CHAPTER 13 - Competition

For the first 10 years, The REVIEW masthead listed both Sibley and Sheldon as locations of publication. We wanted to be the region’s newspaper and having offices in both communities added credibly to that premise. But our target was always Sheldon. It was the larger market, was central to the four counties and we believed that the Woods family, the current publishers of the local papers, were at a point where they might be ready to sell their publications.

Carol Woods, his wife, Mildred, and his sister, Lucile, were owners of The Sheldon Mail and The Sheldon Sun in 1972. All three were well-respected in the community, and Lucile was active in many organizations, including the Daughters of the American Revolution and various community betterment groups.

Carol and Mildred lived a quiet life in on a tree-lined street in the center of town and often weekended in their rustic cabin on West Okoboji Lake. The winter months often included lengthy vacations in Carmel-by-the-Sea in California.

Carol dressed well for a town the size of Sheldon. The first time I met him, the two of us attending a midweek, early afternoon, community event, he easily stood out in a light-colored dress shirt, tweed sport coat and ascot.

Carol had an inquisitive mind and an appreciation for things of the past. He spent hours searching nearby fields for Sioux Indian artifacts, and at one time he had numerous glass cases of arrowheads and other items on display in The Sheldon Mail building.

Later, when I got to know him personally, I was surprised to learn that we shared many interests: the circus, railroad history and Ford Thunderbirds being three of them.

The Woods family was not pleased that Connie and I were starting a competitive newspaper in their community. They had been mostly unchallenged over the years, made a decent profit and had won more than a few Iowa Press Association awards and even some from the National Newspaper Association.

Locally, Carol was highly respected for his weekly “Curbstone Comments” column.

But they still were setting the type for their Wednesday Sheldon Mail and Monday Sheldon Sun on a Linotype and printing the paper, two pages at a time, on a flatbed press.

There was not a lot of nonprint competition in Sheldon when we began publishing The REVIEW in 1972. KIWA Radio was just a little over a decade old. KLEM Le Mars, had a remote studio in Sheldon for years but pulled out of town when rumors of KIWA hit that market.

Carol and Lucile had seen their share of print competition, however. There had been various newspapers come and go. Until just a few years earlier, The Sheldon Sun had been owned by a different family and published out of the building that now houses Ameriprise Financial on Third Avenue.

But the business community wanted more circulation and that required a commitment that the Woods siblings, at their age, did not want to put into upgrading equipment and staff.

Connie and I, and our small editorial staff, understood the fight against such a well-established paper would be long and difficult but felt that in the end we would find success as Sheldon’s second paper, or better still, as the future owners of The Mail and The Sun.

What we didn’t know or comprehend was there were other publishers in the area concerned about how our new paper might affect them, too.

At that time, I didn’t realize that John van der Linden, publisher of The Sibley Gazette-Tribune, and Bob Reiste, publisher of the Ocheyedan Press, had good reason to worry about the existence of another newspaper in their county.

Osceola County is the smallest in square miles of Iowa’s 99 counties. It also was among the smallest in population and qualifies by Iowa law for just two legal newspapers. The publishing of legal notices has always been an important source of revenue to small community newspapers. Since The REVIEW was entered into the mail in both Sibley and Sheldon, the day could come when The REVIEW might have enough in-county circulation to challenge one of those papers for the county’s legal advertising.

Their response, in late September 1972 — just 11 weeks after we began publishing The REVIEW — was to partner with eastern Iowa journalist Frank Morlan and purchase The Mail and The Sun.

The news came as a shock to Connie and me and the newly created staff that were working with us. We didn’t expect such a change to take place so soon. Bob Vance at The Daily Globe in Worthington, MN, was equally surprised. He had plans for his family to acquire the Sheldon newspapers and somehow merge them and The REVIEW into one publication.

Norm Wheeler, the first of our team to see Morlan, reported, “There is nothing to fear. He looks like he puts his pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us.”

That might have been true, but Morlan’s arrival was the beginning of 14 years of the most competitive, strenuous and financially difficult years in Connie and my lives.

Frank Morlan and his wife, Sally, had until recently, been the publishers of the Brooklyn Chronicle in that community of 1,600 just off Highway 80 to the east of Newton.

Morlan was an experienced journalist, serving as both editor and publisher of that paper and winning numerous awards in Iowa Press Association competition, especially in photography. He took on both The Sheldon Mail editor and publisher titles when the group took over those papers and the editor title for The Sheldon Sun. But Sally, his wife, was designated publisher of The Sun.

Connie’s early reaction was one of concern. We had just sunk what little money we had, and our future, into our new newspaper. We didn’t have the training or the resources for a long, drawn-out fight.

But my wife kept her head and her confidence in our ability, with God’s help, to persevere. She also decided that Frank was human when she read his first column after arriving in Sheldon.

He liked the town, he wrote, and looked forward to meeting and working with the members of the community. But it was going to take some time to settle in, find a home and move his family to Sheldon.

Meanwhile, he was staying at the Sheldon Motel, he reported, and getting along all right except for the first morning. That day, he wrote, he had taken a shower and dressed without incident until he went to comb his hair. It was then, Morlan admitted, that he discovered he had not packed a comb. He started his first day in Sheldon, he observed, with messy hair.

Morlan wasted no time making changes at the papers. He put together a team of three young, talented reporters. One, I recall, was a son of Bob and Evelyn Reiste.

He also assembled a new group of salespeople that included Jo Martin and Jack Donahue. Martin later went on to a major leadership role with the Iowa Falls Times-Citizen.

Jack was promoted, before his arrival, with a number of Mail and Sun ads proclaiming, “Jack is Back.” While the ads were effective in gaining the public’s interest, Jack had never had anything to do with either paper in the past.

We’ll look at the ensuing newspaper war next week.


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