customers when he started his newspaper route in the summer of 1952. He started at Madison and Fourth Avenue and worked toward the end of his route at Slappey Boulevard.

Seven days a week, he picked up his papers and spent a little more than an hour delivering the news of the day.

"It taught you money management, and it definitely taught you how to deal with people," Sumter said.

Sumter, whose family has been in Albany for five generations, said his time as a newspaper carrier helped define who he became as an adult.

Even though he became a successful businessman and community leader, Sumter said the late Gil Barrett, longtime Dougherty County Commission chairman, always greeted him with the words: "There's my paper boy."

Sumter said he was excited to get a route with the newspaper, which was then distributed in the afternoon. "It was not an easy thing to get one back then," Sumter said. "Everybody wanted one."

Sumter said he would leave Albany High School each weekday afternoon and pick up his bundle of papers that were left by then route manager A.J. Nobles at Hugh Mills Stadium.

"We'd roll them, put them in the bags and put the bags on our bicycle handlebars and head out," he said. "I could finish my route between an hour and an hour and a half."

On Saturdays, Sumter said he would go door to door, collecting his 36 cents.

"Very few of my customers prepaid, so it was all done by knocking on the doors on Saturday morning," he said. "Then you would come to The Herald by noon to pay your bills and pick up Saturday's papers."

Sumter recalls that circulation employee Tucker Mims had a small nook in the circulation department where "he had snacks for the employees and was a true friend to all the carriers."

"If you were a little short (on collections), Tucker would always help you out," Sumter said.

Sumter said Jack Chamber was the circulation manager then and A.J. Nobles was the route manager.

"We called him Smiling Jack Chambers because he never smiled," Sumter said. "Chambers was tough. A.J. learned under him. It was all business with A.J."

Sumter recalls Nobles as a good but strict manager who kept a close watch on his carriers, but also rewarded them well.

"A.J. had this thing back then where if you did so much business and had a limited amount of complaints, you would qualify for a bus trip to Jacksonville for a weekend of swimming and sightseeing," he said.

Sumter said Sunday's routine was a little different, but provided some great memories for him. First, it required early morning delivery before church time.

Sumter says his dad, Fred Sr., helped him each Sunday stuff the Sunday papers into mailboxes, which was legal at the time.

"We'd park the car and walk the whole block," he said. "I'd work one side and him the other. I really have some fond memories of spending some quality time with Dad doing this."

Sumter said the after-school job prevented him from playing sports, but otherwise did not interfere with his activities.

"It worked out fine," he said. "Actually there were some cute girls on my route. And, at the end of the route I'd go to the Palmyra Pharmacy at Third and Slappey, which was a gathering place. It was a neat deal."

Plus, the money was good.

"I got that route before my freshman year in high school and saved enough money by my junior year to get a car," he said. "And when I went to college, I had money in the bank."

Sumter returned to Albany after college and had a successful career.

He was senior vice president at First Federal Savings before joining Merrill Lynch 19 years ago.

He has served in numerous leadership roles, including past president of the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce and former member of the Dougherty Board of Education.

Sumter said his son, Neal, followed his footsteps and got a route in 1978, a role he kept until he went to college in 1983.

"We both agree that it was the best education we could have in learning how to get along with others and to be responsible," Sumter said.

This is the first in a series of article on former Herald carriers this year in recognition of the newspaper's 120th anniversary. If you have someone to recommend for this series, contact Danny Carter at (229) 888-9346 or e-mail danny.carter@albanyherald.com.