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'Passing of an era.' Elk Grove community leader and publisher Roy Herburger dies at 87

Newsman Roy Herburger, who was an influential community leader in Elk Grove, died Sunday at age 87.
Newsman Roy Herburger, who was an influential community leader in Elk Grove, died Sunday at age 87.

No news story was too small for Roy Herburger.

Family reunions, jump rope contests, parades, school board meetings – Herburger was always there, camera strapped around his neck.

The longtime publisher of the Elk Grove Citizen and Galt Herald died Sunday at age 87 after a long battle with Parkinson's disease, according to his son, David Herburger.

The elder Herburger, know as Ol' Roy by many because of his column by that name, was an institution in Elk Grove and Galt for 60 years. He ran the business end of Herburger Publishing, took photographs, penned a weekly column and wrote news stories.

"He was emblematic of a smaller town, of community life and what it meant to be part of that," said Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli, who represents Elk Grove. "It is a passing of an era. When I think about Elk Grove and I think about Galt, Roy goes to the top of the list as not just covering the news but participating."

David Herburger says his father woke up early to go to the newspaper office and came home late at night. He remembers his dad buying him a $5 model airplane to keep him busy when he accompanied him to the office on weekends. He said his father called his 12-hour workdays "half days."

"He was a machine, " he said.

David Herburger said his father felt lucky to be doing something that he loved.

The elder Herburger kept up that pace until about 18 months ago when his battle with Parkinson's disease and macular degeneration made it difficult to attend meetings or take pictures. His absence at Elk Grove Unified school board meetings was most apparent.

"He rarely missed," said his son. "He just always had a focus on kids and school and education."

His reporters knew school news took priority. "He was dedicated to the school district, and its stories had to be covered no matter what," said Nan Mahon, who worked as a lifestyle writer for the Elk Grove Citizen for 10 years.

That dedication was rewarded when Roy Herburger Elementary School opened in 2004. The school became an important part of his life, said David Herburger. "I would take him over there and they would treat him like a rock star," he said.

Herburger visited the school weekly to read to the children, even after his eyesight grew weak. He got around it by reading Dr. Seuss books that he memorized. Sometimes he asked his son to read the book while he gave the back story.

"I would say probably nobody had a bigger impact on Elk Grove than he has," said Elk Grove historian Elizabeth Pinkerton. "I think he has even had a huge impact on Elk Grove becoming a city. He supported that right from the beginning, even in the two elections that failed."

Newspapers were in Herburger's blood. His family owned the Stratton Press in Colorado when he was a boy. After earning a journalism degree from the University of Missouri, he took a job as a reporter at the River News-Herald in Rio Vista.

He and his former wife, the late Mary Hull-Lewis, bought the newspapers in Galt and Elk Grove in 1958. Roy Herburger turned over the Galt Herald to his son in 1999, but continued to run the Elk Grove Citizen.

The Herburger family also owns the River Valley Times in Rancho Murieta; Arden Carmichael News; East Sacramento News; Land Park News; and Pocket News.

Roy Herburger received numerous accolades and awards over the years, both for his work as a journalist and a community leader. Roy E. Herburger Park was dedicated by the Cosumnes Community Services District in 1999.

Herburger was named the Elk Grove Citizen of the Year in 1980 and was inducted into the Elk Grove Hall of Fame and given the key to the city in 2017. He also was a member of numerous service groups and was a founder of the Elk Grove Scholarship Foundation.

"Dad had a really big heart, " said David Herburger. "He was always about giving to people. He always wanted to promote the good things that were happening and the good people who were doing things."

Roy Herburger is survived by his wife, Aurora; daughters Elizabeth Swartz, Leah Snyder and Vanessa Babb; and son, David Herburger. Services will be held at 11 a.m. March 24 at Roy Herburger Elementary School, 8670 Maranello Drive in Elk Grove.