Architect learned to manage business as a Herald paper boy

Mack Wakeford

Mack Wakeford

ALBANY -- Mack Wakeford is a well-respected, experienced architect, known for his innovative vision in design and also as a trusted name in the industry.

Although he is now in charge of large-scale designs and operations, it was his first job as a paper boy where he learned how to manage his business.

When Wakeford was 13, he applied for a paper route. He remembers it being a status symbol at that age and how all the "cool kids" had one.

"There weren't too many options for a boy of 13 to earn money," Wakeford said. "This was the best job I could get at that age, and I was really proud to have it."

His paper route consisted of 100 customers from 2nd and Baker down to South Slappey and was a 365-day commitment, teaching the youngster the importance of accountability. Wakeford vividly remembers his daily duties.

"Our route manager would bring the papers to the filling station on 8th and Slappey, where about 15 of us would be waiting," Wakeford said. "We had to roll the papers so they would fit in our bike bags. I remember putting a ball of twine between my knees, rolling up the paper, holding it snug, spinning that twine around and tying a knot so it was taut."

It did not take long for the paper boys to get their routines down, but carrying those papers around was no easy task.

"I lived on my bicycle, and I was really proud of my skills," Wakeford said. "With that being said, it took me some time to learn to balance 100 papers on my handlebars when I didn't even weigh 100 pounds. It was a real mess if you fell over and those papers went flying."

Most of Wakeford's customers expected their papers to be thrown close to their front porch. He perfected his routine down to 45 minutes, including rolling the papers.

Rainy days and Sundays were the exception to his timed routine; those days the papers were expected to be placed on the front porch. On a rainy day, the paper boys and the papers would be soaked through by the time they reached their destination. One rainy day, in particular, held an important lesson for the young Wakeford.

Wakeford recalls his papers being completely drenched from the downpour. Wanting to get home as quickly as possible, he decided to take a short cut and just toss the papers in the yard since they were wet anyway.

"I remember a customer running down the road to tell me that I was to come back and put his paper on his porch, where it was supposed to be," Wakeford said. "I was so embarrassed and ashamed. That lesson has followed me through my life. No shortcuts and no excuses."

Beyond rainy days, there was another risk to the job -- dogs.

"Oh, those dogs. It was something we all had to deal with on our routes," Wakeford said." Most of them just wanted to chase you for a while. It was always the little dogs that gave you the most trouble because they would bite."

On Sunday mornings Wakeford's route manager would bring the papers by the house and leave them in his father's backseat.

"My father, bless his heart, would get up early with me on Sunday morning," Wakeford said. "He would sit with me as I would roll the papers, and then drive me around the neighborhood so I could deliver them, stopping at each house so I could get out and put the paper on the front porch."

It was a modest neighborhood and Wakeford learned many valuable lessons about money. Most people paid on time, and had money waiting for him when he knocked on the door. He learned that if he worked hard, delivered papers and the customer didn't pay, it came out of his check at The Herald.

"I had a silver coin changer that I clipped onto my belt. I would go around the route and collect money from the customers. It was 36 cents a week," Wakeford said. "I learned a lot because of this part of the job -- how to keep records, checks and balances, and, most importantly, how to save."

When Wakeford turned 16, he used his earnings to pay his half for his first car, a used Volkswagen Beetle that he purchased with the help of his grandmother, Beulah Sapp. At which point, he turned over his paper route to another eager youngster.

"I didn't have a day off for three years," Wakeford said. "It was a 365 day a year job, and it helped me realize the importance of accountability."

The dependable paper boy turned into the accomplished architect. After graduating from Auburn University in 1971, Wakeford moved back to Albany with his wife, Karen, where they have raised their two children.

"I was in the ROTC program and graduated as a second lieutenant," Wakeford said. "I thought I was going to Vietnam, but three months before I graduated they stopped sending troops over. Karen and I moved back to Albany, where I went to work for Hugh Gaston and Associates as an architect."

It was not long before Wakeford opened up shop for himself along with his partner J.M. Yielding, which today is the firm Yielding, Wakeford, & McGee Architects.

Always a community man, Wakeford has served as president of the local Salvation Army and the Albany Museum of Art, as well as serving on the board twice for Thronateeska and the church council and chairman of the Staff-Parish Committee at First United Methodist Church.

Today, he lives within two blocks of where his paper route was more than 50 years ago. He frequently drives down those streets, nostalgically remembering his time as a paper boy and the important lessons he learned.