Unless you were very observant and happened to notice the volume numbers on the front page of the paper, you may not have realized that Senior Perspective is now in its 25th year.
I am more of a looking forward kinda guy, but thought it might be fun to look back at the last 25 years of Senior Perspective. To get a clear picture of the earliest years of the newspaper, who better to talk to than the original owner of Senior Perspective, Jeanne Olson, of Glenwood.
“In summer of 1993 I was driving to St. Cloud State University for a couple of summer classes, business advertising and public relations. The classes were to help me get some idea of how a desktop publishing business could earn decent money,” said Olson. “My husband was going to be starting his business with Edward Jones in Alexandria, and I wanted to try starting a business too. I was driving east on I-94 when my thoughts wandered from newsletters, advertising campaigns and puff pieces to starting my own newspaper. I’d had experience writing news and feature stories, but not selling ads or running a business. Even so, when imagining what the focus or niche would be, the instant I hit on ‘a newspaper for senior citizens,’ I knew it was a winner. I was so excited I could hardly force myself to go to class instead of turning around and getting started.”
Why the name Senior Perspective?
“It sounded dignified, compared to some of the publications out there. It’s not patronizing, and it conveyed how I wanted the newspaper to appeal to readers, that they could have a newspaper that reflected their interests. Just because it was free didn’t mean it was merely a vehicle for advertising.
Once Jeanne hatched the idea, she started to approach advertisers. Was it a hard to pitch a newspaper to advertisers without having a newspaper to show them?
“I was surprised, but it wasn’t hard sell. Blessings on advertisers and supporters of new business! Dewey Essig of Corner Drug in Glenwood and John Samuelson of Samuelson Drug in Starbuck were the first two clients to buy an ad.” she said. “It was such a boost.”
There were 25 total advertisers in the very first edition, and five of them still advertise in the newspaper today. Samuelson’s Drug has never missed a month, and Corner Drug was eventually purchased by Trumm Drug. Between the two, they have never missed a month. The only other business with “perfect attendance” over the last 25 years was Glenwood State Bank.
Today, several people work on the Senior Perspective, including writers, drivers and sales people. But in 1993, it was nothing like that.
“My first several issues, I did by myself. The front page story of Volume 1 was about a news conference held by the Douglas County senior citizens organization,” she said. “The Echo Press (Alexandria’s newspaper) and KXRA Radio were there, and so was the-not-yet-published Senior Perspective. I needed a picture to go with the story about how the local seniors were going to protest some taxation issue, and I used my point-and-shoot 35mm camera with auto advance. The batteries must have been low, because the normal eeeaaarrrp of the motor advancing the film took about six noisy seconds instead of one. I totally hoisted that news conference for a short, embarrassing moment.”
As for layout and design of the newspaper, Olson learned as she went.
“My sister, Ann, taught me how to use Adobe Pagemaker (a layout software), but back then every ad, photo and block of type was printed on paper, waxed on the back side, and pressed to a broadsheet. Another sister, Nora, taught me how to set up a spreadsheet. Those were two essential skills.
For the first decade, the Senior Perspective was delivered to the counties of Pope, Douglas, Stevens, Grant and part of Stearns.
“Delivery was another huge part of the job,” she said. “I didn’t want to hassle with charging for the paper, so I tried to make it as easily available as possible. That meant hundreds of stops, people giving me valuable counter space, and sometimes I even just handed them out to people on the street.”
Before long, Jeanne was optimistic that Senior Perspective was going to catch on, but there were moments of doubt and self-reflection.
“I got encouragement and positive feedback from the beginning,” she said. “But twice in the first five years, I almost packed it in. The right people and timely encouragement got me past that. I dreaded failure.”
Olson made connections and, some of the connections were very important to the newspaper’s success.
“Kate LeBrasseur, senior citizen coordinator, gave me story ideas, connections and introductions to lots of people in Douglas County,” she said. “Erling Rolfsrud, a local writer, wouldn’t hear me express doubt or the selfish desire for a consistent income. Everette Walter steered me in the right direction to confidently sell ads. And Ferd Stepan, of Sauk Centre, was my first delivery person, and made my life much easier.”
