Written by Kelli Fuqua Hart, Ocala Magazine Executive Editor and Dr. Bud Beck
Jimmy Carter was President of the United States. People had stopped buying homes because the interest rate had skyrocketed and was hovering somewhere around 21-percent. New York City was considering bankruptcy. A sleepy little town called Ocala was desperately trying to gain tourist dollars from attractions such as Silver Sp rings Park, Wild Waters, Herby Moore’s Wax Museum and the famous Six Gun Territory. And during this same period of time, a young, vibrant North Carolina raised girl found herself in the heart of Central Florida, having moved here alongside her family. In a town of less than 40,000, what would this ambitious newcomer do? The question would soon become, “What wouldn’t she do?!”
Linda Marks was a child of the sixties. While she did not concern herself with the Vietnam War, she was very much aware of the social revolution that was taking place over the decades leading to a pivotal moment in her life. During a time where tourism was booming for Ocala’s economy, something was missing. People drove from all over to see Ocala’s world famous Glass Bottom Boats and underwater vistas, but when they arrived, they had no idea where to go to enjoy a juicy steak or where to find luxurious lodging. Something was missing.
Let’s Rewind a Moment
Marks grew up in the south, where the theology at the time supported the ideal “separate but equal.” In high school, a guidance counselor knocked down her dream with a matter-of-fact response, “Girls can’t be attorneys!” He then gave her a list of what she could choose from – housewife, secretary, nurse, teacher or retail clerk. None of these options called to Marks.
Having given x-ray technician a try, Marks still felt unfulfilled. She wanted to embark on a different career – something creative that required use of her mind. Back to school she went. Her desire to become an attorney was still very present. Now married to a very successful, wealthy owner of an international advertising agency, Marks spent her days playing Bridge and showing poodles. She was completely comfortable and utterly bored. Marks knew there was something more.
During a prestigious equine event, a New York Times photographer asked Marks to step out of a photo that involved her husband. “That is when I had my Scarlett O’Hara moment,” she claims. “As God as my witness, I would never be made to feel that way again.”
It was soon after this pivotal moment, Linda Marks had a novel idea – she would become the publisher of Today in Ocala. Using an inheritance from her grandmother, Linda invested in herself and her future, owning what is now called Ocala Magazine, Ocala’s oldest, most prestigious and sought-after magazine.
Paving the Way
Today in Ocala was a bold idea, especially during a time when the idea of a woman in business for herself had not been generally accepted. In fact, women were just beginning to feel “allowed” to explore the idea of college. There was no such thing as a “glass ceiling” because women weren’t even permitted in the front door unless they worked for a man. Barbara Walters had become the first network anchor woman on national television and Sandra Day O’Connor was about to become the first woman on the Supreme Court of the United States – all historical moments.
Not a single bank, or banker for that matter, would take a woman trying to start her own company serious. Additionally, not many people bought into the big city concept that Marks had planned for small town Ocala – a concept that would bring quality and sophistication to the community in the form of a complimentary, monthly publication. Boy were they all wrong!
In July of 1980, when Today in Ocala was born, there were no other color magazines in town. Marks took Today in Ocala and, using a spare bedroom as headquarters, her car as a delivery vehicle and her own devices to sell advertising, she single-handedly operated a publishing company that spearheaded and changed print media in Ocala forever. For quite sometime, in fact, Today in Ocala was the only media source in Ocala and possibly the entire state of Florida entirely owned by a woman. Marks was a trailblazer!
Marks hit the pavement presenting advertising opportunities to men who were struggling to take her seriously. But, she persevered. When over a ton of digest-sized magazines arrived in her driveway, Marks would wrap her wrists in bandages and began lifting and stacking each bundle one by one, all on her own. For a solid year, she was her only employee. But Marks was undaunted. Her labor of love meant twenty-four hour days; seven days a week; creating concepts, writing, doing photography, managing marketing, making sales and delivering.
In three months, Today in Ocala began turning a profit. What started as a hobby to allow her to sharpen her writing and speaking skills for her jurist career, was becoming a clear money-making business and was changing the forecast of business, tourism and media in Ocala. Likewise, the naysayers were having to eat humble pie. “I was making many family members and friends eat their words,” chuckles Marks. “I was proving a small town could have a big-city, quality magazine, just as I predicted.”
While the nation changed during the reign of Ronald Reagan, so did Today in Ocala. The page count increased as local businesses realized the advantage of being associated with Ocala’s most popular publication. Along with the popularity came a name change to Ocala Today in October of 1987. Finally, recognizing her success, Linda’s family began helping her and the community rallied behind the publication.
“My mother, brother, sister-in-law, husband, aunt and uncle all contributed to the magazine at one time,” reminisces Marks. “I finally has a team to help me grow the company. They helped by writing, delivering and selling.”
Ocala Today boomed and continued to grow. Going into the nineties, looking the new millennium in the eye, Ocala Today evolved in March of 2002 into the full size Ocala Magazine that Ocala/Marion County residents recognize and love.
Marks is known throughout the publishing industry as one of the true innovators. Her example gave birth to a plethora of city magazines across multiple states.
Locally, Ocala Magazine became the school for writers, artists, designers and salespeople, all aspiring to match Linda Marks’ success. Her example and guidance gave start to imitators and competition from Savannah to Miami, including some of our other local, familiar publications. It is difficult to find any local publication that does not owe it’s beginning to Linda Young Marks and the legacy of Ocala Magazine.
The numerous, prestigious awards that have been heaped upon Ocala Magazine statewide and nationally tell the true story of Marks’ success – all culminating with the latest accolade, Florida Magazine Association naming Ocala Magazine “Best Overall Consumer Magazine in Florida” in August of 2014.
Meanwhile, Ocala Magazine stands head and shoulders above everyone else, winning more awards for excellence in design, unique concepts, artwork, photography and editorial excellence than anyone else in Florida.
Perhaps even more impressive than the awards, is the woman behind the legacy. Special Publications, the parent company of Ocala Magazine, Charity Register, Home and various other publications is one of very few magazine publishing companies, if not the only one, in the state and nation owned exclusively and run by the same person for 35 years.
35 Years Speaks Volumes
There are many women who have the reputation for being acclaimed leaders, influencers and role models for the women’s movement and all women today. You can look to Barbara Walters, Linda Ellerbee, Jane Pauley and Jessica Savitch in media. They all made quite the impact and have since stepped aside. In our region, Linda Marks is among these names, deservingly. Yet, Marks continues educating and guiding a new generation of women and men alike. When you ask her if she plans on retiring, she laughs. “What would I do then?” Marks asks.
Much younger than the esteemed and remarkable jurist Sandra Day O’Connor, perhaps ten or twenty years from now Marks just might borrow her words from a recent interview; “I think of myself as a lady who has had a pretty darn good career.”