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A historical look at one community newspaper

By Patricia Buschette

Maynard Blume and Dan Licklider reminisce with relics of early printing history. Photo by Patricia Buschette

Maynard and Marcella Blume began their life together May 2, 1954. There was no honeymoon -- the next day he began his career in the publishing business at the Bertha Herald in Bertha, Minnesota. He knew little of the newspaper business; his experience was in agriculture, working on the family farm.

Learning the business was strictly “hands on.” The first machine to learn was the Linotype machine. The Linotype, invented by Ottmar Mergenthaler in 1884, could be compared to a huge typewriter, but much more complex. The operator entered the letters to create words and sentences on a keyboard with 90 characters. The machine assembled matrices, sometimes referred to as mats.

The matrices were stored in magazines on top of the machine. Once a key was pressed, the matrix passes through an assembler, down past a rotating wheel and into the assembling elevator into a “line of type.” The assembled line was then cast as a single piece called a slug from molten metal, in a process known as hot metal typesetting.

The Bertha Herald published their newspaper using this hot lead process, in which molten metal was injected into a mold that has the shape of one or more glyphs or characters. For the next 12 years, Maynard became increasingly familiar with the printing business and new advancements. It became clear to him that the industry was moving to “offset printing.” Maynard understood that the publisher was not going to be able to transition, and he began looking for a new job.

He saw an ad placed in an area newspaper by the Renville Star-Farmer. It seemed like a good option so he called for an interview. Renville had been home to a series of newspapers over the years, and in 1966, the Star-Farmer was the community’s current newspaper.

Since Renville was initially designated Renville Station after it was platted in September of 1878, the first newspaper printed in 1879 was called The Renville Station News, edited by William Spaulding. The newspaper was discontinued in 1884.

Running concurrently, was the Renville Weekly News, established in 1887. According to Adrian Looks Back, a book written by Renville’s preeminent historian, Adrian Bottge, the Renville Weekly News was published by C. L. Lorraine who also owned the Bird Island Union. E. M. Clay was the local manager and editor. The first edition of the News contained eight pages. Michael Dowling wrote a pitch for new settlers to come to the area. The newspaper suspended operation in 1888.

In 1888 Michael Dowling and John Spencer established the Renville Star. Dowling sold his interest in 1890. In the meantime, the Renville Farmer had been established in 1891 by Childs and Welch. Dowling repurchased The Star, merged it with The Farmer, and in 1892 the Renville Star-Farmer was born.

According to Adrian Bottge, The Star Farmer was the premier newspaper in Renville until 1899 when H.B. Brooks purchased Sacred Heart People’s Watchmen, moved it to Renville, and published as The Record.

Left to right: Maynard Blume, John Tradup, Tommy Licklider, Vi and Tom Licklider Renville Star-Farmer, circa 1962. Contributed photo

An Illustrated, Historical Sketch of the Metropolis of Renville County, published in approximately 1902, includes the Renville Record, established in November 1899. H. B. Brooks was the editor and proprietor. Also featured was the Renville Star-Farmer, described as “. . .fitted out with a large power press and the largest and best assorted job printing stock in the country,”

The Star-Farmer reported the purchase of the Renville Record on September 30, 1904. “Having purchased the plant of the Renville Record we have a whole newspaper and job outfit for sale at a bargain: Job press, news, and job type, imposing stones, racks, cases, galleys – in fact everything that goes to stock in an up-to-date print shop.” According to Adrian Bottge, Jim Landy bought the press for his Olivia paper.

The Star-Farmer became a consolidated newspaper, absorbing five newspapers including the Woodlake News, Sacred Heart Republican and Watchmen, The Farmer, and, yes, The Renville Record.

The Star-Farmer was run by the Reid family; William Reid and his sons Floyd and Jim. They continued the newspaper until the death of Floyd Reid in 1948. The paper was sold to Glen Hagge and U.T. (Tom) Licklider. Glen was the former publisher of the Franklin Tribune. Tom, who had been the printing foreman at the Olivia Times-Journal, purchased Glen’s interest in 1950.

As the Renville Star-Farmer continued under the ownership of Tom and Vi Licklider and Hagge, their Mergenthaler Linotype machine was just six months old.

