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The ICCPA story I n t e r- C o u n t y C o o p e r a t i ve P u b l i s h i n g A s s o c i a t i o n

“A voice for us” The birth of the nation’s first cooperative-owned newspaper

November 1, 1933 was a long day and night for the staff of a newspaper that was about to see its first printing. Despite the excitement in the air, some fought off sleep while others gave in to fatigue and napped as the premiere edition of the Inter-County Leader – the nation’s first cooperative-owned newspaper - rolled off the presses in the earlymorning hours of November 2. The headline across the front page read, Farmers’ Strike Called Off Temporarily. It represented the tone of the times. In the midst of the Great Depression, farmers were being subjected to foreclosures and bankruptcies because the prices they could receive for what they produced was less than their cost of operation. Many farmers felt their concerns weren’t being listened to or reflected accurately in the pages of newspapers locally and throughout the state. It was from such a setting that the Inter-County Leader came into being. Some of the original organizers were members of the Polk County Farmers Holiday Association, the group promoting the farm strike called in 1933. A group of farmers met several times that summer and considered purchasing the Polk County Ledger in Balsam Lake, but liked the idea of starting their own newspaper, especially after learning it would involve a third the cost of purchasing the Ledger. According to longtime Leader employee Ray Linden, whose father Carl was one of the first board members, their neighbor, Charles Eckels, had an idea to help the area farmers. “He came over one day and told my dad ‘We’ve got to start a newspaper!’” Linden said Eckels went to all the coop store managers to get backing. Area farmers were asked to pitch in five bucks apiece and a cooperative was formed. While most cooperatives sold farm products, this one aimed to serve the people with a forum for viewpoints and ideas. Some of the co-op members knew See A Voice, page 3


Serving Northwest Wisconsin

n bu r h s Wa nt y Cou


Publishers of the Advertisers, the Inter-County Leader and the Washburn County Register




What we do...

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The Inter-County Cooperative Publishing Association publishes two newspapers and five Advertisers each week, adding up to more than 700,000 papers printed each month. We also have a commercial printing department that designs and prints business cards, brochures, calendars, posters, and more. ICCPA employs more than 70 persons with an annual payroll of approximately two million dollars a year. Depending on its yearly success, it returns a percentage of its net profit to businesses and employees.

Birth of the Advertisers The “Yellow Papers” become the catalyst for the cooperative’s growth For the past 40 of its 75 years, the success of the Advertisers, known by most of Northwest Wisconsin as the “yellow papers,” has allowed the ICCPA to expand and improve its operation while creating more employment. In 1967, on the heels of installing a new offset web press, the Indianhead Advertiser was launched. Built on the monthly Milltown Advertiser, which the cooperative had purchased in 1953, the weekly Indianhead Advertiser was geared to serve all of Burnett and Polk counties with a new advertising service which would reach every postal box holder in the area. Then-manager Ed Grienke called Frank Gurksy, known for his past employment with the EnterpriseHerald at Luck, and Gursky became the advertising manager and promoter for the Gursky new publication. It wasn’t long before the obvious success of the Indianhead Advertiser led to an expansion of its distribution area, in 1970. Next, the cooperative

Dick Wilder, a longtime pressman for the Leader, looks over a copy of the Milltown Advertiser which the cooperative purchased in 1953. The forerunner to the Indianhead Advertiser, it offered a mix of ads and news. areas. launched the Tri-County Advertiser, building on the nucleus of the New Richmond Shopper, a monthly publication that had been printed in the Leader plant for some years. Jim Brinkman was hired to be the salesman. The TriCounty Advertiser grew rapidly, calling for expansion of its area to include all of northern St. Croix County, parts of Polk County and other neighboring

A third publication - the Wild Rivers Advertiser, was launched in 1972, starting with an office in Spooner. It was developed to serve Washburn and Barron counties, along with parts of Sawyer and Rusk counties. Wayne Boniface and Erland Quinn were hired as ad salesmen for this publication. Today, the cooperative publishes five Advertisers - the Indianhead, Wild Rivers North, Wild Rivers South, Tri-

