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Extra! Itasca! Read all about it! Newspapers: Some come, come go, others last for decades
ITASCA COUNTY – It’s pretty apparent that “like attracts like,” even when it comes to immigrants. Landing at Ellis Island on the East Coast, new arrivals scattered and established communities with like-minded folks, right down to calling the first area “New England.” In other locales folks embraced isolation from others and went so far as using a segregational name like “Little Italy,” “Chinatown” and “the French Quarter.” Even in Itasca County, Suomi (which is Finnish for “Finland”) was a small community made up primarily of Finns.
As long as communities kept to themselves communication was simple, but as the country grew, ethnicities began to mingle and there came a need for information and a way to share it. Newspapers were the solution to getting the information to the people using a standard format.
It’s likely the news was originally disseminated using a simple handbill or short, printed notices—succinct and focused.
However, in the early days the adage “news travels fast” wasn’t appropriate. By the time information about Lincoln’s election as president and the start of the Civil War in 1861 reached California by Pony Express it was old news. More localized publications would be needed if people were to get their news in a timely manner.
The Weekly Eagle made its Grand Rapids debut in July of 1890 though it was actually printed in St. Paul. That paper and its editor, George S. Canfield (newspaper man from Brainerd), was welcomed by the Minnesota press.
The Duluth Evening Herald said, “It has generally been supposed that the chief products of Itasca County were Indians, pine logs, wild ducks and black bass, but to this list must now be added Eagles…The Eagle is the name of a bright and newsy paper which has just made its appearance…”
The Duluth Daily News printed a glowing welcome… “The latest newspaper venture that has come to the News’ notice is the Weekly Eagle, published in Grand Rapids. The News wishes the Eagle well…”
In those early days it seems that the description of what was news was a little different than the way we see it today. Just read a few items from the second issue of the Grand Rapids Weekly Eagle dated July 10, 1890:
“E.T. Dozier, the courteous representative of the Pioneer-Press, was a caller at the Rapids on the Fourth.
“Charley Kearney has a young moose zwhich was taken the other day. He will raise it and make a trotter out of it.
“Will Spencer, of Aitkin, was up on the Fourth. He has recovered the property lost in his late robbery.
“Chas. Lyons will build very soon a residence 18 x 24 feet, two stories. Carpenters wages are $2.50 to $3.00 per day.”
The Grand Rapids Weekly Eagle was only able to put out a few issues before its demise. Maybe it was editor Canfield’s refusal to acknowledge LaPrairie (which was vying with Grand Rapids for county seat), referring to it only as the “the East End,” or perhaps it was his contentious relationship with Judge Buell, a prominent LaPrairie landowner, that sealed the Eagle’s fate. In any event, the paper failed and was later succeeded by the Grand Rapids Magnet which was the first newspaper actually printed in Grand Rapids.
People in LaPrairie managed to get their news in 1890 from the LaPrairie Magnet published by A.G. Bernard or the LaPrairie News, a publication of Thomas & Anderson which, it is believed, became the Grand Rapids Independent in 1903. Bernard also moved himself and his paper out of LaPrairie once Grand Rapids became the county seat in 1892, renaming his paper the Grand Rapids Magnet.
Sounds like a lot of newspapers, doesn’t it? And it was.
Near the turn of the century, however, news coverage in Itasca County began to stabilize.
The first issue of the Grand Rapids Herald was distributed in 1894 under the watchful eye of Edward C. Kiley. Kiley was a frequent writer for and had once been the editor of the Grand Rapids Magnet, so he knew newspapers. In 1896 he purchased the Lumberman’s Review and the Grand Rapids Herald, combined the two and published the Grand Rapids Herald- Review.
It wasn’t until 1914 that Laurence A. Rossman bought half interest in the paper when Kiley became postmaster in Grand Rapids. It would be another ten years before Rossman was sole owner of the Grand Rapids Herald- Review.
Rossman wasn’t content to simply own a newspaper, he also wrote forceful editorials and in-depth news stories. He was often quoted in other Minnesota newspapers.
He took the Grand Rapids Herald-Review to the top, being honored as the outstanding weekly newspaper in the state in 1925.
