Intersection 9: Doug Newman

We’ve all experienced intersections in our life where we’ve come alongside someone who has had unique knowledge to share and the willingness to do so. This is the story of another of those intersections in my life.

I should really have known better than to talk Connie into starting The Golden Shopper less than a year after we were married. We had no business management experience, had very little operating capital and knew nothing about the publishing business.

I had just read an article in Time magazine regarding potential business growth in the “Soaring ’60s” and been challenged by a Sibley businessman to start a shopper. There was a need for one in Sibley, he said, because the one that had been there had gone bankrupt.

You’d think that bit of information alone would have put my head on straight.

But we did start publishing that shopper and have consistently owned and managed that business, now Iowa Information, for more than 55 years.

The Golden Shopper was established in Sibley, working out of the old post office building, in October 1962. Our son Jeff was born one month later on Thanksgiving Day. Connie, who was helping with the office and production work, took a few days off following the birth to regain her strength and establish a daily routine with our firstborn. But knowing how much I needed her, she returned to work in less than a week.

Operating capital was a daily problem then and most of our first 20 years in business. While our advertising sales increased every year, so did the cost of servicing a growing business. There always seemed to be a new piece of machinery to buy, increased printing and postage costs to cover and the need to add another employee to the payroll.

About the time we found ourselves getting above water publishing The Golden Shopper we jumped, headlong, into publishing The N’West Iowa REVIEW.

It took years to turn The REVIEW into a profitable operation. The first issue was published with only three paid subscribers. We printed 5,000 copies and delivered three to the households that had subscribed. The other 4,997 copies were delivered free to homes across N’West Iowa we hoped would like our paper and subscribe. The price that first year was less than $10.

Our lack of reserve cash drove our banker crazy. Banks like having money in the account before the checks begin to arrive.

We worked our way toward economic balance daily, but it was near impossible until we fell under the compassion and guidance of Doug Newman, who was the Ashton State Bank’s new president.

Doug had moved to Ashton from Rock Rapids soon after Stan Smith bought the Ashton bank. He had been the manager of a Rock Rapids lampshade manufacturing company, he told me, before entering the banking field.

Doug was an incredibly thoughtful, kind man who preferred to believe in the person more than the financial statement.

I don’t know what moved me to turn to him and the bank when I did, but it was probably during some sort of financial shortfall. When he heard my story, Doug didn’t hesitate for a moment to approve the loan I requested. We had something in common but that also could have been said of all his Doug’s patrons.

We became good friends as well as business associates. It wasn’t long before I moved all the company’s financial accounts to the Ashton State Bank.

Doug believed in the company and always applauded the limited successes we had those years. When The REVIEW won Iowa Newspaper of the Year for the first time, he quickly bought a full-page ad with us congratulating the family and our staff.

Visiting the bank, and Doug, was always a sweet and sour experience. On one hand, Doug felt required to ask about the state of our finances and the condition of the company loans during those visits. On the other hand, he felt akin to what we were attempting and enjoyed talking about our publishing plans, opportunities, the families, farming and business across N’West Iowa and the newspaper profession.

His immediate superior, the chairman of his bank, once told me that anytime he questioned about the status of our finances, Doug would reply “Peter will eventually do all right.”

So, we existed. Sometimes we were ahead of the game and sometimes, sadly, we were overdrawn. Doug kept the faith, however, and we eventually would catch up for at least a while.

Then a time came when Doug and his family were on a lengthy vacation somewhere. While they were gone Iowa’s bank examiners arrived in Ashton for their regular audit. It was a time we were overdrawn. Seriously overdrawn.

I was embarrassed, heartbroken and depressed, especially since Doug wasn’t even aware of the auditor’s visit. The bank employees thought it best not to bother him while he was away.

He only learned of the problem when I happened to meet him and his family at Hardee’s the second evening of audit. They were on their way back home and had stopped for supper.

When I approached Doug to apologize for the trouble I’d caused he only smiled and said something like, “I hadn’t heard.”

The next day, midmorning, I drove down to Ashton to learn just where I sat. I knew the situation put Doug in a bad situation and me in one that was probably even worse.

“I’m sorry,” I spurted as I entered Doug’s office.

“For what?” he asked.

“For getting the bank caught with such a terrible overdraw,” I responded.

I expected a lecture or even a notice the bank no longer wanted me as a customer. Instead, the always calm and considerate banker just looked at me and said, “This too, will pass.”

It did, and with hard work my family finally was able to make the company both profitable and stable.

But we wouldn’t have gotten there without the help we received from people like Doug Newman who hardly knew us and had little reason to go out on a limb for us.

Doug eventually retired and moved to Sibley, expecting a long and happy retirement. Instead, he died, too soon, at the age of 68 on March 6, 2002.

I thank God for him. During some of my most difficult days he stood by me, mentored me, and in the end left me with a most valuable lesson: “This too, will pass.” That four-word phrase is forever imprinted on the street sign of another major intersection of my life.

Peter W. Wagner lives in Sibley. He is the founder/publisher of The N’West Iowa REVIEW and may be reached at pww