The Verdigre Eagle celebrates 50th year

Written August 7th, 2015

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By Jason Wessendorf

We thoroughly enjoyed visiting with everyone who stopped by during our 50th-year-of-publication open house Friday, July 17. We appreciate the support shown to us, not just during our open house but year-round by our advertisers and readers.

We know why The Eagle has thrived in Verdigre for the last 50 years, and we don’t take that for granted. We are blessed to have such loyal readers and advertisers in our community (and beyond!) who care so deeply and who are so connected to the past, present and future of the Verdigre area. If they (you!) didn’t care about the community and its people, we would not exist.

We set up a mini-museum for those attending our open house, to show where we came from and how things have progressed.

The last issue printed at The Eagle Office is still set up, each lead-and-steel page weighing what seems like an impossible amount for its size. Its front page was on a table beside the first-ever issue of Dan and Glenna’s Verdigre Eagle, the last paper that was ever pasted up and printed in O’Neill, and the first-ever color paper printed in Iowa. From molten lead to sending a digital copy off for printing – it’s just amazing how things have changed.

I feel like I’m cheating when I use Photoshop to resize photos, looking at all the equipment Dan used in his dark room to do the same. Even a polaroid picture had to be resized, re-developed, and then sent off Monday morning to a place (in Fremont?) who would run it through the photo lathe for letterpress printing (with lead type), and mail it back. It would arrive Wednesday via USPS in time to be set up and printed in that week’s Eagle.

Everyone enjoyed looking through old photos and negatives, as well as the old letterpress advertisements. The letterpress is a mirror reflection of what is to be printed (so it will be correct when transferred to paper), but it can still be read with some practice. One advertising piece called attention to the new, stainless-steel Speed Queen dryers – “The appliance for the ’70s!”

Marv Ziska stopped by the open house. “I just had to,” he said.

There was one Linotype machine at The Eagle when Dan and Glenna bought the place from Edward S. Pavlik, who had bought it as a package deal from former Verdigre Eagle publisher, Jankiewicz. The Linotype was an improvement to setting the lead or wood type by hand – letter by letter, space by space. It was able to set an entire line at a time, using brass matrixes and complicated mechanical processes. Dan and Glenna enlisted the help of Dan’s dad, Edwin D. (Slim) Pavlik, who assisted with the machine’s maintenance.

It was a mess of a machine, just starting out; you could type a “s” and a “t” would come out instead. They needed someone to get it to a point where it could be used for its intended purpose. That’s where Marv came in.

Marv was working in O’Neill at the Holt County Independent, along with his wife, Blanche. Dan had, at some point, inquired there as to who fixes Linotypes – who fixes the Independent’s? Marv told us that he was pointed out and the rest was history.

Marv spend a lot of time fixing up The Eagle’s Linotype. Blanche would pack them a lunch and they’d head to Verdigre after they got off work in O’Neill. Slim, especially, would assist and learn as the machine was being repaired.

“When they called for a repair, Slim would watch how it was fixed, ” said Marv. “If it happened again, they didn’t have to call me. He was a very sharp man.”

A little side note: When Lisa was a small child, she thought Marv was “Mr. Rogers,” and called him such. He was soft-spoken and mild-mannered, so it only made sense to her. Neither Marv nor Dan corrected her.

The Ziskas said they were here “when it all began” and knew they couldn’t miss the open house. As he walked through the mechanics of the old Linotype, you could tell that he could probably get the ol’ gal running yet today if given enough time. Marv said it would come back to him, “just like riding a bike.” Of great importance, he said, was to ensure the lead temperature was as close to 350 degrees as possible – too cool or hot would equally cause problems, such as hot squirts of lead.

Glenna, too, remembers how the machine works, so many years later. If it were in running condition, she could no doubt operate and troubleshoot it. Telling people how it worked and how they (she and Dan, employees and family who helped) did things during the early years; you could see a certain nostalgia there. Not that anyone would desire going back to a laborious printing method where being squirted on the shirt, hands or on sandaled feet by molten lead was a likely occurrence, but the memories of such hard work are still something to be treasured.

When I started out at The Verdigre Eagle, so many long years ago (just kidding… it was 2011), I remember looking at some of the old-time equipment in the back room and asking Lisa, What did they use to use this for?”

“Used to? I just used that yesterday,” she replied.

Mixed in with the “obsolete” technology is equipment that does its job too well to be replaced. If you’ve held any sort of perforated ticket originating from The Eagle, it was perforated (most likely by me if recently) on a 120+year-old machine, patented in 1888. It was here when Dan and Glenna bought the place. Its brochure offers a motorized option as well, but you must specify to the manufacturer if you would like the motor to run on either AC or DC current. There are newer replacements for it, none which are better, in our opinion.

I think newspapers, in general, are a lot like our perforator. Throughout the years there have been many changes in technology which allow the sharing of information unlike any other time in the history of man – television, radio, internet, and so forth. There may be “newer replacements” for the printed news, but none which are better.

We appreciate all of you who have made it possible for this family-owned, local newspaper to exist these 50 years. With your support, we will continue our duty of informing, connecting, promoting and caring about our fine community, its citizens and its future.

From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you.


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