The paper continued to build its readership. In 1938 James Carey, who had operated an advertising publication, became the advertising manager at Grand Rapids Herald-Review and helped launch the Itasca Shopper.
Just a year later Rossman’s son George joined the paper. George was elected president of the Minnesota Editorial Association in 1953, following in his fathers’ footsteps—he had held that title in 1929. George’s brother, Allen, joined the family business in 1946 as production manager and also worked in sales.
Laurence Rossman was not all about nepotism. He was an astute editor and hired talent to enhance the Grand Rapids Herald-Review. Rossman had a keen interest in all things historical and translated that interest into a newspaper column called “Up in This Neck of The Woods.” That column was later assigned to his two editors: H.D. Horton, northern Itasca teacher and editor from 1924 to 1944; and Ken Hickman, author of the column “Shooting the Rapids” and editor of the Herald-Review from 1948 to 1986.
It could be argued that Hickman was a Rossman family adoptee. He spent many summers next door to the Rossman’s on Pokegama Lake playing tennis and horseshoes with George and Allen.
Hickman was a graduate of the School of Journalism at University of Minnesota. Under his forty years of leadership, the Grand Rapids Herald-Review was consistently rated one of the top community newspapers in Minnesota.
Hickman was a witty, good-natured writer who had a clear vision of, not just newspapers, but all media. He took his storytelling prowess to KBZY radio (now KOZY) broadcasting the first nightly newscasts and adding color to high school football and basketball broadcasts. But his heart was in the print medium—and in the community. Hickman was co-founder of Pike for Vets and Showboat, and was instrumental in getting the National Football Leagues (NFL) Philadelphia Eagles (and then the Green Bay Packers) to hold training camp in Grand Rapids.
Hickman had a personality that drew quality people into his circle. One of those people was the talented artist, Gene Lysaker.
Lysaker came to the Grand Rapids Herald- Review as an advertising artist in the early ‘50s. What may not be well-known is his publication of numerous children’s books which he authored and illustrated.
Lysaker became best known for his entertaining caricatures and realistic wildlife paintings. His renown was beyond local, it became international. His original work, “Many Point Loon” went to former President Gerald Ford. And his adopted winter home of Zihuatanego, Mexico, offered unique people and interesting scenes that were fodder for the artist’s talents. He was such an institution in that community that his obituary, written there, read in part… “The town of Zihuatanego lost one of its favorite old friends. His images will continue to be exhibited. Gene made a difference and positively influenced Zihuatanego’s history possibly without ever realizing it or meaning to…”
Other friends and admirers would miss Lysaker including his tennis double partner, Ken Hickman, who would die just three weeks after Lysaker passed.
Hickman was also instrumental in the newspaper career of writer Kathleen Marok. In 1967 Hickman asked her to write a twice a week column for the Grand Rapids Herald-Review. Marok accepted the challenge and wrote “Out Of My Mind” for the next 23 years.
Marok had a busy life raising eight children so she wrote her column from home. That column offered a homey look at things. Personal reflections to household hints and recipes to amusing anecdotes filled Marok’s column twice a week. But she was adroit enough to fill in for reporters when needed.
Hickman wasn’t the only person at the Grand Rapids Herald-Review to recognize talent. Harriet Sitz was the women’s editor in 1956 when one of her reporters, Clara Sinnet, fell ill. Sitz enlisted a former social news gatherer, Norma Hanson, to fill the gap.
Hanson was a bit hesitant at first since she had a four-year-old daughter at home. It was Hanson’s friends who convinced her to take the job she would hold at the Herald-Review for 28 years.
(Excuse me, but this is where I get personal. It seems like Norma Hanson has always been a part of my life and not just because her daughter and I were buddies in elementary school.)
As the social news editor, Hanson was there to report my Bluebird Girl’s activities in the ‘50s. In the 1960s she documented our class when I was confirmed at First Lutheran Church. Hanson wrote about my wedding in 1970 and the first birthday party for my son in the early ‘70s. She told my story of being a director with American Cancer Society in the ‘80s.
