Jerry Mix stood slack-jawed in the office of Bob Earley, group editor for Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, wondering if he’d heard the man right.
The year was 1982, and Mix was handling public relations for The Diamond Shamrock Co.’s turf products division, where he’d met Earley when he called on him to tell him about his employer’s products. Earley headed a group including LawnCare Industry and Pest Control. On one call, Mix told Earley that if he had any job openings in the future, he’d be interested in getting back into the writing side of the business.
To Mix’s surprise, Earley called him shortly thereafter and told him there was a job open and that he’d like to interview him. Mix felt sure Earley would offer him the editorship of LawnCare, given his experience in the turf products business.
On the following Saturday, Mix arrived at Early’s office, where another young editor, Jerry Roche (pronounced “roach”) stood.
“Mix, I’d like you to be the editor of Pest Control,” Earley said
Mix — all 6 feet, 6 inches of him — stood there stunned.
“I think Roche would be a better choice for that job,” Mix told the man, speaking slowly and drawing out the other editor’s name to make the point. After all, how many times would a man named Roche have a chance to lead a magazine dealing with those same-named creatures?
Earley, pulling every inch of his 5-foot 9-inch frame to its highest point, bristled.
“Listen, Mix, do you want the job or not?” he barked.
Mix quickly agreed to take the job — and for 20 years, he reigned as the guiding hand behind one of the industry’s most influential trade publications.
Mix was born to be a journalist, coming into this world on March 19, 1939, in Toledo, Ohio. His father, Nelson, worked for The Toledo Blade, the area’s most-visible newspaper. Trips to the office to visit his dad instilled a love of writing and journalism that continues today. In pursuit of his dream, Mix earned his bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, in 1961.
“Once I did that, I was set,” Mix says. “I always loved what I did.”
Like many aspiring journalists, he bounced around from job to job early in his career. After spending some time at The Newark (Ohio) Advocate and The Mansfield (Ohio) News Journal handling sports and general reporting, he moved into the world of public relations, serving Bowling Green (Ohio) State University and Defiance (Ohio) College. He moved onto Whirlpool, the Illuminating Co. (an Ohio energy firm) and then Diamond Shamrock.
But it was in the pest control industry where Mix found a more permanent home.
Of course, as Mix is quick to point out, he didn’t become an industry institution on his own. He praises the pest management professionals (PMPs) who helped him along the way.
“I’ll never forget my first National Pest Control Association meeting in 1982,” Mix says. “I knew no one there — until I met a man named T. Roy Young (owner of Young’s Pest Control in Tampa, Fla.).
“He told me that if there was anything he could do for me, to call him — so I leaned on him in those early years,” Mix says. “He was invaluable to bringing me up to speed on the industry and its issues.”
Mix spent the next few years of his tenure traveling around the country and visiting as many PMPs as he could. He came away from those meetings with the sense that the magazine was too technical to reach the broad audience of PMPs.
“When I first came to the magazine, it read like an academic journal,” Mix recalls. “It’s not that that positioning was bad, but I discovered as I talked to people that our audience had trouble accessing the information in the magazine because it was written so scientifically. I decided that I wanted to change that.”
So in the tradition of hundreds of journalists before him, Mix and his colleagues went about the task of taking complex issues and putting them into laymen’s terms. Mix says his greatest satisfaction in his job came from being able to report on the enormous changes constantly occurring in the industry in clear, precise language.
He reveled in the process of writing stories for the magazine, something he learned as a newspaper reporter writing on tight, daily deadlines. Mix says the newspaper business taught him how to write quickly and accurately, two skills that served him well as Pest Control’s editor.
Mix also enjoyed changing Pest Control to keep pace with a rapidly changing industry.
“I’d like to think we helped fuel some of the changes in the industry,” Mix says. “Our reporting brought the issues facing the industry to a wider audience, so more people could be involved in hashing out the issues facing it.”
Mix also brought in a host of industry experts to help him in the job.
Columnists such as Doug Mampe, Larry Pinto and Austin Frishman (all three of whom are still with the magazine) gave him the ability to ask questions and check his assumptions before he went to the industry with his ideas.
He also credits fellow Hall of Famers Bob Russell, Vern Walter and Charlie Hromada (“Charlie always used to refer to me as ‘the esteemed editor,’ even after I became publisher,” Mix says, laughing) with advancing his — and the magazine’s — success.
Mix was promoted to publisher in 1992 and spent 10 more years guiding the magazine before retiring in 2002. The reputation he’d built in the industry for honesty, integrity and humanity served him well as publisher as he helped suppliers reach PMPs.
These days, Mix takes it easy with his wife, Nancy, splitting time between the shores of Lake Erie and Florida (where, in Jerry’s words, they “fish and enjoy life”). He still practices his writing arts for the Florida Pest Management Association magazine nearly every month and still writes for Pest Control, the magazine he piloted in one capacity or another for 20 years.
“I’m always interested to hear how many of my friends in the industry think I’m dead,” Mix says. “When I do go to events occasionally, they always seem surprised to see me.”
Mix says he loves the pest control industry, and in particular its people. He says what he admires most about PMPs is their willingness to work hard and try to do their jobs well at all times — qualities that marked his stint as editor of Pest Control. Mix pauses for a moment and chuckles as he remembers how close he came to blowing it all.
“God bless Bob Earley,” Mix says, laughing at the memory. “I’ve never forgotten how I almost talked myself out of the job that morning. It was a great break for me that Earley decided to hire me anyway.”