Donna Webb had a baby to feed, which is why she started delivering copies of the local newspaper.
Nearly three decades later, she has a grandbaby to spend time with, which is why she will soon make her last drive through the neighborhoods of Northwest Houston.
Webb, who has lived in Oak Forest for 56 years and thrown weekly editions of The Leader for half that time, plans to move to North Texas at the end of this month to help take care of her newborn granddaughter, Kinsley. Kinsley’s dad, Colin, a teacher and coach for Sanger ISD, was a baby when his mom started working for The Leader so she could help supplement the family’s income and pay for the formula he drank.
“I’m excited to go, but yet I’m sad to leave here,” Donna Webb said. “We figure we’ll be back in town once a month.”
The 61-year-old Webb and her sister, Debby Hobart, who also started throwing copies of The Leader 28 years ago but had to stop in recent years for health reasons, were described by longtime employee Jane Broyles as the most reliable carriers the newspaper has had. The sisters took on the role after Debby’s daughter accepted a delivery job but abandoned it after a couple weeks, and they went through two suburbans while driving an estimated 300 miles per week on their delivery routes.
Debby and Donna at one point delivered 15,000 copies per week, with Donna now throwing about 6,000, meaning they are responsible for at least 10 million deliveries of The Leader over the years. They rarely missed a week, and if they did, Donna said another member of the family would fill in.
Donna has been especially valuable to the family of publisher Jonathan McElvy and his wife, Meghan, having also served as their nanny for the last four-plus years. Children Hank, Cal and Eleanor Bo have even picked up some newspaper-throwing skills from Donna.
“They absolutely love her,” McElvy said of his kids. “She’s part of our family.”
'Mayor of Oak Forest'
Donna has been an integral part of the community as well, having moved to Oak Forest when she was 5 years old and graduated from Waltrip High School – where Colin and her youngest son, Carey, also went to school. She at one point worked at Frank Black Middle School and had another side business with her sister in which they made homecoming mums for area high school students for nearly 20 years.
The “Mayor of Oak Forest,” as she’s affectionately known among her neighbors, also has been an engaged and thoughtful community member. Donna said she’s called neighbors over the years to let them know if their garage door was open, for example, and she and husband, Steve, once helped do chores around the house and run errands for a resident who was a war veteran and did not have family to help take care of him.
“Not only has Donna been unfailingly loyal to The Leader, she really cares about the Leader community as a whole,” Broyles said. “While delivering papers, if she saw something that might endanger a neighborhood she was quick to report it. If she saw someone in need she would stop to help. And she loves children – she was constantly caring for someone else’s tykes.”
Delivering The Leader has given Donna a sense of pride, she said, even though it has been exhausting, tedious and harrowing work at times. There have been long nights at the office, wrapping papers in bags and loading them into vehicles, and early mornings after little sleep.
Donna said she and Debby completed their route in the aftermath of hurricanes and in the midst of snow, holding cups of hot chocolate to keep their hands warm while in a cold vehicle with the windows down. They once were chased by a man who threw a hammer at their SUV, Donna said, and there also were run-ins with a pig in Acres Homes as well as with a police officer, who mistook the papers they were throwing for bottles and pulled them over as a result.
Just as memorable are the weekly encounters with readers, many of whom are friendly and appreciative, Donna said.
“Some people say ‘thank you,’ waving at you. That makes you feel good that you’re out there doing that,” she said. “A lot of people look forward to that news coming every week.”
Turning the page
Because Donna is so well-versed in the neighborhood and so familiar with her route, McElvy asked readers to be patient and understanding in the weeks after she leaves in case there are any hiccups with delivery. He also said it’s remarkable how few complaints The Leader has received related to deliveries by Donna and Debby, who are well below the industry standard in that regard.
Donna has even provided news tips like a reporter would, McElvy said, making her overall contributions invaluable.
“The next people are going to have some large shoes to fill,” said Lucy Dukate, who started working at The Leader about a year after Donna did. “We might have to hire two people to do what she’s doing.”
Meanwhile, Donna will try not to have too much fun with her granddaughter, who she’ll be watching while Kinsley’s parents both work within Sanger ISD. She said she’ll be only a few minutes from a lake and across the street from Sanger High School, where there will be band performances and lively crowds at Friday night football games.
It will be the start of a new chapter for Donna’s family, while the extended chapter with her Oak Forest family is drawing to a close.
“I’m going to miss her,” McElvy said. “I’m really glad for her, too.”