Bob Sprague, founder of YourArlingtonBob Sprague speaks at gala. / Photos by Paulette Schwartz

Donut Villa’s back room was at capacity Wednesday night for a celebration centered on YourArlington founder Bob Sprague. A crowd of about 100 joined enthusiastically in choral repetitions  of the term “Whereas” to accompany Select Board Chair Eric Helmuth’s proclamation of Nov. 15, 2023, as Bob Sprague Day.

And when keynote speaker, news-media expert and Northeastern University professor Dan Kennedy referred to a Boston Globe columnist’s mischaracterization earlier this year of Arlington as a “news desert,” guests vigorously booed.

Kennedy and other speakers emphasized that, as master of ceremonies Jeff Barnd of ACMi put it, “most towns are not blessed with a Bob Sprague.”

Barnd contrasted Sprague’s quiet devotion to writing about the town he has lived in for decades with Sinclair Broadcasting’s consolidation of two radio stations into what it called a “regional content center” to “superserve” Tulsa and Oklahoma City with “hyperlocal” news, even though the two cities are more than 100 miles apart.

Kennedy noted that “the dead hand of corporate and hedge-fund ownership” explains at least some of the decline outside of Arlington in locally funded and local news, which people generally tend to trust more than they do the national news media.

More than half a century in news biz

Sprague got his start in professional journalism on a local paper in Bethlehem, Penn., in 1970. Later, in Boston, he worked for the The Boston Globe and Boston Herald, moved to Arlington in 1989 after marrying a fellow journalist, edited The Arlington Advocate in the 1990s -- and launched YourArlington, or YA for short, on Dec. 10, 2006. 

In the words of the proclamation, “In 2011, [Sprague] left paid employment after maintaining the site single-handedly for five years, though with essential technical assistance from friend Scott Samenfeld. For the next decade, and still taking no pay, he continued to refine and improve the website, aided by his journalist wife, Marjorie Howard, and, in 2015, reporter Susan Gilbert …

"In 2021, spurred by the pandemic as well as his impending retirement in 2023, Bob converted YourArlington to a nonprofit organization, thereby welcoming the community to participate in both the governance and the support of YourArlington.” YA has a six-member board of directors and more than a dozen advisory-board directors, all of whom volunteer their time to help the nonprofit organization.ACMi News Director Jeff Barnd was MC at the event, held in the Donut Villa back room.

YA called 'daily required reading'

Barnd, news director of local cable-television station ACMi, called the website “daily required reading” for those who want to know what’s happening in town. Soon after he took the job, Barnd said, he recalled Arlington’s two previous town managers, Adam Chapdelaine and Sandy Pooler, as among the many people who asked him, “Hey, have you met Bob Sprague?”— a question he found himself asking Claire Ricker when she became director of Arlington's Planning and Community Development Department earlier this year.

Helmuth said he discovered YourArlington as “a resource I could trust” when he moved to Arlington in 2007 and that it had “not a small bit to do with” his own interest in town government. Sprague himself served as a Town Meeting member starting in 1994 and “was instrumental in setting up the town’s first website in 1998,” as the proclamation noted.

Rounding out the recognition were a resolution by Arlington’s state representatives, Sean Garballey and Dave Rogers; a proclamation by state Sen. Cindy Friedman; and a certificate of appreciation from Beth Locke of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, “for promoting the independent businesses of Arlington.” Other town leaders in attendance included Steve deCourcey of the Select Board and Paul Schlichtman of the School Committee. Stewart Ikeda of the Arlington Commission for Arts and Culture, with public-art consultant Cecily Miller of Cambridge, presented Sprague with a framed photograph of the new mural in Arlington Heights, noting its resonant message: “You are loved."

Event cochair Larry Slotnick said $22,000 was raised for nonprofit YourArlington.

“How to sum up all these years?” Sprague himself wondered as he briefly took the microphone. He thanked his colleagues, the event organizers and his family, especially his wife.

Once a Ph.D. student in English, he said, he’d considered but then decided against quoting Epictetus —“that would be showing off”— and instead simply held up a beautiful handmade “Congratulations” card from a woman who had come to a YA presentation at the town community/senior center earlier this year. The 15 or so people there that day, he recalled, had asked thoughtful questions about reporting the news for an hour and a half, which impressed and touched him. “I’d pass the card around,” he said, “but I want to keep it.”

Monthly donations 'bedrock' of support

Taking the mic briefly, “I would love to give you a pill that would keep you going for another hundred years,” said advisory board member Barbara Thornton to Sprague. “But, from now on, we [the rest of us in the room] are it.”

Board Treasurer Annie LaCourt added, “Monthly sustaining donations are the bedrock that allows us to plan.” 

Mass-media expert and university professor Dan Kennedy gave keynote speech Nov. 15.Net funds raised by the gala, including from sales of tickets costing $100 each [some people, including regular YA freelancers and major donors, were not charged] came to about $22,000, estimated event cochair Larry Slotnick.

“Approximately 110 individuals, couples, local nonprofits or local businesses financially supported the YA gala,” he reported, with half the gross revenue coming from event sponsors.

“The source of most contributions was folks who have known Bob for a long time [including YA board/advisory board members], but it was also very heartening to see the business community join in this recognition and support YourArlington, most for the first time: entities such as Regent Theater, Mirak Automotive, Cyrus Dallin Art Museum, Arlington Chamber of Commerce and Arlington Global Service Station.

“Arlington Commission for Arts and Culture, a fairly new arts umbrella organization, joined our existing underwriters, Intelligent Labor and Moving and Leading Edge Real Estate (Judy Weinberg).”

Sprague since 2021 has been president of YA’s board of directors, which meets monthly. Since July 1 of this year, Judith Pfeffer has been YA's editor and is in charge of day-to-day news coverage, after having been assistant editor since Jan. 1. She began as an occasional freelance writer in spring 2019.

More photographs from the special evening may be seen here >>

This article by YourArlington freelance writer Catherine Brewster, with photographs by local photographer Paulette Schwartz -- both the four photos in this article and dozens more visible via the above link to an album on Facebook -- was published Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023. An updated headline, the Facebook link and a few minor stylistic corrections were added Wednesday, Nov. 22.