Thousands of Advertisers roll off the presses at ICCPA each week. County North and Tri-County South. The success of the Advertisers, which led to growth of the company and need for more space, led to the second move of the cooperative, in 1974, from the plant on Oak Avenue in Frederic to its present location on North Wisconsin Avenue (Hwy. 35). From 1966 to 1974 the cooperative tripled its total income and within 10 years it realized a tenfold increase in advertising sales alone - and by 1979 ad

sales broke $1 million. Today, sales from the Advertisers represent well over $3 million of the cooperative’s approximate $5 million in total sales. The Advertiser made it possible to expand a workforce that now includes more than 70 employees, injecting more than $2 million in salaries, wages, taxes and benefits into the local economy. And using more than 2 million pounds of newsprint most of it yellow.



S t o r y

A new paper The first editorial, published Nov. 2, 1933, by editor Bennie Bye “All

firrst Inter-County Leader, Nov. 2, 1933. The front page of the fi

A voice/from page 1 Bennie Bye and approached him to be the editor and manager. Bye had newspaper experience, working with area newspaper publishers W. R. Vezina at St. Croix Falls and E. E. Husband at the Ledger in Balsam Lake. A Grantsburg High School graduate, Bye was a printer’s apprentice at the office of the Grantsburg Journal.

“Carry the truth”

“The Inter-County Leader enters the newspaper field with no sense of animosity toward our present weekly papers,” wrote O.A. Bloom, one of the original organizers. “The Leader is owned by men and women in all walks of life; farmers, business and professional men from all parts within our county and without. Our mission shall be mutual cooperation for the best interests of all of us. The Inter-County Leader speaks for no special privilege. It will be an organ through which any and all of us may voice our opinions; in other words, a free press.” Bye reinforced Bloom’s message with his own words in the premiere issue of the Leader, including the following words: “The principal way in which we expect to make this paper different from the common run of papers is that we are in business for service and not for profit, and intend to carry the truth to the public regardless of whose toes get pinched.”

The board of directors of the Inter-County Cooperative Publishing Association has changed its membership many times during its 75-year history. Shown is one of the earliest boards of the cooperative. Seated are Herb Mittelsdorf of Farmington; J.W. Hanson, president, Bone Lake; and Carl Linden, Grantsburg; standing: Harry Hallquist, Paul Bosley, Fred Weis and Arnold Biederman.

Early growth

In the early years, Bye and his family lived above the print shop on Centuria’s Main Street, with very little earnings. The net earnings for the cooperative in its first four months of operation was just over $500. But the popularity of the Leader was evident by its subscription list, which grew from to 1,400 in its first weeks. By the third year of its publication, the Inter-County Leader had outgrown its quarters in the small two-story building on the south side of Centuria’s Main Street, and the start of 1936 saw the cooperative move into the big Sievert auto garage. Once remodeled, the garage provided plenty of room for a print shop and editorial space to provide a weekly paper for 3,000 subscribers – nearly twice as many as in 1934, the paper’s first full year of production. A new press – a large Duplex from Scotts Bluff, Neb., arrived at the shop on a cold January day, followed closely by a truck with another five tons of equipment, being moved across town. Centuria, according to the ICCPA’s 20year anniversary chronology, was enjoying the distinction of being a publishing town. Before long, the new press was turn-

The building on the west end of Main Street in Frederic was the home of the Inter-County Leader beginning in 1939. It served as home for the publishing plant until 1974. ing out 10,000 Leaders in about three hours time – once a week. After printing 12-page issues each week, Editor Bye felt they could accommodate all the news items piling up on his desk, but it didn’t work out that way. Only extra advertising justified increasing the page count to 14. By the end of October 1936, the Leader was printing 22 pages broadsheet on a regular basis – a “phenomenal growth” for a paper that started from scratch three years earlier, Bye noted. The Inter-County Leader published was a lot of national, state and most importantly, local news. All for $1.50 a year.


