The History of The Lennox Independent — 130 years in print
A newspaper was started in Lennox soon after the general store, the blacksmith shop, hardware store and post office began operations. Founded in 1879 and named for a railroad executive’s private secretary, Lennox was not a particularly impressive settlement the following year when Will A. Clark made the first journalistic venture in this new community by founding the Dakota Democrat. He published only a few issues and then sold it to M.A. Fuller, who published the Democrat for a short time.
In 1881, P.F. Hass came on the scene, assuming the role of editor of the Lennox newspaper and renaming it The Lincoln County Independent. Thus, the Independent was born, although it was to die and be reborn before assuming a permanent place in the community.
Haas sold a part interest in the paper to J. E. Hazlitt, but this partnership was of very short duration and Haas again assumed sole ownership. Then another publisher entered the scene, George Conklin, who started an opposition paper known as the Lennox Star. When this happened, Haas decided the field was too crowded for two starving newspaper publishers and he suspended publication, moving to Marion.
The Star was published for a short time before going out of business. For two years (1884-85) Lennox was without a newspaper. With the field open and his product more in demand than when he had left, Peter Haas returned to Lennox and resumed publication of the Independent.
The earliest files of his paper on record are those for the year of 1886. The files for 1887 are also preserved, but those for the following years to 1907 have been lost.
When Haas resumed publication of the Independent in 1886, he printed “Volume 3” on the nameplate, apparently considering the publication to be a resumption of the same paper he suspended two years earlier. So in 2014, we celebrate the 130th year of publication of The Independent.
Little change was noted from week to week in the content of make-up of the 1886-87 issues. In fact, most of the ads remained the same and appeared in the same position throughout these two years. This week’s paper has been designed to replicate the look of those early Independent pages.
The name of the Lennox paper was changed from Lincoln County to Lennox Independent some time previous to 1907. Haas remained as editor until 1891 when he sold to a group of businessmen desirous of establishing a Democratic party in Lennox. The leaders of this group were A.A. Freseman, Evert Curtis, and Wallace H. Curtis, the latter filling the post of editor-in-chief. Frank Noahr was employed as the printer during their “reign”, which lasted only a few weeks. The paper was sold to Mr. Noahr who continued to publish it as an independent newspaper until the fall of 1910.
The Independent was sold to M. Travallie in 1910. In 1912, the business was moved to the basement of a new building, the building now occupied by Rob Huber (First Financial).
The following year, after Wesley Smith (an instructor at the local school) bought a part interest, a modern, four-page Potter press was purchased. This press was their pride and joy and served the newspaper for 27 years. In 1913 the Independent boasted a circulation of 1,000.
In 1917, Smith became sole owner of the Independent and continued as editor and publisher for three years. In 1920, he sold to William Berens, a former publisher of the Worthing Enterprise. L. P. Bartell was employed as assistant editor and manager. Definite changes and improvements were made during the two years Berens edited the paper. The front page was well composed with one- and two column heads, devoted mostly to news. The display advertising was also greatly improved in appearance.
In 1922, Thomas H. Medley purchased the Independent. He continued in business until 1928 when he sold out to Edward Hofer, the Davis Eagle publisher, whose Davis office had been destroyed by a tornado the month before. The Independent found stability in the hands of the Hofer family.
Ed Hofer was 29 years old when he purchased the local paper. He served as editor and publisher for over 50 years with assistance from his wife, Cora, and son Verlyn.
Verlyn began following in his father’s footsteps from the age of 12, when he started working in the family’s print shop. “Dad put me on the payroll for $1,” Verlyn recalls. He continued to help at the publication and print shop part time through high school. Wednesday was, and still is, the day the paper gets printed. As a high school senior, Verlyn took one day off from school each week—Wednesday to help put the paper together. “We worked like heck on Wednesdays to get the paper out,” he says. “Wednesday was always a big deal.”
After graduation, Verlyn joined the Army, serving in France during World War II with the 62nd Armored Infantry Battalion of the 14th Armored Division in 1944 and 1945. He was among the veterans honored last year by the grateful French government with the French Legion of Honor medal. Verlyn was also awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service.
Upon his return to the States, Verlyn studied journalism at South Dakota State University and Augustana College. In 1948, he returned to work full time at the Independent as editor and co-publisher with his father, Ed. Verlyn assumed sole ownership of the publication in the early 1980s. Verlyn’s wife, Mary, and their children—sons Doug, Bill, and Dave, and daughter Becky—all helped with the paper. “The whole time I worked here, it was a family affair, just like it is now,” Verlyn said. “Some of the best memories I have are connected to the paper and the people that worked on it with me.”
