ARTIST SPOTLIGHT:  Missouri Life Magazine, Danita Allen Wood – Editor in Chief
Article and photos by Kim Carr

Just about 100 miles from Kansas City or 150 miles from St. Louis, depending on which way the crow is flying…..you will find the little river town of Boonville, Missouri. Boasting a population of just over 8,000 rural souls, this community lays claim to over 450 sites and structures which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. One such place is the Hotel Frederick which was built in 1905 for the low, low cost (in today’s world) of just $40,000.

Over the years, the hotel has changed hands a few times and even served as a retirement community for many years until closing in 1994 and sitting vacant the next ten years. Luckily, the historic hotel was purchased in 2004 and restored to its former glory, this time to the tune of about $4 million dollars. Guests from all over can once again enjoy the grandeur and beauty of the Hotel Frederick located at 501 High Street in the heart of Boonville.

Missouri Life magazine has created a perfect setting for itself by converting guest rooms of a hotel hallway into great office space. It’s certainly not something you expect to find in the grand old hotel, but it is a wonderful pairing as they both celebrate Missouri at its finest. The magazine, like the hotel, has changed hands over the years. The first publication of the magazine was in 1973 by Bill Nun. By 1999, Danita Allen Wood and her husband Greg Wood found themselves settling in as the new owners with Danita as Editor-in- Chief and Greg as Publisher.

It’s not surprising that a major publication such as Missouri Life has planted its roots in a rural town. As a child, Danita grew up on a dairy farm near Clinton, Missouri. Her family milked around 100 head of Holsteins every day. I can only imagine that this is where Danita developed her organizational skills and ability to work within a timeframe. First Danita acquired her bachelor’s degree in Agriculture, but there was still a need not yet filled. She went on to earn a Master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Missouri where she also met her husband Greg who earned his degree in Ag Journalism.

Over the years, Danita built a steady foundation in journalism while working for Country America at Meredith Corporation. Here she cut her teeth on major publications such as Successful Farmer, Midwest Living and Better Homes and Gardens. With sound work experience under her belt, it was only natural that Danita share her knowledge and skill set with others. Once again, she returned to the University of Missouri in Columbia but this time as a professor in the School of Journalism. Here she would spend ten years teaching and leading future generations of journalists.

Like most writers, the urge to put pen to paper or key stroke to computer led Danita and Greg to jump on the opportunity to help breathe new life into the Missouri Life Magazine. With time and dedication, the magazine has grown and so has the number of staff members. It only made sense to move the offices to the Frederick Hotel in Boonville. The magazine now employs around 12 staff members plus independent writers and other contractors.

On the day that I met with Danita, I walked down the old hotel hallway which was lined with framed prints from past issues of the magazine. Each issue was telling a story and highlighting something wonderful about our great state. Danita’s office was at the end of the hallway. It was full of character, charm and life. It felt like an editor’s office. Her desk held two computers, schedules, manuals, and works-in-progress including page layouts for the upcoming issue of Missouri Life. With the deadline less than a week away, you could tell there was an urgency in the air to finalize details. A phone call came in from someone with the National Pork Board to go over finishing touches on this issue’s back cover ad. The once hotel room/retirement facility, now major magazine office, was well-bathed in natural light. With two large windows looking out onto the quiet streets of Boonville, I could see how the peaceful setting would lend itself to the creativity required for the running of a magazine. Artwork adorns the walls and Danita takes time to tell me about the artists. She loves to collect work from Missouri artists-especially Best of Missouri Hands members.

When I asked about the relationship of Missouri Life magazine with the Best of Missouri Hands, Danita explained that the magazine is a corporate sponsor because she believes in what the BOMH does for artists. Having served on the BOMH board for several years, Danita was first introduced to the group by Mike Ochonicky, a juried member. Although Danita does not consider herself an artist, she does enjoy taking painting lessons. She stated that she clearly did not have a talent for painting but enjoys it immensely. When it comes to being an artist, Danita feels that it can be an isolating experience. This is why she believes so strongly in the BOMH and the opportunity it gives artists to connect through events such as the annual ArtSmart Conference. Danita feels the organization does a marvelous job in providing networking opportunities for Missouri artists.

After visiting with Danita, I feel the magazine is more like a public diary to the good folks of Missouri. Her life seems to be reflected in bits and pieces throughout the pages of the bi-monthly publication. When not at work, Danita lives life to the fullest. She enjoys sewing, gardening, hiking, bicycling and horseback riding. I think adventure is her middle name, much like the magazine….always seeking out little adventures around the state. Big city, small town, back roads… she loves to explore them all. When we met, she was looking forward to going on a paddler’s jamboree. Floating Missouri rivers and waterways is a favored pastime. Of course anytime possible, she and Greg love to hit our mass of trails that are accessible by horseback. It’s only natural that her horse of choice is the Missouri Foxtrotter. She and her husband share their homestead with the horses, several chickens, dogs and cats.

Missouri Life explores the best our state has to offer which includes the most wonderful places to dine, fun and unusual destinations, upcoming events, entertainment, food, wineries, sports and more. Drawing back on Danita and her love of the arts, you will find features in every issue that cover theater, music, visual arts and literature. Over the years, you can find the names of several BOMH artists listed in the pages of Missouri Life – most recently Yukari Kashihara, Theresa Gallup, Joey Los and Terri Balden. In last year’s Christmas Gift Guide, you could find the work of BOMH members such as Village Pewter, Tresa Killion, Don Kelley, Serena Boschert, Rose Monzyk and Christy Crites. Considering Missouri Life can be found in over 1200 newsstands across Missouri, Illinois and Kansas, that’s pretty nice exposure in a highly regarded publication. In October of 2013, Missouri Life was voted Magazine of the Year by the International Regional Magazine Association. It has also won awards for writing, design, illustration, web site and photography.

So the next time you pick up a Missouri Life magazine and are enjoying an article that is brought to life by the words and photos, remember that a whole lot of heart and soul goes into each issue. It takes a team acting as a family to bring you our little piece of the world. No matter how you pronounce Missouri….it is home.

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