Thomas More Storke was a man who insisted on following his own personal credo.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning editor from Santa Barbara strongly believed in three ideas: that the first responsibility of a newspaperman was to his community, that no one could form and develop the character of a community like a publisher, and that the job of an editor was a lifetime commitment.
Looking at Storke’s achievements throughout his life, it is clear that he lived up to his goals. Some remember Storke as a U.S. Senator while others recognize him by his work as publisher of the Santa Barbara News-Press.
Here at UCSB students know Storke by the tower that bears his name, a symbol of the campus.
If Storke were alive today, he would have turned 110 years old on the 23rd of this month . And there is little doubt that he would probably still be contributing to the Santa Barbara community and UCSB.
Storke was deeply committed to this area and it was his desire to see it grow and develop that led him to fight to bring a UC campus to Santa Barbara.
In 1944, through the efforts of Storke, Santa Barbara State College was admitted to the University of California system. He was assisted in his efforts by two Santa Barbara state legislators, A.W. Robertson and Clarence Ward, as well as by Governor Earl Warren, who signed the bill of approval in 1944.
Vernon Cheadle, Chancellor Emeritus of UCSB, recognized Storke’s desire to make UCSB a first-class university: “He wanted the university to make an impact,” Cheadle said. Storke’s efforts to develop the university included donations for landscaping as well as selling land to the university at bargain prices.
The Storke family also contributed to the first Student Union Building (UCen) and to the construction of the Storke Publications Building, under the bell tower.
During his term as chancellor, Cheadle worked with Storke on the development of the Publications Building. “Thomas Storke helped develop a center for students, a center for communication among the students because that was his area of skill and expertise,” Cheadle said.
But it was Storke’s efforts to turn the Santa Barbara campus into a branch of the UC system which stands out among his achievements at UCSB. “His original contribution for this campus, to make it part of the UC, was his most significant accomplishment to this campus. We wouldn’t have the faculty we have or the library we have,” he added.
As a seventh-generation Californian and a native of Santa Barbara, Thomas Storke had a great deal of pride in his city. According to Charles Storke, his father Thomas felt that a UC school was important for the Santa Barbara community. “His belief was that Santa Barbara is a special place. So if there was a university to be had, this is the place to have it,” he said.
Before working to establish UCSB, Storke had built an impressive reputation as a leader in California. On Jan. 1, 1901, Thomas Storke became publisher and editor of the Daily Independent and in 1913 the Daily News, both Santa Barbara newspapers. In 1938, six years after he purchased the Morning Press, Thomas Storke merged the papers and changed the name to the Santa Barbara News-Press.
According to his daughter, Jean Storke Menzies, “He was very strong-minded. He was dedicated (and) I think that’s why he made a success of the paper… Nowadays you’d call him a workaholic. He was very dedicated to the News-Press.”
Many of Storke’s community projects were made possible because of his position as a newspaperman. According to his son Charles, “everything he was able to accomplish had to do with the News-Press. The News-Press had a national reputation for being a fine paper.”
In his desire to develop the Santa Barbara community, Storke called on many national figures who were familiar with the News-Press reputation. For example, in the 1940s he called on senators and lawyers as well as Washington department heads to ensure the construction of Cachuma Dam which would prevent water shortages in the Santa Barbara area. In his autobiography, California Editor, Storke emphasizes that “I am not claiming Cachuma as a ‘Tom Storke project’ — but I do believe that my support was essential to its success. Cachuma is one of the successes of which I am the most proud.”
Although a Democrat, Storke was often called on by Republicans as well as Democrats for political advice. Charles Storke stated that, “He had great wisdom and great judgement. He was often called upon to share that with politicians that were developing.”
Respect for Thomas Storke’s knowledge and experience led to several appointments in his lifetime. In 1914, he was appointed postmaster of Santa Barbara. He was appointed by Republican Governor Merriam in 1938 to finish out William McAdoo’s term as U.S. Senator.
In 1955, he was appointed to the UC Board of Regents. As a regent Storke was able to further aid in the progress of UCSB. Charles Storke stated that “there’s a certain amount of politics on the Board of Regents to get them to agree to things. That was his role, to stimulate interest in this (Santa Barbara) campus.”
Even in his later years Thomas Storke was involved in community issues. In 1961, when he was 85 years old Storke recognized the threat of the John Birch society and through the News-Press editorials, exposed the post-McCarthyism attitudes of the group. For his efforts in this fight for civil rights, he was awarded the Lauterbach Award from the Harvard Nieman Foundation, the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing and the Elijah Lovejoy Fellowship of Colby College.
These awards were “a very important part of his life. They showed that even at his age, he could carry on and continue,” Menzies stated. In his book, I Fight For Freedom Storke writes, “If any one thing can make an editor happy, it is to be chosen as a champion of freedom and a defender of the rights of others. It was a wonderful experience.”
Thomas Storke died in 1971 at the age of 96 in Santa Barbara.
“Santa Barbara was his city. He had aspirations for a city here that had the best,” Cheadle stated.
Charles Storke added, “His whole life was dedicated to his community and the university became one part of that community.”