Presses Fall Silent as Era Ends

An eerie silence was felt in the pressroom.
It seemed as though the 10 Goss units, waiting for still another job, understood they were printing the last newspapers at 8545 East 41st St., on Wednesday, April 18, the long-time home of Neighbor Newspapers.
As I watched the subdued activity of the pressmen, it also was a bit unnerving for me. I realized that printing the newspapers at that location marked the end of one era and the real beginning of another.
Earlier I had asked Publisher Mike Brown to let me know the final day the presses would be run in the building.
Being in the pressroom that morning was personally significant to me.
I started work at Neighbor Newspapers — Retherford Publications — Oct. 10, 1973, almost 35 years ago, the day the first newspapers were printed in the building. I never thought I would see this change.
I also never thought I would be in one place for so long because, according to statistics, people generally change jobs every five or six years, sometimes even more quickly.
Reflecting on the years, I did take a brief leave from Tulsa, from September 1979 until July 1, 1981, when I went to Oklahoma City where I married — and thought I would establish a permanent residence in that city. I was very familiar with the area because I was raised in Okarche, a small farming community a short distance away. I found a job as a reporter for the Journal Record and was part of that publication’s transition from the past where legals only were published to a business newspaper.
That plan didn’t work out and Bill R. Retherford, who purchased the Tulsa Daily Commerce and Legal News in 1980 from Dexter Moss, prevailed upon me to return to Tulsa.
It was a family decision between my wife Susan and myself as we considered our four daughters and opportunities we might make available to them.
That fateful decision to return to Tulsa also might have saved my life. I had a regular beat to downtown Oklahoma City and I generally walked the concourse under the city. The entry was in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Courthouse.
I do not know where I might have been that day at 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995.
Reflecting back on those early days, from 1973 to 1979, I found myself part of a growing company. True, there were only three weekly newspapers, Southeast News, Tulsa County News, Owasso Reporter and two shoppers in the chain at that time. But, I feel we made an impact, focusing on community news in those areas. I got to know the east Tulsa, west Tulsa and Owasso communities very well.
I got to know the people and some people still remember me from those many years ago. I struggle with their names, though I might recall some faces.
Bill Retherford was forward looking and he started the first of many format changes in 1978 when he took the Owasso Reporter from the original tabular size to the broadsheet format that it has today. The community was surprised and pleased with the change. They felt that at last they had a real community newspaper.
Technology was changing from typewriters to computers during the late ’70s and the Compugraphic MDT350 units were the ‘‘latest and best’’ for small newspapers. This equipment, coupled with other processing machines made some work easier and some probably more difficult. There would be another transition in 1983 before the first Apple systems were installed in the late 1980s. Everyone thought that was the latest and greatest equipment available and nothing could be added. Today, I think we have gone through at least six generations of computers.
The Skiatook Journal was started while I was in Oklahoma City. I returned and found a new publication getting established. The Skiatook facility was the first of the new buildings — other than the East 41st Street facility — that Retherford designed and built. Earlier, probably 1973, he designed and built a small office for the Tulsa County News in west Tulsa. It would be followed by a similarly designed building in Owasso after he purchased the Reporter.
It was during this time that I started to get acquainted with Tulsa’s legal community through the Tulsa Daily Legal News. That newspaper’s name was changed sometime in 1982 to the Tulsa Daily Business Journal. The goal was to develop a business newspaper in Tulsa similar to the one in Oklahoma City.
At the same time, Retherford Publications was growing. I started the Collinsville Herald. The name was dropped and it became the Collinsville News after it was purchased from Bill Wright sometime in the mid ’80s. That was followed by the Coweta American. The Glenpool Post was bought somewhere around 1988. The Broken Arrow Scout also was started as a weekly competitor against the long-established Broken Arrow Ledger.
Somewhere during that time, Bill purchased the Coweta Times Star and Wagoner Tribune. The Coweta American was moved to the former competitor’s office, the competitor’s name phased out to become part of Oklahoma newspaper history. The Wagoner Tribune building was remodeled and continues to be published at that location.
Further changes were ahead when the Tulsa Business Journal was started in 1991 and the Tulsa Daily Business Journal became today’s Tulsa Daily Commerce and Legal News.
Everything seemed to settle down at that time.
It probably was in 1995 that Bill realized a long-time dream, he was able to buy the Broken Arrow Daily Ledger. That purchase included the Bixby Bulletin, Jenks Journal, Sand Springs Leader and Mannford Eagle.
When that purchase was finalized, I recalled a time somewhere back in 1974 when Bill and I were going to a football game. As we went eastbound past the water tanks along the Broken Arrow Expressway, he looked wistfully at those tanks and expressed the hope that someday he could buy the Ledger.
With that large purchase, I, along with others in the Neighbor Newspaper family, learned what it was like to bring another large organization into the company. Equipment had to be replaced. New employees had to be introduced to a new culture.
I also understood the dilemma banks faced when they acquired another facility. I had been writing about these transitions for many years prior to that purchase.
Bill’s illness in 2005 and death in June of that year marked the beginning of more changes.
Employees continued working even though ‘‘suits’’ were continually coming through the buildings, looking, observing employees.
Questions ended when Retherford Publications — Neighbor Newspapers — was purchased by CPI Publishers of Bentonville, Ark. in mid-December, 2005.
I found myself moved to a new office downtown in March, 2006, and responsible for the news in the Tulsa Daily Commerce and Legal News.
My charge with two words, ‘‘do it’’, was to get to know and involved with the legal community, courts, attorneys, courthouse personnel, the University of Tulsa College of Law, other people and topics. The list is unending.
It seemed to be a dream come true for me. I was needing to begin slowing down. Now I need to write about 2,000 words each day to get the publication out. Some days are easier than others. There are some days I get help from others.
Now, the building where I spent more than 30 years is up for sale and I hope that the buyer will be as successful as its first and second owners. The headquarters operation is being consolidated into a remodeled building in Broken Arrow, the same that housed the Ledger before it was purchased by Neighbor Newspapers.
Reflecting on more than three decades with one company, I marvel at the growth that was experienced at Retherford Publications, from three weekly newspapers and two shoppers to a network of 13 newspapers and as high as seven shoppers.
The company grew because Bill R. Retherford loved the newspaper business and he loved the communities he served.
He set high personal standards and expected others to set their own to reach that personal excellence each of us can attain.
He had the strong support of his wife Mary, son Tim, and daughter Lisa Walker.
Steve Trollinger, CPI president, during his initial meeting with managers said the Neighbor Newspaper brand would be continued.
He immediately emphasized that community journalism would continue to be the core of all publications. That what attracted the Bentonville, Ark., company to Tulsa.
Changes still are being experienced within the Neighbor Newspaper family. They will continue as the Internet becomes an even more integral part of the newspaper industry. These changes and challenges are part of future growth.
Now, the Tulsa Daily Commerce and Legal News and other Neighbor Newspapers are being printed in the newly purchased Nowata Printing Company. It is part of the change.
During the past three-plus decades, I have worked with many wonderful people. All have contributed in some way to the growth of the Neighbor Newspaper organization.
Current and future employees will continue to build the strength and vitality of this organization that started in 1965 with one weekly newspaper, the Tulsa County News.
As the Goss press at 8545 East 41st spun for the last time, it formally marked the end of one era and the start of another.
I’m proud to be a part of it.

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