By RON BAUMGARTNER Publisher, The Papers Incorporated
My life has never strayed far from 206 South Main Street in Milford. When my father bought The Milford Mail from Carlyle Barnes and A. J. Forbing in August 1939, along with the newspaper business there was a two-story building; print shop downstairs and apartment upstairs.
The apartment was home for a number of years. Home to my parents, my kid sister, Jane and, me. And if my mother was needed in the shop downstairs, as a toddler, my napping place was on a skid of newsprint waiting to eventually be fed into a printing press.
Main Street, the B&O railroad tracks behind, the Mac Little farm with a half dozen barns and milking stalls to the south, Turkey Creek and the Milford Veterinary Clinic on Section Street made a boundless playground. But, when I was old enough, all this was never quite out of reach of a call to come help fold papers after The Milford Mail was printed each week. The pick-up baseball game would have to wait. Folding a sheet of paper even and true in the corners; jogging up a stack of papers once folded is an art that once learned is never lost. Like tying your shoes, if you can do it once, you can do it a thousand times.
Growing up the son of a highly visible newspaper publisher, like the banker, the druggist and the high school principal, does not lend itself to anonymity for family members. Especially with a town full of aunts and uncles also named “Baumgartner.” So good or bad, if you did the deed, your name was in the paper and mine occasionally graced the pages for sporting events (someone had to warm the bench) to speeding tickets. After all, if it’s public record and fit to print, the policy was and still is to treat all evenly and equally, with rare exception.
Names that come back to me from 50-60 years ago; names of men and women who worked alongside my parents are likely frozen in my mind forever: Dale Sherman; Dean Wallace; Lloyd Coy; Maude McLaughlin; Betty Smith; and my aunt, Edith Baumgartner. You could give each one a moniker, a title; news editor, printer, linotype operator, bookkeeper, but as with most any small business, people do whatever needs to be done, and the smaller the business, the more diverse the duties.
Like any son or daughter turning 16, I’m sure my parents had some sleepless nights but my driver’s license also freed them or another adult from delivering newspapers to stores and job printing to customers. Back in the days of hot metal and letterpress printing, The Goshen News would engrave the pictures for The Milford Mail onto etched plastic blocks for printing; high technology of the day. As a high school kid, I was asked (and happy to do it) to make the once or twice a week trip to Goshen and wait for the scans. Given the run of the place (the son of a fellow newspaper man) exposed me to the various departments of a daily newspaper and the men and women who worked there to publish a paper every day. Now mostly gone, they too remain in my mind as part of the heritage I carry for this industry.
The original 44-foot store front building on Main Street was expanded and added to at least nine times in the first 60 years since 1939; consuming at least three residents, an apartment building owned by Phil and Clarann Campbell and the Masonic Lodge at the corner of Emeline and Main streets. This block encompassed a large part of my playground as a grade-schooler. As technology advanced and the printing and publishing business grew, each addition was a little or a lot larger than the previous. Early brick and mortar, carpentry and electrical needs were the handy work of local craftsmen like Cy Hollar, Ray Bray, Elmer Rassi and Dick Smith. Broken press gears and drive shafts brought Joe Hampsher from across the street or Earl Miller from Beer and Slabaugh in Nappanee.
What possessed my father, still a college student, to purchase The Milford Mail with technology not much advanced from Gutenberg and moveable type, is beyond me. I would have thought his venture doomed for failure. But with the early purchase of a used linotype, a cantankerous machine with many gears that had a keyboard and would cast lines of type out of molten lead to today’s electronic marvels that allow us to bring you StaceyPageOnLine.com in a completely digital format, his early exuberance and spontaneous purchase cast a family legacy that has carried us for the last 75 years.
All these years later I and the 250 or so men and women who work here owe our careers to that first impulsive step my father took years ago. Though our printing and publishing business has grown and diversified, The Mail-Journal, the marriage in 1962 of The Milford Mail and The Syracuse-Wawasee Journal, remains the flagship of our business.
Our goal has not strayed over the years. We continue to bring a community newspaper to the Lakeland area, to serve the towns of Milford, North Webster and Syracuse, and to be the newspaper of record for our communities, recording the local news stories, features and photos as best we can. Hopefully, this will continue for the next 75 years.