A hidden treasure leaves behind a great legacy
One of the hidden treasures in my hometown of Brownton that has always had a lasting impression on me turned out to be an icon in community journalism across Minnesota for decades. I was fortunate enough to get my start in the newspaper industry back in the early 1980s under Chuck Warner, the long-time publisher of the Brownton Bulletin and many other newspapers across the state.
Warner passed away in Florida April 19 at the age of 93. I have always had great respect for Warner and the things he accomplished throughout his long career in the newspaper world. He owned, or co-owned, a whole array of newspapers throughout his years. Besides Brownton, which he owned from 1953 to 1984, some of them included newspapers in Olivia, Norwood, Wadena, Hutchinson, Litchfield, Glencoe and Staples. Warner was known as the newsman who did it all. Colleagues knew Warner as one of the best-known small-town editors in Minnesota. In addition to being involved on the local level, Warner was very active in the Minnesota Newspaper Association. “Past presidents are calling him one of our patriarchs,” said Lisa Hills, executive director of the MNA. “He was just so well-respected.”
Fond memories will always stick with me of Warner allowing me to break into the newspaper business. I’ll never forget how he gave a naïve 13-year-old a chance to work at his pride and joy, the Bulletin, back in 1981. I really had no idea what I was walking into at the time when I began as an assistant photographer. I learned quickly and within a couple years I was writing stories, selling advertising, laying out the newspaper and doing many other tasks needed to get out a weekly newspaper.
The Bulletin was known for high-quality journalism, capturing many awards through the Minnesota Newspaper Association as well as some national contests. The paper won 114 state and national awards for newspaper excellence from 1977-1985. Perhaps one of my greatest memories came in 1984 when the Bulletin became the first weekly from a small town—less than 800 people and less than 1,200 circulation—to win the coveted Mills Award and be named the top weekly paper in Minnesota. This was no
small task for a paper our size. I’ve tried to replicate the success we achieved under
Warner’s leadership since I purchased this newspaper nearly three years ago, but unfortunately I haven’t figured it out yet. Sure we’ve won many state and national awards. However, I’m looking for the top award that Warner led the Bulletin to in 1984.
Nearly once a year since I took over my own newspaper Warner has sent me a letter giving me a report on how I’m doing with the publication. He was always complimentary and encouraging in the comments he wrote on his electric typewriter and sent in the mail. He did not own a computer, and he didn’t email, either.
About three years ago he and his lovely wife, who died in 2017, surprised me by coming to one of my employee holiday parties. What a memory that visit will always be for me.
Besides publishing newspapers, Warner was also a civic activist in Brownton. He also had a love for amateur baseball. Because of his efforts in 1964, Brownton became to first small town to host a state amateur baseball tournament.
Up until a year ago, Warner had never missed the annual convention of the Minnesota Newspaper Association in the Twin Cities. In fact I think he holds the record for the longest tenure of 60 consecutive years of attending the convention.
It’s fair to say that this newspaper is what it is today because of community journalists like Warner. I feel honored and privileged to have learned from the best. No one will ever come close to guiding me to excellence in running a community newspaper like Warner did for so many years.
Warner was a state newspaper icon that was clearly dedicated to going in hot pursuit of providing readers with a quality newspaper to keep them informed. May his soul rest in peace.