She didn’t just do this for me; Hanson often prepared 20 to 25 pages of copy for every edition of the Herald-Review until she retired as a reporter in 1984.
How many tales of Soap Box Derby’s, Pike For Vets fundraisers, church suppers or Girl Scout cookie sales does that amount to? I don’t know.
And how can you make all of those pieces sound different? How many synonyms are there for “celebrate” and “feted?” I don’t know, but I’ll bet Norma Hanson knew!
Hanson witnessed many of the changes that were to happen at the Grand Rapids Herald- Review. She saw the multiple additions to the building and equipment that triggered the 1972 company name change to Northprint Company. She was there when Robert Rossman, who had joined the company in 1958, became president of Northprint and publisher of the Herald-Review and then sold it to a group represented by Charles Johnson. She even convinced Johnson to put her on staff (once again), this time as a proofreader.
Hanson watched as the assets of Northprint were sold to Jon Miner in 1989.
Hanson passed away in 1995 so she wasn’t around in 1996 when Murphy McGinnis was formed and the Herald-Review became one of their seventeen newspaper group in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Media corporations, publishing companies and conglomerates were taking over newspapers which once had seen a single man at the helm. The news-printers were becoming the news-makers.
In 2004 Murphy McGinnis Media, Inc. sold the company to Superior Publishing, Inc. which was a portfolio company of MCG Capital Corporation. At the end of the same year, Superior
Publishing announced the sale of Twin Ports
Publications and a centralized printing plant.
The days of Hanson, Marok, Lysaker, Hickman 29and the Rossman’s became newspaper history.
The Grand Rapids Herald-Review may have been the oldest and most notable newspaper in Itasca County, but it certainly isn’t the only one published in Grand Rapids or in the county.
Numerous small town newspapers popped up and some had longevity.
You can still read the written word as it was printed by accessing the microfilm on hand at the Itasca County Historical Society (ICHS) in Grand Rapids. To do that, contact ICHS. Due to high volume of demand for this service, you will need to reserve a time to use the machine. Simply call ICHS at 218-326-6431 or email them at ICHS@Paulbunyan.net to make a reservation. You will be able to read:
• Coleraine Itasca Farmer from 1924 to 1928
(closed shop in 1931)
• Bovey Scenic Range News from 1959 to
2004 (This was a merger of Bovey Press
and Itasca Iron News and later became the
Scenic Range News Forum)
• Coleraine Itasca Iron News from 1905 to
• Coleraine Optic from 1913 to 1916, although
it began in 1907
• Deer River Itasca News from 1897 to 1924
• Deer River News from 1943 to 1959
• Deer River Times from 1911 to 1913
• Deer River Western Itasca Review from 1959
to 2005 (this was a merger of Deer River
News and Itasca Progressive)
• LaPrairie Magnet from 1891 to 1894
• Grand Rapids Magnet from 1891 to 1906
• Grand Rapids Herald-Review from 1897 to
• Grand Rapids Itasca County Independent
from 1902 to 1945
• Keewatin Chronicle from 1921 to 1927
though it began in 1917
• Nashwauk Eastern Itascan from 1942
through 2006 (paper started in 1910)
• Bigfork Settler from 1903 to 1914
• Bigfork Times from 1925 to 1933
• Bigfork Itasca Progressive from 1938 to 1959
The old advertisements are still there in those papers. Classic ads offering “Hams, Smoked Skinned, whole or half at 21¢ a pound” or “Bacon Slab at 18¢ a pound.”
You can read the important announcements of the day right beside the worthy news.
Today we can get our news (and our newspaper) online or on a phone app, but it’s just not the same as sitting down to an unwieldy, over-sized bundle of papers and trying to read a news story. You don’t have to clip a coupon out of the Sunday paper because they have their own websites, or can be accessed with a card. But that, too, isn’t quite as much fun as clipping, categorizing and dropping coupons all over the grocery store!
There’s just something satisfying about the tactile pleasure of having a newspaper in your hands. And besides, it’s tough to line the bird cage or wrap fish in your computer!
Jody Hane lives in Grand Rapids, MN. She is the author of the recently published book “After The Pines” available at the Itasca County Historical Society.