Who's The Paperman?
By Silvia Kucenas Foti
Felix Kucena's parents were farmers in Lithuania, who fled their homeland in 1945 when the Communists invade the country. His parents and three older brothers ran for their lives to a German refugee camp. Felix and his twin brother Ray were born in Bad Salzungen, Germany, on March 26, 1945. His family arrived in East St. Louis, Illinois in 1951, and six year-old Felix-s first job was helping his older brother Clay deliver newspapers for Toedte News.
While he attended Immaculate Conception Grammar School and Assumption High School, he deliverd his own newspaper routes part-time. He attended Southern Illinois University, and was then drafted into the U.S. Army in 1966. After his honorable discharge from the service in January 1968, he spend 18 months in Chicago studying at the University of Illinois - Chicago. While in college, he worked for Pepsi Cola and UPS. Family obligations brought Kucenas back to East St. Louis in 1969.
Back home again, he applied to and was accepted by the St. Louis Police Academy. About the same time, his old newspaper boss had decided to retire and asked Kucenas if he would be interested in buying his territory. The business covered the metro East St. Louis area and involved selling newspapers to retail locations, maintaining newspaper vending machines and managing paperboys.
Kucenas had to decide whether he should join the Police Academy or return to the newspaper business. He decided to stay with the newspaper business, and from then on, he became known as The Paper Man.
In 1975, he married Marcia Rickmann, who has been instrumental in helping him put together "The Magic of 70 in '98 Forever" newspaper collection. Together, they have two children, Stacy Michelle, 22, and Adam Joseph, 20.
First Class Printing of Metro East, Inc. was another business he started. In 1997, it was the first printing company south of Springfield that was designated as an "Illinois Great Printer" by Governer Jim Edgar.
When Kucenas took over the newspaper business, he was delivering the St. Louis Post Dispatch, The Globe Democrat and the Metro East Journal. He delivered about 20,000 dailies and about 7,000 Sunday papers at a time when a daily paper sold for 15 cents and a Sunday paper sold for 35 cents. Since then, he has watched the newspaper business dwindle to fewer readers, and he witnessed the sad folding of the Globe Democrat and the Metro East Journal. In 1979, he began distributing the Belleville News Democrat. Today, he distributes about 12,000 daily papers and about 3,000 Sunday papers per week.
In 1988, to promote newspaper newspaper readership, he launched a marketing campaign designed to reach young readers. He created a character called "The Kat" and donned a black cat costume and went to local grade schools to encourage children to read more newspapers. Throughout the year, he handed out 5,00 copies of "How To Make Your Child A Super Reader" by Len Kusnetz. During the 1999-2000 school term, Kucenas News sponsored 20 schools for the Newspaper-In-Education program.
He took that same energy and drive to start "The Magic of 70 in '98 Forever" newspaper collection. With all of that enthusiasm, it's a sure bet that Kucenas will generate a lot of excitement and interest over this collection.