In 1938, The Capital Times newspaper in Madison took note of the young pub-

lication, editorializing “When the newspapers of the state and nation are so largely dominated by the big interests, it is refreshing to note that progress is being made in a different, idealistic type of journalism.” Bye commented in his column a few months later that while most newspapers shape their editorial policy according to advertising patronage, the Leader just couldn’t do that. “The fact that one certain candidate runs a good-sized ad does not guarantee him a good news or editorial write-up in this paper.” The formation of cooperatives, government legislation affecting farmers – it was all part of the early Leader’s agenda, as promised. What began as literal civil unrest in the streets was manifesting in the newspaper. And readers were eager to participate. At one point the Leader began charging 15 cents for every 100 words over 1,000 words of a letter to the editor. People had found a forum - and some got a bit carried away. A woman from Clear Lake wrote to demand Bye investigate nepotism and other wrongdoings in Polk County’s relief program, writing “why is the committee chairman’s wife permitted to be foreman when she is too dumb to do the clerical work?” Bye published it. The letter writer, editor and cooperative soon faced a $12,000 libel suit, settled peaceably in October of 1939. But the spirit of the paper was never broken and another move was being made - to Frederic - in a building the west side of Main Street, described by the editor as “a dandy.” “The Leader directors and management are not unmindful of the fine treatment that has been had at the hands of most of the business people of Centuria, and it is with regret that we move away,” said a 1939 editorial by editor Bennie Bye.

News and advertising

The building on the west end of Main Street, which stands yet today, offered the newspaper elbow room for growth. Nearing a circulation of 3,800, the Leader had more than doubled its outreach in its first half-dozen years, promBennie Bye (third from right), the fi firrst editor of the Inter-County Leader, took time to pose for a photograph with his crew in front of the Centuria plant.

See A Voice, page 4


right, folks, here is the first issue of the long talked-of, long heralded cooperative newspaper serving Polk and neighboring counties. While we are swamped with work and hardly have time to write anything, a brief outline of the steps taken to establish this paper ought to be part of this issue. This is not a Farmers Union paper, though it has been advertised as such through both talk and published articles in neighboring papers. However, we are not ashamed of the platform, aims and principles of the Farmers Union and wish every one of them could be put into practice. But the reason the establishment of this paper has been referred to as a Farmers Union movement is undoubtedly due to the fact that the individuals belonging to the organization have done a great deal to ‘put the venture over.’ Five of the seven members of the board of directors are Union members, but a rough check-up shows that more stock has been bought by nonUnion members than by members. Stock has been bought by Union, Holiday and Equity members, by people belonging to none of these organizations, by business and professional men. No lines have been drawn, but all stock has been sold with the understanding that this is to be a cooperative paper serving the best interests of the common people, whether they be farmers, professional men or business men. The welfare of one group should mean the welfare of the other groups. The principal way in which we expect to make this paper different from the common run of papers is that we are in business for service and not for profit, and intend to carry the truth to the public regardless of whose toes get pinched. In other words, our policy will be shaped by a devotion to the greatest good for the greatest number, and not by what is or what is not apparently best for the immediate swelling of the cash box. So, when the first stockholders’ meeting was held on Monday, Oct. 9, Centuria was readily decided on as the location. Articles of incorporation were adopted without difficulty, and the meeting insisted that the committee of seven who had worked so faithfully on the paper deal from the start should be elected to the first board of directors. The election was unanimous. Here they are: J.W. Hanson, Luck; P.TH. Peterson, Johnstown; Chas. Eckels, Wolf Creek; Amil Markee, Apple River; O.A. Bloom, Osceola; H.A. Mittelsdorf, Farmington; Carl Linden, Burnett County. J.W. Hanson had served the committee as president, and Chas Eckels as secretary, and they were elected to like positions on the board of directors, with Herb Mittelsdorf as vice president. The above committee worked hard and tirelessly toward the goal of a cooperatively owned and operated newspaper. It would be impossible to know where to place the most credit. Then there were dozens of others throughout the townships of the county who worked hard to sell the necessary stock. While the shares were only $5 (non-assessable) yet it hardly necessary to comment on the scarcity of $5 bills. But, the job is done and the new paper is a reality and will be for some time if we live through getting out this first issue of 8,500, 16page papers.




