It is simply great to have grandsons coming to visit (daughter Amy, too). For sure, nothing beats standing in the airport, waiting for them to come down the ramp, and then just at the moment they see you, they break into a sprint to your waiting arms just as fast as their little legs can go.

When the plane landed in Wichita, 3-year-old Louie asked his mother if they were there yet. She said, “No, we still have to drive to Hillsboro.” He jumped back in his seat and said in a commanding voice, “Everybody, sit down.”

Five-year-old Alex asked Grandma if she still had that place with the snacks. She said yes and that he could go look and see what he might want. So he went and looked and then said, “Oh, I’ll just get one after you go to the grocery store.”

We are happy and pleased to say that the Free Press published its 260th edition last week-which makes us 5 years old.

We already talk about the old days when:

we owned one computer and leased two others. Now we own 10 Macs, two PCs and two servers.

we had four full-time people on staff, plus one part-time in sales. Now our staff includes nine full-time equivalent and 17 part-time.

we had half of a building to work in. Now we have the whole building.

we had one digital camera. Now we have five.

our printer in Valley Center did our mailing and addressing for us. Now we have our own mailing department and mailing equipment.

we printed black, plus one color. Now we print full color every week on at least four pages of every edition, plus full color on every special section.

we had dial-up Internet service on one computer and a slow modem. Now we have wireless DTN broadband on all 12 computers and send the paper totally electronically to the printer via the Internet.

we hauled the paper from the printer back to Hillsboro in two vans. Now we have a truck.

we had no inserts in the paper. Now we routinely have six to nine each week.

we relied entirely on the postal mail stream for our mail delivery. Now we drop ship to every post office in our readership area-except Newton-so the paper is consistently delivered the next day.

I believe this shows what can happen when committed people with lots of energy and skill join together as a team to make a little company grow. We had a lot of good advice along the way, too.

And of course we couldn’t be celebrating our fifth birthday without our many faithful advertisers and readers who have made us their newspaper.

We learned early on that not everyone agrees with what we publish. That’s OK and is a good thing. In fact, it’s the nature of community journalism. We appreciate constructive criticism from anyone who wants to give it. It’s your newspaper, too.

* * *

We look back at the early days and wonder how we were able to do what we did. During the first year we usually worked all night just to make the 5 a.m. copy deadline in Valley Center. When failure is not an option, it is surprising what lengths a human being will go to keep a business going.

When we started, we had to take computer files to Valley Center by car so the film could be imaged for the presses. With the modem speed we had then, the process of transferring those huge files by the Internet would have taken about four hours. We didn’t have that kind of time, and the process was not reliable.

One week, after being up all night, I took off for Valley Center with the disk that held the newspaper. When I got to the printer, we discovered one of the pages was missing from the document. I could have called home and asked someone to go down to the office, copy the missing page to a disk, and drive it down, but in the time it would have taken them to accomplish all that, I could drive back to Hillsboro and do it myself.

So at 6 a.m., I was on my way back to Hillsboro. I retrieved the missing page, and drove right back to Valley Center.

That made for one long day.

* * *

Most start-up newspapers fail within the first six months to a year, or they merge with the competition in some way. That hasn’t happened here.

Our mission from the beginning simply was to put out the best newspaper we possibly could-and do it without paid subscriptions. That was a risky proposition in a predominantly rural market.

As part of our umbrella company, Print Source Direct, we also have a successful printing brokerage that isn’t very visible to the public. That side of our business carried us through the lean times at the beginning. In addition to producing three regular publications-the Free Press and Free Press Extra each week, and the Marion County Advocate every two months-we also have been designing and printing books, catalogs and many other promotional pieces for customers throughout the Midwest and have reliable printing sources throughout the United States and Canada.

I would like to thank my partner, Don Ratzlaff, and the dedicated people who work with us at the Free Press for making this the best place I have ever had the opportunity to spend my work time.

To sum it up, it appears we’re only 95 years away from a centennial celebration.

More from article archives
New HMB exec. director equipped for assignment
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS The new executive director of the Hillsboro Management...
Read More