50 years of newspapers: Hebron's Jane Brandt honored by industry
HEBRON — Jane Brandt, publisher of the Hebron Herald and Richardton Merchant, has reported on fires, floods and blizzards, watermelon days and fall festivals. She's never missed a publishing deadline, even when the press went down, ice covered the highways and storms rolled over the city.
Reflecting on 50 years in the publishing business, Brandt considers her years as a labor of love to her community and newspaper.
"A weekly newspaper pulls the community together," she said. "With the right words, you can make something grow even more."
Former Hebron Mayor Ken Rehling appreciates the contributions made by Brandt throughout the years.
"She stays on top of things," he said. "I think we and Richardton are lucky to have a local paper and to have Jane in the community."
Rehling served 18 years on the Hebron City Council and as mayor, and he remembers how Brandt kept the city accountable.
"She reminded us of things we may have forgotten about and, to this day, if something is going on in the county or state, she will send me an email."
Rehling can't image the day when Brandt ever decides to retire.
"I don't know who would take over," he said.
Early years in Hebron
Brandt's earliest memories are of attending schools at St. Vincent, Minn., and Pembina until moving to California with her parents. She graduated from San Rafael High School in Marin County and enrolled at Zweegman's School for Medical Secretaries in San Francisco. She worked two years for two cancer specialists in Oakland and another six years a nurse and secretary in San Leandro, Calif.
She had always liked to write, but had no journalism education.
"I had no background in writing with the exception of grocery lists and an occasional letter to a friend," she said.
Her first husband, Dick Berg, had come from a family of weekly newspaper owners in Minnesota and always dreamed of owning his own weekly paper. Jane planned to be a "stay-at-home" mom and care for two small children, Carlee and Curtis.
Purchasing the newspaper from Joyce and Irvin Lang, they arrived in Hebron on July 1, 1965.
"On his third day at the Herald, he telephoned me and said he just could not do the work alone," she said. "That telephone call changed my life forever."
At the time, a majority of the pioneers who settled Hebron were Germans from Russia, and a number of them still spoke German.
"Moving to southwestern North Dakota was difficult in itself, but walking to the post office and not understanding the language made things just a little harder to cope with," Brand said, remembering her early days in Hebron.
The Hebron Herald published with linotypes and hot lead in 1965.
"We operated our own presses, we melted our own lead," Brandt said. "Our newspapers were individually rolled up and wrapped in brown paper, labeled, tied in bundles and taken to the post office"
The Herald was published in a two-story brick building on the corner of Main Street and Park Street. Instead of air conditioning, the staff would fill large metal tubs with chunks of ice with a fan next to it.
Seven years after arriving in Hebron, Brandt's marriage dissolved, and she was left to run the business and raise her children. The staff included a pressman, his younger brother and a friend who assisted with setting the type.
She described the linotype as having a mind of its own, as it would squirt hot lead at the typesetter whenever it felt the time was right. The 100-pound pages had to be carried from the shop into the pressroom.
It was during this time that the community of Richardton asked Brandt to consider publishing a twice-monthly newspaper.
"I said, ' yes,' and the Richardton Merchant became another big part of my life," Brand said.
Changes over time
A turning point in the business came in June 1975 when the printing press died. Welders attempted to rebuild the shredded cogs into their original form, but with no success.
"My press died at midnight," she said. "I had the privilege of turning off the press for the last time and it was the end of an era at the Herald."
She printed the newspaper in nearby communities until getting help from the North Dakota Press Association. She was put into contact with the Finley publisher, who gave her a "Justowrite" to set type. Described as a computer, it produced "ticker tape" that ran through another machine, which produced the copy. The copy needed to be cut and waxed on to the pages.
"We had never heard of a waxer, laughed about needing scissors to put out a newspaper, and learned everything the hard way," Brandt remembers.
Several weeks later, the new Compuwriter typesetting machines arrived. The day had finally come when the linotype could be eliminated and era of offset publishing begun.
The newspaper plant at New Salem installed a central printing press, where Brandt continues printing both the Herald and the Merchant today.
When the Hebron Herald no longer needed space for the press, a wall was constructed to divide the building in half. In 1980, she opened the "The Front Page," a women's clothing store facing Main Street. She ran the business a few years until leasing the space to the Western Cooperative Credit Union.
To reduce the cost of heating the building 30 years ago, Brandt said she made the decision to convert to coal.
"Although there is some manual labor involved, it was one decision that I will never be sorry I made," she said.
Years of recognition
In 1978, she married Chester Brandt, who farms and ranches seven miles north of Heron. Throughout the years, she has been a Cub Scout leader, member of the Miss Jaycees, Women Involved in Farm Economics (WIFE) and the Hebron Business Club, which is credited with starting the town's Watermelon Days and its most novel project—erecting a fort made of sod and railroad ties. Originally constructed in 1892 by settlers, it was named Fort Sauerkraut.
Brandt has been a longtime member of the North Dakota Newspaper Association and North Dakota Professional Communicators. She has been the NDPC state president's and NDPC Communicator of the Year, winning the award at the national level as well.
"They opened doors for me and I met many wonderful people who have expanded my knowledge," she said of the news organizations.
She was recognized by the American Legion in 2000 with a Press Association Award for supporting veterans and their families. She was named an honorary citizen by the hamlet of Taylor in 2000 for service connected with the Taylor Horsefest. She also has served on the board for the Sacred Heart Benedictine Foundation in Richardton. She chaired Hebron's 125th Centennial and served on the book committee.
In 1978, Brandt and Kathy Elmer co-published a book titled "In the Beginning ... Hebron, North Dakota, 1876-1912." In celebration of Hebron's Centennial in 1985, she and Ann Skwarok compiled a 600-page book of photos and family histories.
Today, Brandt publishes the paper with Elmer in charge of subscriptions and Donna Duckwitz assisting with page layout.
Elmer and Brandt have been long-time friends and co-workers.
"I don't really know how long I've worked with Jane," Elmer said. "I quit for 25 years and came back again. She is a good friend and is easy to work with. She is so dedicated to the community. She goes to every meeting possible and reports on everything. I keep saying we should quit and enjoy life a little bit—but not today."
'The next 50'
Publishing an issue of the Herald is a continuous process. Starting Wednesday, Brandt begins writing stories and selling ads. On Monday, the headlines are written and stories placed on the pages, often late into the afternoon or evening. Tuesdays, the paper is taken to New Salem for printing and then delivered to the post office.
Some of the newspaper's biggest stories were associated with the fire that destroyed Joe's Bar on Main Street and the floods that ran over the banks of the Little Knife River through Main Street. She has covered train wrecks and car crashes. The three-day blizzard of March 1966 was perhaps her biggest story.
"I took a first place state and national award for the blizzard story," she said.
And if she isn't busy enough, she added, "I sweep the floor, wash the windows, do quarterly reports and payroll, and take bookwork home on weekends."
Plus, even after years of reporting and running the business, things still go wrong.
"One time, I went into the darkroom to develop the film, but didn't have any film in the camera," she said.
During Richardton's Centennial parade, the camera opened to expose the film. Luckily for Brandt, the city had a second parade.
However, she said the rewards of publishing a weekly newspaper override any adversities.
"I've had the privilege of going into people's homes to meet them personality," she said. "The people of Taylor and Richardton have opened up their arms to me. Even former Hebronites love to read the paper and keep up with their hometown."
She referenced a quote by Edward Everett Hale that she came across in high school.
"Mr. Hale said, I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do."
And whenever people ask about her plans for retirement, Brandt always has the same answer: "I'm starting on my next 50."