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Delaware media trailblazer Stan Budner dies at 94

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WILMINGTON – Stanley “Stan” Gordon Budner, the longtime operator of the Delmar News Agency and a leader in the wholesale distribution market of books, magazines and newspapers, died July 8 at age 94.

Stan Budner | PHOTO COURTESY OF BUDNER FAMILY

The son of famed newspaperman and entrepreneur E.M. Budner, Stan would largely follow in his father’s large footsteps. His father opened the Delmar News Agency, a wholesale newspaper and magazine distributing business, in 1932 and grew it to serve 425 newspaper and magazine dealers. He, along with Alexis I. du Pont Bayard, also purchased the now-defunct Sunday Star newspaper in 1949, which they published for five years before it closed.

Born in 1927, the younger Budner served in the U.S. Army during World War II and returned home to earn a degree in business administration from the University of Delaware. In 1950, he took over operations of the Delmar News Agency from his father and would lead it for 42 years until his retirement in 1992.

During that time, he expanded its operations to books and other forms of media – his father was famously an early distributor for DC comic books. He also expanded south, opening a similarly focused Key News Agency in Marathon, Fla.

“My father turned the business over to me and said, ‘If you need me, call me,’” Budner recalled in a 2017 interview with Delaware Today magazine. “He let me make all the decisions and run the company.”

One of Budner’s wisest decisions was to empower his drivers to offer suggestions about which types of paperback titles he would stock at specific outlets, he recalled to Delaware Today. If cowboy and romance titles were in high demand at one site, and crime and science fiction books weren’t so popular, he would instruct the drivers to push the successful genres the next time they delivered. By doing that, Budner was able to maximize sales.

“One of the things I was most proud of in my life was that Wilmington was voted the best distributor two times,” Budner said. “We were selling more books than they were in Philadelphia.”

Sal DeVivo, a longtime friend and former publisher of The News Journal, recalled that Budner negotiated one of the first contracts in the country to distribute USA Today when it was launched by Gannett in 1982. Today, it’s America’s most widely circulated newspaper.

He also recalled that Budner oversaw the distribution contract on a more controversial product for its time: Playboy magazine.

“It got to be a legal issue with the city of Wilmington, which didn’t want him to have that magazine, but one thing to know about Stan is that he stood his ground. And he did. They finally reached a compromise: he put a paper cover over the cover of the magazine,” DeVivo said.

The other product that Budner was proudest of helping, DeVivo said, was Delaware Today, which expanded distribution after the Martinelli family acquired it in 1982. He became longtime friends with Today Media President Rob Martinelli who moved to Wilmington from New York to run the magazine.

“One of the first people I met was Stan Budner who distributed Delaware Today on newsstands throughout the state. Stan became a mentor and friend as he was to a lot of people. There are many great memories including flying in his plane (with pancakes after), sailing on his boat, golfing, eating crabs on the Chesapeake and many dinners – Stan was a true Renaissance man,” Martinelli said.

Budner embraced life’s adventures, especially after selling Delmar News Agency to a precursor of today’s Hudson News in 1992. He became an accomplished sailor and skier, and earned his pilot’s license, flying into his 90s with some assistance – he was believed to be the oldest pilot in the state at the time. He was also a patron of Wilmington’s dining scene for decades and was well-known to many of the city’s restaurateurs.

That joie de vivre was likely in reaction to his father’s passing at only 50 years old, when Budner was just 30, his daughter Hope Budner Brown said.

“He made a decision that he was going to work hard and play hard,” she recalled.

In doing so he made countless friends and mentees across the First State and beyond.

“People just seemed to be drawn to him because he was interested in them as well,” Brown said. “One of his favorite expressions was, ‘Did anybody tell you how great you are today?’ And when you tell somebody that they’re so shocked, because nobody does.”

DeVivo agreed, adding that Budner “had a calm disposition and respected and paid attention to people. It didn’t matter who they were. I don’t know how many restaurants I’d been to with him, and he showed that respect to waiters and waitresses.”

Budner was predeceased by his first wife, Doris Hollett Budner, and is survived by his second wife, Momilani Budner; daughters, Hope, Faith and Alisa; and a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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