by John D. Hubbard
It is a Chelsea morning as Bill Donat '60 presides over the hurly-burly of the printing world -- or at least Waldon Press Inc.'s share.
Upstairs, a shipment of paper is expected, down the hall bluelines are scrutinized, and around the corner from the view of the Financial District the sheet-fed presses are rumbling out pages.
Waldon Press produces a variety of printed pieces, from basic mutual fund prospectuses to sophisticated four-color annual reports. The plant is also kept busy with weekly newsletters and union work. In each job time is the most precious commodity, particularly in the computer age and New York City, both of which demand almost instantaneous turnaround. Waldon Press and Donat have built a business around producing accurate, clean and accessible reports and publications -- delivered "yesterday" if need be.
The NBA's newsletter is a case in point. Work begins Monday mornings with computerized typesetting. Once the copy is set, pages are made up and then, with an editor's okay, production begins; by 4 p.m. that day the publication is at the post office awaiting distribution.
"Printing is extremely interesting," says Donat, a buoyant man who speaks with zest, whether it's about business, his family or sailing, a favorite pastime. "Printing spans the gap between the intellectuality of the written word and personal appreciation for mechanical expertise.
"I started out in a totally different technology. Over the years the manufacturing of the printed word has changed drastically." The evolution can be measured as a visitor passes an old linotype machine Donat keeps for historical, and sen-timental, reasons. What was once wrought in hot lead is now produced with electronic keystrokes.
"I am sure communications will continue to change," says Donat, who is not at all unnerved by the prospect. "The tempo with which we get news and information will be much greater but there remains a time when you need to sit down to read in depth. Computers have pushed us to make decisions about what information we want."
Waldon Press occupies two and a half floors of a building in Chelsea, a section of New York City that is attracting more and more printers and publishers. Located between the Financial District and midtown Manhattan, the business is ideally situated. During a tour through offices, by presses and past rolls of paper ("I buy paper from Harry Gould, a classmate, through I'm sure he thinks not enough") Donat points out Wall Street and the Statue of Liberty beyond. "There's nothing like sailing past that on your own boat," says Bill.
"I'm sure communications will continue to change. The tempo with which we get news and information will be much greater but there remains a time when you need to sit down to read in depth."
After graduation and an army stint during the Berlin crisis, Donat, emboldened by his linguistic ability (he speaks four languages), "attempted to teach French at NYU." A lack of patience convinced him otherwise. "How shall I say? The pace was not suited to my personality," says Donat, who found his natural gait in publishing houses rather than the repetitiveness of French 102.
By 1967 he had returned to the family business as a seasoned production man. "Working for others wasn't as gratifying," says Donat, "even if you have to pull in your belt from time to time."
Waldon Press was founded in 1949 by Donat's father Alexander, shortly after the family emigrated to this country from Poland and the horror of the Holocaust. "My immediate family mercifully lived through it," says Donat. Not without suffering. Donat was smuggled out of the Warsaw Ghetto and lived with a family and then in a Catholic orphanage between the ages of five and seven. During that time his parents were held in a total of 10 concentration camps but survived. Ten years after the reunited family arrived in America, Bill was a freshman at Colgate. "I wanted to be totally immersed in the American experience," says Donat, though his earlier memories burn bright and clear.
On his office credenza there is a photograph of his mother holding his granddaughter. He took the picture so the child would have vivid evidence of a time to remember. Clearly visible on her great-grandmother's forearm is a tattoo -- 49397, the number she was given at Auschwitz.
The experience of the Warsaw Ghetto and beyond were captured in Alexander Donat's book, The Holocaust Kingdom, which marked the first time the tragedy was called the Holocaust. The book, which was taught at Colgate as part of the late Terrence Des Pres' Survivors course, helped launch nonprofit Holocaust Publications Inc. The Donats had more than 50 titles in print until donations dried up during the late '80s recession.
Telling the story
Donat lectures about his childhood and the experience of the Holocaust. He has been told his appearance at Colgate was "electrifying" for students. "I shared the experiences they were going through as undergraduates and was a link between the books they were reading about the Holocaust and the actual era."
Donat and his wife Ellen have three children and all of them are pursuing postgraduate degrees in Morningside Heights. Greg is in law school, Ted is in the MBA program and Jocelyn is working full-time and enrolled in the executive MBA program. "And I got a hat that says `Columbia' out of the whole deal," says Donat.
Bill is able to trace Colgate's growth through Jocelyn, who graduated in 1988 and is class president. "The university has enlarged," says Donat without regret but with real pride.
Business beckons. "Obviously I opted to continue in the family business and over the years it has been satisfying, but you pay a price. Some nights you wake up staring at the ceiling because of the things flying through your mind. Running a business is like life itself -- full of great concerns and moments of trepidation. But it's certainly worth it and I'm looking forward to what's ahead."