Longtime Edgerton Reporter publisher believed in strong journalism
EDGERTON—Helen Everson believed every strong community needed an equally strong newspaper.
Her life's work embodied that vision. She owned and operated the Edgerton Reporter for nearly 70 years, working tirelessly to promote the city through journalism.
“She was always looking out for the community. Her community leadership was often behind the scenes,” said her daughter Diane, the Reporter's current publisher and editor. “She was not one to be out front, but she was definitely one who was a steady pillar of our town to make sure things went right.”
Helen died Monday at her Edgerton home. She was 98.
Even in the final years of her life, Helen maintained a leadership role at the newspaper. Diane would take on more responsibilities as her mother relinquished them, but there was no formal transition process, she said.
Instead, Helen remained passionate about Edgerton and kept a firm hand on the weekly publication. She was always concerned how the newspaper affected the city, Diane said.
Born on a ranch in South Dakota, Helen rode horseback to school starting at age 5. Bucking traditional gender norms, she worked to pay room and board at a high school and then graduated from a small business college in Missouri, Diane said.
Finding a job after graduation was difficult during the throes of the Great Depression. She moved to Milwaukee to improve her career prospects, but without much experience, she couldn't obtain work.
She then moved to Madison and was hired at ACE Buick. When automobile production halted in World War II, her boss found her a secretary/treasurer job in Minnesota.
Helen later returned to Madison, replacing her former boss when he fell into poor health. Back in Wisconsin's capital, she met her husband, Harland, at a local soapbox derby, Diane said.
Harland was interested in the newspaper industry, and the newlyweds bought the Reporter in 1951. Helen quickly adopted her husband's vision as her own.
“He was a visionary and he could write, but he didn't deal with ad rates. She started putting her business acumen into force at the paper. She raised ad rates, sold subscriptions door-to-door and started selling ads,” Diane said. “Together they made terrific success of our paper.”
Helen and Harland had two daughters, Diane and Carol. As if running a newspaper and raising kids weren't enough, the family operated a beef and crop farm, and Harland spent 12 years in the state Assembly.
Helen kept the busy family on track by accepting a larger role at the Reporter. Late nights, weekends—it was hard for Diane to remember a time when her mother wasn't working.
Despite her commitment to the newspaper, Helen was a kind and gracious mother who took care of her customers. About 30 years ago, a family came into the Reporter offices with a large cooked turkey for Helen.
The gift was repayment for Helen saving a woman's life. The woman had come to the newspaper looking noticeably ill. When she left, Helen decided to follow her.
She found the woman's car in a ditch. Diane couldn't remember if the woman had suffered a stroke or heart attack, but Helen's instinct helped get the woman to a hospital before it was too late.
It was just one example of Helen paying careful attention to her customers, Diane said.
Helen's proudest accomplishment in journalism came in 2006, when the Wisconsin Newspaper Association awarded the Reporter with first place in general excellence for its circulation category.
Helen had aspired for years to win that award but had stopped believing it was a realistic goal, Diane said.
“Because we were a single paper and not part of a chain, our prospects were rather remote of ever reaching that pinnacle,” she said. “Then we received that award, and it was a tremendous honor for mom. She was so proud of the newspaper and her employees.”
Helen leaves a strong Edgerton legacy behind that extends beyond the newspaper. She helped create the Sterling North Book and Film Festival and helped a struggling Tobacco Heritage Days regain its financial footing, Diane said.
Diane can no longer consult her mother on editorial decisions, but she will always have her mother's example.
“She had a strong moral compass and was always doing what was right. Not only with her family but with her employees to always take the high road,” Diane said. “I have high bars to always weigh what I'm doing against how my parents ran the paper.”