by Marlo Benning
It was just days before his 20th birthday when Dave Lorenz received a call that, although he didn’t know at the time, would shape his life’s path for the next five decades.
The year was 1965 and he had recently graduated from college in Wahpeton, North Dakota, at what is now known as North Dakota State College of Science, with a degree in printing. He was working as a handyman of sorts at Park Region Echo in Alexandria after graduation when a phone call from George Etzell, editor of the Clarissa Independent, called him to town for his first “official” printing job.
He had originally come to the Alexandria area for the good fishing there in hopes of eventually securing a job in what he had been trained for.
It soon became clear to Lorenz that he would call Clarissa his home as he was welcomed with open arms by not only his foreman, Gene Watts, and the Etzells, but by countless people in the community as well. They quickly became close to his heart and he never had the urge to move back to his hometown of Hankinson, North Dakota, where his parents lived.
The owners of the Do Drop Inn, Don and Bev Thompson, became just like family as he’d eat there for nearly every meal.They made him feel comfortable and right at home.
“It was just like family,” he said, “If I didn’t’ show up for a meal, Bev would be calling the office to check up on me. If I was feeling under the weather, she would bring food to my apartment. And there was never day old pie either, because if some was left over, it was given to me!”
Lorenz has forged many friendships over the years and has been a helping hand to neighbors who have needed it; whether it be mowing lawn, house sitting, shoveling snow, or finding a treasure to give to someone while out hitting local garage sales, which is one of his favorite pastimes. He was an avid fisherman for many years with buddy Gordy Johnson.
You can usually spot him in the community as he drives his trusty 1985 black Buick that he bought from close friends Gene and Ella Lindquist many years ago.
Now, 50 years after first coming to town, Lorenz is reaching this milestone in his career. But, he isn’t stopping there…..
While he plans to cut down on the driving and delivery of the newspapers in the wintertime, he still wants to keep the ink flowing in his domain in the back room at the Independent News Herald/Benning Printing building.
“I want to continue printing, otherwise I’d miss it. I enjoy it, it’s fun and it’s easier now. Maria [graphic designer] does all the work. She puts it all together and makes the plate for me! If everything works good, I put it on the press and run it,” he said.
But, looking back, the early years are a far cry from the technology that makes the newspaper business much easier than it once was.
The linotype years
Back when he joined the staff in Clarissa, the newspaper was put out by laying out all the pages on the massive linotype machines.
“Everything was hot metal then,” said Lorenz, “Back then, we started on Monday morning and had to have the paper out by Wednesdaynoon. The print shop was located where Battle Lake Outdoors is today (the brick building where the old theater was). We also used the linotype for auction bills and other printing jobs.”
Once he fully learned the ropes of operating the machine, Thursdays and Fridays were spent doing “job work” after the newspaper was finished for the week, putting out various commercial printing such as raffle tickets.
“At that time, Gene Watts, myself, Loretta Anderson and another guy ran the linotype; at least four of us. There were two linotypes running at the same time. Everything was set up by typewriter. They would set up how the ad would look with the different size type, etc. We had a casting machine to make pictures from mats in which hot metal would be poured into for the grocery store and other ads.”
Lorenz said that the hard part was the design portion.
“Gene would put it all together and I would punch out the type,” recalled Lorenz.
Back then, the “gossip columns”, which could be likened to the Facebook of yesteryear, took up eight to ten galleys (full columns) in each weekly edition.
He explained that when they would set up a line of type, there is a casting mechanism involved and if it didn’t line up just right, the hot lead would squirt out at you.
“That was a pain,” he recalled with distaste.
After it was all set up, the whole page would be set on the in-house flatbed letter press to print each week’s Clarissa Independent.
Technology replaces the lino
Eventually, the evolvement of the printing industry included replacing the massive linotypes and their in-house press with larger presses that had more capability to get the job done more quickly.
“Then we went to setting everything up on a typewriter. We would cut it out and wax it up. We stopped printing the paper here, but everything was set up here. Then we had to take the paper to Wadena. The only time it was printed here was when we used the linotype.”
This change took place shortly after Watts purchased the business in 1971 along with his wife, Orla, from Etzell. During this time, Lorenz grew close to the Watts family, especially Gene, and has lived about a block away from them the entire 50 years that he has been in Clarissa.
“Gene thought the world of him. Hopefully he learned a few things from my husband. He [Gene] had kind of fallen into the trade, although he had gone to graphic arts school in The Cities,” said Orla, “Once we sold, he [Dave] continues to bring me the junk mail from Alexandria every Friday. I usually have cookies or something to hand to him. I think he likes that. He still likes to be teased and loves to banter back and forth with some of the neighbors. He always has a big grin!”
It was in 1991 that Jeff Winkler purchased the Clarissa Independent from the Watts’. He owned it briefly and about a year later, sold it to Ernie and Diane Silbernagel who combined it with the Eagle Bend/Bertha/Hewitt newspaper. At that time, the newspaper became theIndependent News Herald. In 2002, Ray and Marlo Benning purchased the business.
The waxing process continued after the introduction of computers until about 2005 when the paper was completely set up on computers and eventually files could be sent directly to the printers by e-mail through Portable Document Format (PDF) .
Up until that point when PDF files could be e-mailed to Sauk Centre Web Printing, Lorenz had been having to drive the newspaper to the printers in Wadena, and later Sauk Centre. He would then wait two to three hours for them to be printed, folded and labeled before delivering them to gas stations, grocery stores and other drop off locations, and also brought them to the post offices to be mailed out.
Ernie Silbernagel said that Lorenz (affectionately referred to as Davey to him and others that know him well) had the delivery man duty right off the bat when he and Diane took over.
Silbernagel was the one to teach him how to run an offset press.
“We dug it out of the back room and got it running, then bought a couple newer, better ones. That’s where he got started,” he said.
Silbernagel said it is not surprising to him that Lorenz has stayed in the business this long.
“He told me five years ago or more that it was his goal to work until he was 70. He’s the greatest guy you could ever have working for you. He’ll do anything for you,” said Silbernagel.
I can attest to this as he is willing to work any day of the week to get a job done. Even if we tell him it can wait, he would rather come in on the weekend or after regular working hours to complete it. I also can only recall one time in the past 15 years that we’ve owned theIndependent News Herald, where he hasn’t been able to “run the route” by picking up and dropping off the weekly paper. He is the most dependable person I’ve ever met.
Silbernagel echoed this sentiment, “Loyal, loyal…..the most loyal human being you could ever know, and honest!” he said.
“I have known Dave as a co-worker and friend for the last 23 years of his working career. Our staff has always worked together as professionals and over the years have become a ‘newspaper family’. The previous comments about Dave are my sentiments exactly…dedicated, dependable, loyal, honest…he also has a heart of gold and is truly genuine,” shared Kathy Marquardt.
In the printing biz for fifty years is quite a feat,
And a nicer guy then Dave you will never meet!
In his print shop he takes pride in his work,
And in every corner a pica pole does lurk.
He progressed from a linotype to an offset press,
Dealing with deadlines and enduring some stress.
Every week whether there’s sunshine, snow or rain,
Dave delivers the newspaper to everyone on Main.
He’s a worker like no other—one that’s hard to find,
Dedicated, trustworthy, dependable and kind.
Fifty years is something to be proud of indeed,
And a little celebration is definitely what we need.
Dave also reached another milestone this year,
He hit the big “70”—at least that’s what we hear!
To the guy who always has a helping hand to lend…
Congratulations on your dual achievements my friend!
Wishing You The Best Always!