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A Voice/from page 3 ising a voice for not only the farmers but everyone who “needs a voice.” Separating the editorial and business end of the newspaper was important to maintain credibility among readers. Yet some space was found each week to remind folks how the Leader offered the best value for their advertising dollar. From a Dec. 12, 1939, issue: “When Mrs. William Gehrke inserted an ad in the Leader last week that she had 100 White Rock and Giant pullets, a plane landed in the yard the next day after the paper came out, purchasing the whole flock at a good price.” News and advertising in one article, editor Bye might have decided. As the war years arrived the Leader offered up much of its space to news of servicemen often tragic news - and for every local aspect of the war front. Calls for enlistment, working in the shipyards, promotion of war bonds, gas rationing and general patriotism crowded each page of the Leader. Bye, now editor and manager, in a 1943 issue, called to task Congressman Alvin O’Konski for a column that never saw publication. “This week we publish Congressman O’Konski’s news notes and comments, after skipping it last week,” Bye wrote. “His last week’s letter was such that, in our opinion, it would have been a disrupting influence on national unity in a time of war, and the Leader did not want to be a party to it.” O’Konski wrote Bye and admitted his words were “a little too strong.” “It was one of those days, Bennie, when I was investigating some of the ship building contracts and investigating the automobile situation in Washington. And I think I should have cooled off a bit before I wrote that newsletter.” Bye wrote, “We do not wish to be a judge of what our readers should read or not read, but we do reserve the privilege of drawing the line as to what we print and become responsible for.”

Promotes cooperative

Bye crusaded for the local farmers through his writing but also worked behind the scenes, helping to publish a Farmers Union newspaper and getting involved with state editorial associations and attempting to further the cause of the common man. He died on a Wednesday morning, the publication day for the Leader. It was all his coworkers could do to publish that week’s Leader.

“We shall miss his patient attitude when trials and tribulations rise. We shall miss his geniality and kindliness, his tolerance and quiet unassuming presence,” stated a eulogy printed on the front page. “In a very modest way, he was a prince among men.”


Copies of the Leader were handed out to waiting youths, anxious to see the list of

