Orfordville newspaper ends after century of publishing

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Friday, August 29, 2008
— The small weekly newspaper that ran for nearly a century was the epitome of a family business.

Ask George Stewart about his first days in the newspaper office, and you’ll start with a lesson about the linotype machine.

“You didn’t answer her question,” the long-time columnist and reporter Betty Lou Stewart interjects to her husband, regulating the interview between a young reporter and a veteran newsman.

After understanding the linotype—a typesetting machine—you’ll hear about how Rose Stewart ran the machine with her only son, George, sleeping in a cradle beside her.

“When I was hungry, I got fed,” he said. “As I got older, the playpen sat there.”

From writing his first story at age 8, the newspaper industry was George’s life, even leading him to his sweetheart of 56 years during journalism school at UW-Madison.

The Stewart family chronicled the lives of area families for more than 92 years before publishing the last edition of the Orfordville Journal and Footville News on Aug. 15. Attempts to sell the newspaper were unsuccessful.

George and Betty, both 81, took a break from publishing the weekly paper in spring when Betty was in the hospital for a month. They never restarted publishing and announced the paper’s closure in its final edition, which detailed the family’s long history as Orfordville’s second-oldest business.

The couple met while working at Campus Publishing, which publishes The Daily Cardinal, a student newspaper at UW-Madison. She was a proofreader. He was a writer.

Their careers took them to several publications before moving back to Orfordville in 1954.

The first paper under George’s father, Ward A. Stewart, published Feb. 15, 1916, after he bought the paper from Norval Hendrickson, who printed the first issue in December 1908.

“I didn’t know any other life,” George said. “I always kid about … every time a governor or a representative from Congress or somebody came through town, they stopped and saw my dad and mother and so on. I figured they did that to everyone. It was just the way life was. I didn’t realize that Dad was quite an important person.”

George and Betty raised five children while publishing the newspaper, and each child grew up in the paper, too.

“As children of a newspaper, we grew up watching our lives be chronicled in black and white ink on newsprint,” their daughter Kathleen Steward Flood wrote in the final edition. “Sometimes we were sure we would die of embarrassment when it seemed like all of Rock County knew what we were doing.”

Betty still wonders how her kids put up with their parent’s deadline-filled lifestyle.

“They had to help a lot within the home setting,” she recalled.

While raising her four daughters and one son, Betty wrote a weekly column called “From Above the Journal,” coined for the family’s home above their Spring Street newspaper office. She also sold advertising.

Even though the family is parting ways with the 1,200 printed copies they produced, they’re not ready to step away from the news for good.

The Internet is the next step, George said, as he plans to publish a monthly edition of the Orfordville Journal and Footville News that eventually would be weekly at www.orfordville.com.

When George bought his first computer in 1980, he didn’t even know how to turn it on. That’s far from the case now, as the tech savvy 81-year-old describes his two desktop computers and how his laptop allows him to work from the living room.

The Web would allow for color photos with local news and a column from Betty from time to time, he said. He also looks forward to writing historical and editorial pieces, he said.

“If the little kids can learn to do that sort of thing, I can do it too,” he jokes. “It may take me a little longer, but I’ll learn. I’ve always enjoyed learning.”

Last updated: 9:54 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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