In the early days of the newspaper, a four-page insert was purchased that carried only National news. This insert was placed in the center of the newspaper with its local news. No photos were used in those days. It was difficult at times to maintain continuity of employees and after concessions were made, Vi agreed to serve as receptionist, accountant, and writer. Jim Reid, an earlier co-owner of the paper, who served as Linotype operator, died and the Star-Farmer sought a replacement.

Tom Licklider at the Star-Farmer in 1953. Contributed photo

The Lickliders had run the newspaper for 18 years when Maynard Blume walked into the office of the Renville Star-Farmer in March of 1966 and applied for the job. He may have been nervous about his interview, but his anxiety was forgotten with the sound of a loud crash. It became clear that his prospective employer was not having a good day.

Tom Licklider had picked up a heavy steel frame called a chase used to hold a printing form in the printing press. The form could be held in place with pressure on two sides, each component accurately spaced with type set up and ready for print. It fell out of his hands, the pieces were knocked loose, and lead slugs and type now lay in a pile on the floor.

“This was not a good day at the shop,” remembered Tom and Vi’s son, Dan, who later, along with his wife, Sandra, ran the newspaper. Each of the lines and elements of the copy that was ready for the press had to be reconstructed. It was the worst puzzle ever created in that office.

However, two things were true: Maynard got his interview and the newspaper went to press. It is probable that Tom Licklider spent the better part of the day putting the news back in order again. Maynard was hired and he returned to the Bertha Herald to submit his resignation. He and Marcella returned to Renville, purchased a home, and Maynard began his first day at the Renville-Star Farmer as a Linotype operator. He became an integral part of Renville’s newspaper tradition, a history going back to 1878.

When Maynard appeared for his first day of work in 1966, the offices of the Renville Star-Farmer had expanded. In 1961 an addition was created on the west and north side of the building. The newspaper was about to change its printing process and in 1969 the newspaper went to an offset process. In this process an inked image on a printing plate is printed on a rubber cylinder and then transferred to paper.

Improvements in the printing process and the newspaper continued. Printing photographs was a difficult process that required an engraving. This was done by mail, but if a photograph was needed immediately, Tom, an experienced pilot, flew to Mankato where he could get an engraving made of photos.

In 1968 a group of six publishers known as the “Peach Group” purchased an offset press that was installed in Montevideo. They took on two investors, and the eight owners built a new facility in 1980, printing 15 weekly newspapers. At that time the circulation of the Renville Star-Farmer was 1900.

A startling news item landed at the feet of the Renville Star-Farmer on December 8, 1970. Vi Licklider had gone to O’Connor Bros. State Bank to make a deposit. She noticed that customers appeared frightened. She then saw Larry Lapolice, the local police officer, coming out of the vault. The stranger behind him carried a small satchel and held a gun at the back of the officer. The gunman escaped with $60,000.00. Vi was shaken and returned to the newspaper office in tears.

According to a member of the O’Connor family, the thief was arrested and approximately 50 cents on the dollar was recovered.

Tom, Vi Licklider riding with Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey. Contributed photo

Progress continued at the Star Farmer, and in 1978 the dry cleaner shop next door was purchased for additional space. After 34 years as publishers in Renville, in 1982 the Lickliders sold the business to Dan and Sandra Licklider, and the business was computerized. Before that time Vi Licklider had done the newspaper’s financials – updating subscription records, sending statements and paying bills manually.

In 1984 Dan and Sandra purchased the Sacred Heart News and continued to publish it as an independent weekly newspaper. In 1989, after the Renville Star-Farmer marked its 100th anniversary of publication, the Star-Farmer and the Sacred Heart News were consolidated into one newspaper which was then renamed Renville County Star Farmer News.

Maynard Blume retired in 1997, although it was the middle of 1998 before he left the shop completely. When he now considers the newspaper of his early days and newspapers of today, he quickly points out the lack of “local news.” He thought the social news was the best part of the paper.

On Oct. 31, 1997, the Renville County Star - Farmer News operation and building were sold to Renco Publishing. After the sale, the new owners continued publication of the Star Farmer News as a separate publication from the Olivia Times Journal, also owned by Renco.

They were later merged and became the Renville County Register. The Renville office remained open until it was closed in 2020, and a tradition of Renville newspapers was over.

Dan sees that while some newspapers have created a unique market, the community newspaper industry is going through a slow death, being taken over by the Internet. The loss of a newspaper is a loss to the community, he said.

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