Just a few days after Bennie teacher assignments at Frederic Schools. Bye’s death in 1953, Romain Brandt was named editor and “Behind the Signpost,” colpublisher of the Leader. Brandt umn, the longest-running local fell into the role with ease, pencolumn in the Leader’s history, ning a weekly column titled continuing today. “Pause A Moment.” He relied on In the 1970s, a part-time co-worker Elmer Haumant, who reporter position was created had worked for The Star and was to help cover assignments folhired by the Leader upon the lowed a few years later by Leader’s acquisition of that another, full-time position. paper. It was while Asper was ediHaumant was sportswriter, tor that the Inter-County compositor, linotype operator Cooperative Publishing and advertising manager before Association began to publish being named editor and shop the Advertisers (see separate foreman in 1958 upon Brandt’s story), allowing for further departure for another job at growth beyond the base of the Berlin, Wisconsin. Brandt went cooperative, which had been on to become the executive direc- Bernice Asper was the editor newspaper production and job tor of the Wisconsin Newspaper of the Leader for 20 years, printing. Association and died in the early from 1963 to 1983. She wrote After retirement, Asper a weekly column called As Per 1990s. stayed on the job, continuing Haumant, who had grown up Bernice. her personal columns for a few in Frederic and had become well said. years and covering a variety of known for his “Sports Flashes” Asper, a graduate of Luck assignments part-time. She and “Sports Corner” columns in High School, had worked at a entered full-time retirement in the newspaper, was a natural variety of jobs in the area but 1993, after 30 years as an editor choice to edit the paper. He had little journalism experi- and journalist for the Leader. knew most people in the village ence, aside from an office job at She later served on the Polk well and filled the newspaper the Enterprise-Herald at Luck. County Board of Supervisors with insights on the news stories Her high school journalism and continues her interest in he covered. He wrote a column teacher had told her she would the newspaper and local goventitled “The Way We See It.” make a good journalist but due ernment issues. The Leader was now the only to the shortage of money durnewspaper in Frederic. Due to ing the Depression years, and 1983-2008 “changing conditions in the when her father gave her $300 Upon Asper’s stepping printing field which made it to help her on her way, she down from the editor’s posialmost impossible for two ended up going to tion in 1983, Gary King was papers to exist in one town,” Minneapolis Business College. chosen for the editor’s chair. according to The Star’s editor One of her first stories to He had had been hired by the Harvey Oleson, the Leader pur- write, just a few weeks after cooperative in 1977, working chased the Star in 1951. It was being hired, was that of the as a darkroom technician and a called the Inter-County Leader assassination of President sportswriter before taking the and Frederic Star for awhile but Kennedy. helm of the Leader. eventually returned to its origiUnder the guidance of manShe soon began a personal nal title. column, “As Per Bernice,” agers Frank Gursky and In late 1963, Haumant resigned which drew a following Gursky’s successor, Doug his position, and manager Ed among readers and allowed Panek and support from the Greinke hired his replacement – her to render opinions on a board of directors, has opened on the spot. number of personal and politi- satellite offices in Siren and St. cal issues, in a homespun man- Croix Falls and expanded its The Asper years news coverage to include more ner. Bernice Asper entered the Asper was the only editorial sports coverage and county world of small-town journalism staff person in those days, cov- and local government news. on November 1, 1963, 30 years to ering a number of meetings in In 2004, the cooperative purthe day that the first Leader has person and by phone, coming chased the Washburn County been assembled for printing. in at 4 a.m. most days to get the Register newspaper, based in The first and only woman edi- job done. She did the payroll Shell Lake. tor of the paper to date and the and helped insert papers. With the addition of full only female newspaper editor photographs and Manager Greinke and press- color around at that time, she recalls man Clyde Kunze would help expanded coverage, both the that filling the position seemed out with photo and sports Register and Leader have daunting in those first months. assignments. Kunze penned experienced growth in reader And it didn’t help that she was “Kunze’s Korner,” a weekly circulation, the Register’s press receiving angry letters from a look at local sports that drew a run at nearly 2,000 and the phantom writer. Leader’s at nearly 8,000. heavy following. “There were some people who Both the Leader and Register Longtime proofreader felt I was in over my head, and of Bernice Abrahamzon added to offer a Web site and the Leader course, I thought I was, too,” she the mix with her popular site offers a virtual edition of

Since 1933 Board of Directors

J.W. Hanson Herb A. Mittelsdorf Charles Eckels Amil Markee P. Th. Petersen O.A. Bloom Carl Linden Ed Larson F.W. Wiese Guy Clark Walter C. Helbig Paul Bosley Harry Hallquist Arnold Biederman Leonard Linden Raymond Nelson John Northquest Clifford Olson Dale Knauber Mickey L. Olson Viola Olson Vivian Byl Delroy Peterson Charles Johnson Robert Dueholm Evald “Bob” Gjerning Janet Oachs Harvey Stower Merlin Johnson


Bennie Bye Romain Brandt Ed Greinke Frank Gursky Doug Panek


Bennie Bye Romain Brandt Elmer Haumant Bernice Asper Gary King

the newspaper – with every page of the weekly newspaper offered online. Technology keeps changing but the mission remains the same; providing a public forum and endeavoring to tell stories and events that reflect, create and sustain the communities we serve.

Management and Board of Directors • 2010

Doug Panek Manager

Konnie Didlo Asst. Manager

Vivian Byl Chairman - Luck

Charles Johnson Trade Lake

Janet Oachs Grantsburg

Merlin Johnson Grantsburg

Carolyn Wedin Frederic

History of ICCPA  

History of the Inter-County Cooperative Publishing Association

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