Last month, Thomas Whitney was president of Democrat Printing & Lithographing, the large and venerable print shop in Little Rock with a history dating back to the Reconstruction era.
This month, Whitney has been enjoying duck hunting with his young yellow Labrador. In between, the Whitney family sold its half of the company to the Parke family, led by DP&L Chairman Frank Parke III, who confirmed the sale to Whispers on Tuesday, without providing any details.
Whitney also kept details of the transaction close to the vest, but said his family’s ownership went back to 1968, when his grandfather, Tom Whitney Sr., bought a stake in the operation, which specializes in magazine and catalog printing. At that point, the company was nearly 100 years old. According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, the Arkansas Democrat established the company in 1871 as part of the newspaper’s printing division.
The newspaper left the ownership picture in 1906 when it divided its assets, and the Parke family became involved in 1938 when the Parke-Harper Printing Co. acquired DP&L and kept its name.
“My great-grandfather A.W. Parke was a newspaperman,” Frank Parke III told Whispers. “He and Clio Harper started a statewide news service about 1906.” That evolved into printing, and Parke’s grandfather Frank Herbert Parke joined the company after graduating from Princeton in 1924.
The current chairman’s father, Frank Herbert Parke Jr., known as Bert, joined DP&L in 1954 after graduating from Vanderbilt and serving in the Air Force.
Thomas Whitney Sr. joined DP&L in 1968 when the company moved from sheet-fed printing to offset printing. Haynes Whitney joined the family business in 1975 after getting his Vanderbilt degree and was DP&L’s president for many years. “Haynes’ son Thomas III joined DP&L after graduating from SMU,” Parke said. “He also served as president for several years.”
Frank Parke III, a Hendrix College graduate, joined the company in 1980 and remains as chairman. His sister Emily Parke Stevens and nephew Logan Parke are on the board of directors. DP&L left its landmark downtown building on Second Street in 1999. One modern tenant of the building, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998, is Arkansas Business Publishing Group, publisher of this newspaper.
Thomas Whitney said his grandfather had worked with a number of printing companies and wanted to buy one, and his grandmother was from Little Rock. “So he bought a part of DP&L. After he died, my dad ended up buying more. Then we had half. Now we don’t anymore.
“But it was the best thing for our family, and that’s really about all I can say.”
Whitney said he hasn’t made any plans yet. “I’ve been enjoying my hunting season, and I just went on my first duck hunt of the year.” After curing his 2-year-old Lab’s gun shyness by firing a starting pistol at feeding time over the past year, she took to the hunt, well, like a duck to water.
“I was fully expecting her to run back to the truck immediately when somebody shot,” he said. “But she did a great job, and it was really wonderful.”