New England Newspapers CFO Frank McKenna dies; he was 65 – Brattleboro Reformer

PITTSFIELD, MASS. — Francis J. “Frank” McKenna, who served for 14 years as the chief financial officer of New England Newspapers Inc., was remembered Monday as a devoted numbers guy with a dry wit and a talent for the drums.

McKenna, a Dalton resident, died Saturday at Berkshire Medical Center following a short illness. He was 65.

A native of Newark, N.J., McKenna spent the majority of his professional life employed in the financial side of the newspaper business, mostly with publications belonging to the Denver-based Media News Group, one of the country’s largest newspaper chains.

Media News Group owned NENI from 1995 until 2013, when it became Digital First Media. Local ownership group Birdland LLC purchased New England Newspapers, including The Brattleboro Reformer, from Digital First Media in 2016.

Known for his proficiency with numbers, McKenna was involved in Media News Group’s purchase of The Reformer and its two sister papers, The Bennington Banner and The Berkshire Eagle, from the Miller family in 1995. He came to Pittsfield to serve as NENI’s chief financial officer in 2003.

“He probably spent a month or more here before that [1995] acquisition came through,” said former NENI Publisher Martin Langeveld, who is now a board member. “What Media News Group would do during the 1990s when they bought an operation — or would just kick the tires — they brought Frank along,” Langeveld said.

“He was the guy they trusted for the numbers.”

Media News Group also sent McKenna to perform similar tasks at properties that the group considered buying in Texas, New Mexico, California, Florida and Pennsylvania, said his daughter Amie Brown.

“He just had a head for numbers,” said Brown, who lives in Hughesville, Pa. “It was amazing what he could do with numbers and a spread sheet. … He was all self-taught on computers.”

McKenna’s financial acumen also was an asset at NENI.

“He was an irreplaceable resource for this company with his knowledge,” said Alan English, NENI’s current publisher.

Born on July 26, 1952, the son of Sara Freedman McKenna and the late John McKenna, he graduated from New Jersey schools, as well as Clayton Community College, and the State University of New York at Plattsburgh in 1980 with bachelor’s degree in accounting. A Vietnam War-era veteran, he served as a sergeant with the U.S. Air Force, stationed in Plattsburgh, N.Y. He was honorably discharged in 1975.

He began his newspaper career in the late 1970s at the Herald News in West Paterson, N.J., and “worked his way up” through Media News Group, Brown said. McKenna served a chief financial officer of North Jersey Newspapers in Somerville, N.J. from 1979 to 1999 before taking a position at Media News Group headquarters in Denver. He served as vice president, director of internal audit, while working in Denver. He became a confidant of Media News Group’s owner, Dean Singleton.

The newspaper business “was in his blood,” his daughter said. “The joke is newspaper people never die; they just get recycled.”

McKenna was also known for his work ethic.

“He took care of all of us because he would work so hard,” Brown said. “We would go days without seeing him. He was the first one in the office, and the last one to come home.”

Former NENI Publisher Andy Mick worked with McKenna for 10 years.

“He was just one of those people who just seemed to live in his numbers,” Mick said. “He liked the systems, he liked the computers and he liked the analysis. … When it came to the numbers, he was absolutely my right-hand man.”

Outside of work, McKenna had a dry sense of humor, Brown said: “He would throw these zingers out.”

McKenna owned a campground in Winchester, N.H., and was a New York Giants fan. He frequently wore a Giants jacket to work.

He also had a passion for playing music. In Colorado, McKenna played the drums in Coyote Moon, a bluegrass-classic rock band.

“He was an amazing drummer,” Brown said.

“He would play ‘In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida’ perfectly,” added son John McKenna, of Dalton, referring to the 17-minute classic rock ‘n’ roll song released in 1968 by Iron Butterfly.

Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6224.

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