Dorri Partain

From an early age, Jennifer Gettys Miller knew that her grandfather once owned The Northeast News.

“Back then, the paper came out on Thursdays, and we looked forward to getting it each week,” Miller recalled.

At that time, Miller lived with her parents and grandparents in the home that once was the News’ office.

Orr founded The Northeast News in 1932 and sold it to new owners in 1949, but with each new owner following, the history of the paper and its founder grew more obscure. But in 2022, it took an internet search to find that Orr was buried nearby, in Elmwood Cemetery, so that’s where the hunt to find more information began.

I drop off copies of The Northeast News at Elmwood every Wednesday, so I asked Roger, one of their volunteers, for assistance. He led me to the columbarium under the Armour Chapel, where cremated remains are interred. He also suggested contacting the Midwest Genealogical Library to locate Orr’s obituary.

Back at the office, I contacted the library for assistance. But the information that was emailed to me didn’t contain an obituary, only brief funeral notices published by the Masonic Lodge that Orr was a member of. While that was a clue to what kind of person he had been, it was also a dead end.

During my next paper delivery to the cemetery, I was greeted by Roger, who was excited to tell me that Orr’s great-granddaughter had visited the cemetery over the weekend. While he didn’t think to get her contact information at the time, he did learn that all Orr’s descendants still lived in the Kansas City area.

The following week, as I handed off the new issues to Roger, he handed me a stack of pages –- he had located Orr’s obituary, as well as a list of his grandchildren. He cautioned me that the contact information was probably dated, but at least my path had been cleared to continue my search.

Orr and his wife Jessie had three grandchildren, but my best bet was to reach out to his grandson. While the phone number listed was no longer in service, an internet search located an email address. I typed my query and hit “send,” not knowing what the outcome would be.

Within an hour I got a call from Orr’s grandson, also named Matthew, after his grandfather. He told me he wasn’t sure he should open my email as it could be spam, but he did and it seemed legit. We talked for about 20 minutes and he said he would forward my contact information to one of his sisters. He was born a few years after his grandfather died, so he never knew him, but both his sisters did and could be more helpful in providing information.

That was back in June. I had told him during our conversation there was no rush, as I had other stories I was working on. The weeks slipped by into July, then August. I wondered if I was ever going to be able to finish this story idea I had back in May, so I reached out to Orr’s grandson one more time. Yes, he had been busy all summer, but he would remind his sister to contact me.

The following week, I had a message on my desk and I called Orr’s granddaughter Jennifer. She offered to come by our office and share some items she had located. During her visit, she mentioned a book her sister Jill had, titled “Northeast Families/Community,” that was published in 1983 by the Northeast Optimist Club that had a feature written about her grandfather.

At that point, my search turned to locating that book, which I had actually read many years ago when I first moved to the neighborhood, and it was available on the shelves of the North-East Library. Of course, at that time I had no inkling that I would one day be on the staff of the News and researching its founder. A call to the North-East branch revealed they no longer had a copy there.

Placing a call to the Missouri Valley Room at the Central library branch, my call was answered by a helpful staff member that helped me locate the book, by description, because I didn’t write down the title, thinking it would be easier to find. Because my car was in the shop for repairs and I had no way to read the book in person, I asked if he could copy the pages I needed and email them to me. At the same time, I helped him locate a news article we had published, so it was a win/win for both of us.

By this time, I had contacted three libraries, two family members, and made multiple visits to the cemetery in my search so I could officially memorialize Matthew Orr as the founder of The Northeast News.

Born on September 1, 1880, Orr was the seventh of 12 children. His family lived in County Antrim, Ireland. After attending the University of Belfast, he taught school until he was able to realize his dream of moving to America. After boarding the ship Columbia, he arrived on May 3, 1908, and eventually became a naturalized citizen on December 20, 1926.

Prior to the years he dedicated to The Northeast News, Orr worked in the advertising department at Montgomery Wards. According to the tribute written by his daughter, Mary Pat Gettys, he then tried a position at Sheffield Steel, but only lasted half a day, leaving during his lunch break because it was too noisy. The following day found him walking up and down St. John Avenue talking to business owners, selling ads for what was to be the first issue of The Northeast News.

Needing an office space, he was offered a room inside Budd Park Christian Church, hence the News’ first address, 102 S. Brighton. As he promoted his fledgling business, he met Jessie Elvira Tuttle at the church, a young woman who was a member, as well as operator of her own drama school. They married on Orr’s birthday in 1932, and purchased a home at 340 S. Van Brunt, which would then also serve as the next address for The Northeast News.

The Orrs had one daughter, Mary Patricia, born in 1934. That same year, Orr was serving as the secretary for the Northeast Community Council, a group of business owners that promoted the neighborhood and sought improvements. Even after retiring from the newspaper business in 1949, he continued to be active in the community, serving on boards with Blue Valley Federal Savings and Loan Association and the Kansas City Museum, prior to his death on January 29, 1963.

After Jessie passed in 1982, and Mary Pat in 1993, the family home on Van Brunt was sold to new owners, thus ending the Orr family’s long connection to Northeast, but we, the staff members of The Northeast News, are happy to continue the legacy of community news started by Matthew Orr 90 years ago.