Operations at the paper remained much the same until 1975, the dawn of computers. “There was a lot of manual labor required before computers. Technology has changed the business so much,” Verlyn said. He recalls setting type by hand and says the one-inch thick lead form used to create each of the paper’s pages weighed about 100 pounds. Before the paper was run through the press for printing, a pressman had to lift 150 pounds of blank paper onto the press. After printing, the lead was melted to be reused for the next issue. “It was a lot of work,” Verlyn said, noting that it was normal to work until midnight on Wednesdays to finish the paper. “I was always a night owl and I still am,” he said, which came in handy when he was working six days and at least three late nights each week. “Dad’s greatest joy was Wednesday nights when the presses starting running,” he remembers. “It was nice when I could finally take a Saturday off when computers came along.”
“The first computer we used was a Compugraphic typewriter,” Verlyn continued. “After you typed the words, an image went onto photo paper, and that went through a development process and it came out as a long sheet of paper. It was the first major change since hot lead Linotype,” he said.
Verlyn fulfilled the same roles of editor and publisher for nearly as long as his dad before selling the paper to Dick Bordewyk and his sister, Kris (Bordewyk) VanZee in 1992.
As Verlyn Hofer approaches his ninth decade, his writing still appears in the paper in the form of a local interest column, the “Local Slant.” He says he’ll keep writing for as long as possible and appreciates ideas and suggestions. He also serves as the editor of the Army publication “The Liberator,” which is printed twice a year.
Verlyn continues to visit the Lennox Independent office at least once a week, often bearing the gift of a news tip or two for the current staff.
Kris Van Zee served as publisher/editor from March 1992 until April 1997.
One of the highlights during the time Kris was in Lennox was the opportunity to “rub elbows” with members of the national press corps when then-first lady Hillary Clinton hosted a national healthcare roundtable in Lennox High School in 1994.
“To get my press pass to the event, I first had to pass a Secret Service background check,” she said. “In addition to having a press pass, I was also given special privileges as I represented the local newspaper and was allowed to go places with Hillary that morning as she toured Main Street and the local clinic.
“All of this happened just 11 days after the birth of my first son Jordan. My heart was torn between my newborn and covering a national news event. But, how often do the First Lady and her entourage of followers and press come to Lennox?”
The VanZees left Lennox in 1997, just a year after their twins were born, but Kris has fond memories of her time spent in Lennox.
“I will always remember the people I worked with and met during our short stay,” she said. “I remember Lennox as having a strong sense of community and a great Main Street, even with its close proximity to Sioux Falls.”
Today, the VanZees are living on an acreage just outside of her hometown of Corsica, SD. Kris works as an insurance agent for BW Insurance Agency, Inc.
“I haven’t altogether forgotten my first love …,” she admits. “I also do some writing for our local newspaper, The Corsica Globe, covering the local school board and writing feature stories.”
Kris’ husband Richard is engaged in the livestock industry as manager of a large sow farm near Corsica. Their oldest son Jordan is 20-years-old and will graduate this May at Mitchell Technical Institute with a degree in Architectural Design and Building Construction. Their twin sons, Jamie and Jon, are 17-years-old and juniors in Corsica High School. They keep busy with their few head of cattle and herd of goats.
“Congratulations to the Lennox Independent and its rich history in the community of Lennox,” added Kris.
Kris provided Debbie Schmidt’s first venture into The Lennox Independent, hiring her as a proof-reader while her youngest daughter was in preschool.
“Gradually, I took on more and more duties at the newspaper,” said Debbie. “My daughter Kelli began an internship at the Independent. As she neared graduation, Kris was ready to sell the newspaper. I told Kelli, ‘If you will stay and work with me, we’ll try to buy the paper.’”
She agreed and that began a partnership that has lasted 17 years.
Debbie and her husband, Verlyn, purchased the paper from Kris in 1997. All four of their daughters—Ami, Kelli, Anne, and Jessica—have worked at the paper. In 2010, their daughter, Kelli Bultena, became a full partner. Debbie and Kelli formed Independent Publishing L.L.C. in 2010 and publish The Lennox Independent, Tea Weekly, and the Worthing Enterprise.
“It has been a privilege to work with my mom and sisters, and the many other talented individuals who have been on staff here over the past 17 years,” said Kelli.
Anne Homan, who joined full time in 2001, is the Sports Editor for both weekly papers. Erica Gaspar, who joined the staff in 2012, is the lead reporter. Wendy Sweeter writes for the Worthing Enterprise.
The Independent has seen a lot of changes in the past 17 years, most notably in technology.
“When we first began, we ran some articles explaining what the Internet was,” remembered Debbie. “Now, every paper is connected to the Internet in a myriad of ways.”
“We began by pasting up our pages and driving them to our printers in Madison,” she continued. “Now, every page is completed on the computer and uploaded to our printers without ever leaving the office.”
While technology has made many things easier for the staff, it’s also put everything on a faster pace. People want their news quickly and The Independent has tried to accommodate them by having a complete online edition, and keeping readers informed of fast breaking news via Facebook and Twitter.
“Still, my heart is with the print edition, and there is nothing I like better than seeing our paper come back from the printers,” admitted Debbie. “And I especially like the fact that the Lennox Independent has been owned and operated by local families since its beginning 130 years ago.”
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