Roger, Amanda and the Dundee Observer
My son Roger, a newly eager entrepreneur, and his wife, Mandi, a writer for newspapers since she was seventeen, shared a dream, to own a newspaper in a small community where they could spark positive political and social events, put fresh life into the old rag, benefit the populace and the rest of mankind while making a living for themselves—perhaps even later expand it to a regional paper.
Roger sold most of his stock in Woric Corporation before its debacle, and proposed to use the proceeds plus some money borrowed from me to purchase the Dundee Observer, a small-town weekly newspaper, long published in the town of my youth.
Surprised and dismayed at their proposal, I tried to explain the character of a town fixed in conservative bliss for over 100 years, and to tell them that I did not believe Dundee was pining away for a lot of progressive or liberal views—not since Lew Kleckler, anyway. (See "Human Cyclone, Lewis W. Kleckler," December 1990.)
Further, it was rather poor timing, for it was 1967 when the economy of most small towns was on a decade-long decline, and at best small business in such towns profit little more for proprietors than to eke out a subsistence. I probably summed up with, "The town will quite likely starve you out before you can change anything."
Roger, anxious to make his own mark, and Mandi, an experienced writer who is endowed with fiery determination, put aside my views as mutterings from old knowledge.
Dorothy Carpenter, the owner of the paper, anxious to sell, required only modest up-front cash. The glow-eyed optimists, willing to chance starvation as long as they could do it their way, would not be put off. I wished them well.
Dundee's first newspaper, the Dundee Record, was established in 1843 by G. J. Booth of Elmira. The Dundee Observer, too, had been around quite a while; Eugene Vreeland, the founder, put out the first issue on June 20, 1878. It was purchased by Harry C. Smith in 1916, and in 1934 his son-in-law, Lynn Carpenter, became associated with him. When Dorothy Carppenter sold, the paper had been in her family for fifty-one years.
Dundee High School English teacher Helen Snow took our 1935 Class to the Dundee Observer where Mr. Smith guided us through the publishing and printing business. Thirty-two years later I remember his droll admonishment: "Take care not to get any printer's ink on you because you will never get rid of it. That's what happened to me years ago and I've never been able to get it off."
Roger took me down into the basement pressroom to watch the nineteenth century "Babcock Rat-bed" press that Mr. Vreeland had purchased in 1903. I was fascinated by the spinning flywheel, pulleys, belts, and cam-driven rods, all presided over by the two men, serving as linotype operators, press-men, and printer's devils, Marshall Harris (no relation) and an old schoolmate of mine, Gus Hilligus. On this day Gus was perched on a high seat at the rear of the press hand feeding it single sheets of blank paper. With the press pre-heated and humidified, it was mighty hot down there. Gus wet with sweat, was solaced by a half full gallon jug of hard cider, and a full cud of Beechnut chewing tobacco. These prerequisite amenities for printing would sustain him through the edition—one sheet at a time.
Roger, the publisher, worked long hours and made friends, while Mandi, the editor-reporter, made more news than the town had seen in a long time as she prowled the streets in her very brief mini-skirt, searching out news, advertisers, and wrongs to be righted. She started with demanding and finally getting access to town board meetings that until now were held in closed sessions. A veteran activist, she goaded the town fathers into making repairs to a dangerously dilapidated foot bridge. Moving to bigger causes she harassed the State Department of Transportation (through legislators) into repaving Main Street, struggled for the rebuilding of the decrepit Route 14A from Dundee to Penn Yan (eventually completed), and lobbied for other projects. Always an equal rights advocate, she gave protection and comfort to abused wives. This shocked and angered their husbands, who long considered such matters to be no one's business but their own.
Dundee was not ready for all this attention and she made enemies as well as friends, but three years after she left, a long-time resident told me, "Mandi stood this town right on its ear, and we miss her."
The young publishers envisioned a Tri-County newspaper and to that end, for a short time, changed the paper's name to "Viewpoint," which of course brought indignation from some of the long-time readers. The old name was restored.
In the end the needed economics were just not there. Advertisers either did not pay their bills, or offered payment in barter from their merchandise. Almost all small towns were at a low ebb in spirit and cash, a condition that remained for a dozen or more years. In fact, it was not a good time for most people, with the Viet Nam tragedy, the youth rebellion, a failed Nixon in power, and the consumer price index moving into double digits.
Roger and Mandi were forced to turn the paper over to a local volunteer who would continue the paper, mostly for the sake of tradition. They left, still young and undaunted, to move on to better times to come. In 1970 they moved back to Rochester where Mandi worked as a feature writer for the Democrat & Chronicle, and Roger rehabilitated a fine old three-story house they purchased on Oxford Street.
In 1973 Mandi joined Xerox, first as Editor of Employee Publications, then as Manager of Communication Projects, and later to be manager of Affirmative Action. Roger also found work at Xerox as field service engineer.
Amanda (Mandi's given name) was destined to be the premier bread winner in Roger's family. In 1978 she joined Merck & Company to become Manager, Employee Communication and Research, and was promoted to Director, International Strategic Issues. While there they lived in Princeton, New Jersey. In 1983 she joined Ryder Systems, Inc. at their headquarters in Miami, Florida. In 1987 Amanda joined TRW Corporation at their Cleveland headquarters, as National Communications Manager. Roger served as her business manager and househusband. I, marveling at this modern mobile family, mused, "I wonder where my life went wrong."
The Dundee Observer has bloomed since those years into a widely read and admired area newspaper.
© 1993, Edwin N. Harris