The Free Press was launched 21 years ago by Joel Klaassen and his partner Don Ratzlaff. It seems very fitting that this month, as the paper celebrates another major milestone, Klaassen has been chosen for the Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame.
Klaassen has been involved in the newspaper since he was a teenager. He started out helping run the presses at the Hillsboro Star-Journal which was then located in Hillsboro and owned by Bud Bruce. Klaassen worked on all kinds of tasks there and learned as much as he could about the newspaper business.
He then attended the University of Kansas where he worked in the KU press department as well as at the University Daily Kansan. Klaassen also worked at a paper in Wichita called the Wichita Sun before returning to Hillsboro.
Once back in Hillsboro, Klaassen and Ratzlaff worked together on a few projects and eventually started the Hillsboro Free Press in 1998 which was the only free newspaper in the area. It continues to be one of the only free papers to exist in Kansas.
Klaassen who has always liked to be busy and has been known to say he “will be working two weeks past his funeral” further expanded his business in order to expand revenue and established Print Source Direct, a book publishing company that still publishes books today. Klaassen has always been passionate about helping people from all around the world get their projects into print.
According to an article in the Kansas Press Association, he “used his printing connections to start a marketing company years before others were advocating for newspapers to do so. The Free Press has helped customers with custom design and printing for years.”
Klaassen sold the Free Press and Print Source Direct to Joey Young in 2014, but he stayed on working on projects for several years. He still checks in regularly on the projects going on and continues to impart his wisdom to Young and others who work at the paper.
Klaassen said, “I am amazed that my peers would elect me to the Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame. To join the ranks of William Allen White and KB “Bud” Bruce, my mentor, and so many other great journalists is quite an honor.”
Klaassen and three other inductees, Lloyd Ballhagen, a former Harris Enterprises executive;Roxana Hegeman, longtime Associated Press correspondent in the Wichita bureau; Tom Slaughter, former AP bureau chief and later executive director of the Inland Press Association.
All four will be inducted during the Oct. 9 President’s Gala celebration at the Meridian Center in Newton.