Last fall, we printed the 15th edition of the Senior Perspective cookbook, called More Lifelong Favorites. A year or so after the first copy of the paper was printed, Jeanne published the first cookbook, called Life Long Favorites. The cookbook was printed every other year for a while and is now printed each year in the fall.
“It was a way to increase brand visibility, plus there were some wonderful people who let
me interview them, photograph them, and hand over their stories and best recipes. I wanted them to get some recognition,” she said. “And who doesn’t enjoy looking at a cookbook?”
Olson remembered the good times and the bad from her days publishing the Senior Perspective.
“I was always short of time,” she said. “Holidays were surreal–I’d get done with the December issue, full of Christmas ads and content, right around Thanksgiving. I kind of lost my Christmas spirit long before the holiday. When you have your own business, you work harder, longer hours than if you work for someone else. That’s fine, because it’s your own product, but 60 to 70-hour work weeks were common.”
The deadline pressure also resulted in some very long nights.
The all-nighters were tough.
On the flip side, she has lots of fond memories from those days.
“I created from scratch a business that was well-received and successful,” she said. “I met and interacted with so many good people each month, and 19 out of 20 of those interactions were positive. I learned a lot.”
Not only were readers happy to receive the Senior Perspective, there were also people in other communities who thought it was a great idea. A couple of copycat publications popped up right away.
“The first time, a young guy from near Ortonville stopped by to ask me what it was like to start a newspaper from scratch,” she said. “I gave him lots of advice, a couple of years worth of back issues, and wished him luck. A couple of months later Senior Times came out, and most of the articles were lifted directly from Senior Perspective. He and his mother published their copycat paper for several months, but it didn’t last long. Bad karma for them.”
Another copycat didn’t even bother to change the name.
“Someone near Monticello took the name Senior Perspective and started publishing another copycat. I sent them a nastygram, and they stopped,” she said.
I bought the Senior Perspective from Jeanne in the winter of 2002-2003. The previous year, Jeanne said she nearly sold the newspaper to someone else. She said if that would have gone through, she believes the paper would have folded fairly quickly.
I was working at the Pope County Tribune in Glenwood in 2002. I picked up the Senior Perspective now and then, even though I was just 27-28 years old. When I was looking through it, I noticed a little ad in the paper that said that Jeanne was looking for a buyer. I didn’t think much of it. A few months later, I heard that Senior Perspective had been sold. That must have been when the sale was pending. I picked up a copy a few months later and noticed that Jeanne had another ad in the paper. She was looking for a buyer once again. I wasn’t really actively looking for a new gig, but I was curious. I gave her a call, and she invited me over to her house. We talked about the paper, and I paged through old copies. After some thought, I decided to purchase the Senior Perspective. That was just over 15 years ago. It was my first taste of business ownership, and I shared many of the challenges that Jeanne faced in those early years (including all-nighters, difficult deadlines around the holidays and more copycat newspapers).
Does Jeanne miss her time with Senior Perspective?
“For about seven years after you bought Senior Perspective, I had dreams that you were going to try to give it back to me. Or that you had quit publishing, and I’d have to rescue it by getting an issue together in three days,” she said. “That just shows how invested a person gets in their own business. I very much miss the people I came in regular contact with and being out and about in the communities. I occasionally miss doing deliveries with my friend, and seeing the big smile when I’d walk into a store with a stack of 50 papers, and hear the sales clerk say, “You’re here! People have been asking when the new issue would be out!”
Overall, Jeanne looks back with fond memories of the publication, and she is happy that it is still being published.
“I was so fortunate to have family and friends who cheered me on and patted my back. It was fun starting a business, and even more fun realizing that it was worth something when I sold it,” she said. “Everything just worked out great!”
Senior Perspective now has four editions and is distributed in over half the counties in Minnesota. It is read by an estimated 175,000 readers a month.
And Jeanne Olson planted the first seed.