Monday, April 23, 2007

20th anniversary in Woodstock

Congrats to the Woodstock Independent for celebrating its 20th anniversary today. Here's an early look at a column from publisher Cheryl Wormley that will run in this week's paper:

Twenty years ago this week, residents of Woodstock and the west side of Wonder Lake received The Woodstock Independent for the first time. The population of Woodstock at the time was about half of what it is today. Downtown businesses included, among others, two drugstores, two men’s clothing stores, several women’s clothing stores, a children’s store, a bookstore, a collector plate/candy shop and a bicycle shop. Bohn’s was on the Square; Knuth’s and A. G. Edwards were on Main Street; and Woodstock Jewelers, Ray Wolf Jewelers and Angelo’s Restaurant were right where they are today. Memorial Hospital was on South Street. Westwood School and Clay Street School had recently been reopened as a kindergarten center and an elementary school, respectively. Jim Shoemaker was mayor; Dennis Anderson was city manager; and Joe Hentges was the new superintendent of Woodstock School District 200.
The Independent’s publisher was Denise Graff Ponstein. She was in her mid-20s and recently married. I was the editor, in my early 40s and a mother of three young boys. Last week, Denise and I reminisced about The Independent’s first days and years.
In 1986, the owners of Woodstock’s newspaper, The Daily Sentinel, merged it with several other of their McHenry County newspapers to create the Northwest Herald. That left Woodstock without its own newspaper for the first time in more than 100 years. Denise and I both worked for District 200. She ran the print shop, and I was the part-time community relations coordinator. At best, it was difficult to find the news about Woodstock schools in the new regional daily.
We both remember the November day in 1986 when I walked into the print shop and for the umpteenth time said, “Someone needs to start a weekly.” Denise replied, “Why don’t we?”
Our only newspaper experiences prior to The Independent were reading them. Looking back, we both agree that our lack of experience was a benefit. We didn’t have any preconceived ideas, and we couldn’t fear what we didn’t know. Deep down inside we knew we would succeed. Failure wasn’t an option.
We were blessed with supportive families, especially our husbands, a community that wanted its own newspaper and businesses that willingly advertised in the new weekly newspaper.
We also were blessed with energetic, risk-taking staff members. Our first photographer was Bob Knauf, a Marian Central High School student. Our first reporter was Tina McCreary, a journalist with two years of experience. Our first advertising sales person was John Trione, fresh out of Eastern Illinois University. We had retirees, too. Bill and Jackie Dean retired from teaching in Woodstock schools and came to work for The Independent. Al Mansfield became our first courier and our Mr. Fixit. Lisa Kelly, always ready to try something new, answered phones and wrote stories. Denise’s mother, Rita Graff, was our first circulation manager. Bob Fyfe helped, too.
Thanks to help from family, friends and neighbors who labeled and bundled the newspapers, the first four editions were mailed to everyone with a 60098 zip code and the west half of 60097. By the end of the fourth week, we had more than 500 subscribers.
As Denise and I became better acquainted with our new profession, we realized that our decision to offer the paper free for only four weeks was gutsy. We made dozens of other gutsy decisions early on and as years went by. “We made quick decisions,” Denise reminded me. “And, most of the time we were right.”
For certain, our decision to start The Independent was a good one, and that’s another reason to celebrate. Next week, I’ll share more insights and fill you in on the 20th anniversary celebration schedule.

(Thanks to General Manager Kim Kubiak for providing this to Digital Ink.)

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