|By Mary Koch
"The last surviving . . . "
That phrase conjures up images of geezers in an old folks
home. The three of us are too young for this kind of designation, but we cannot escape it.
We are the last surviving Chronicle owner-publishers:
Merilynn Wilson, 77, who came to Omak and The
Chronicle in 1957 with her husband, the late Bruce Wilson. A professionally trained and
experienced journalist, she worked on the newspaper while raising four children, two of
whom are now journalists.
John E. Andrist, 68, who left a television news job
in 1961 to be The Chronicle's news editor. He started buying in as a partner with the
Wilsons in 1970 along with Elizabeth Widel, who became a minority stockholder.
John took on increasing responsibility while Bruce Wilson
served as a state senator, ultimately purchasing the last of the Wilson stock in 1979.
And me, Mary Koch, 56, former Associated Press editor
who married John in April 1979, which not coincidentally was also when I joined The
Chronicle. Our tenure lasted until 1996, when we sold to Eagle Newspapers.
The three of us, whose years with The Chronicle span nearly
half the newspaper's lifetime, got together recently to reminisce about the really big
stories we covered.
There were many, including the momentous flood of 1972 and
massive forest fires. But Merilynn and John quickly agreed that one story towered over
everything else: The Goldmark Trial of 1964.
It was a larger-than-life event, a story of underlying
conflicts in which the truths that emerged were greater than the facts.
Although there was plenty of national media attention, it
wasn't a hyped-up criminal case of the O.J. Simpson genre.
It was a civil lawsuit, brought by a politician whose good
name was besmirched in an election campaign and who sued the people who had libeled him.
On trial was the anti-Communist paranoia of the times. Paranoia, when examined by an
Okanogan County jury, lost.
It was a time of "constant excitement," Merilynn
recalled, a huge story for a tiny weekly newspaper to cover. The county courthouse teemed
with what she called "big shot" reporters and celebrity witnesses.
The trial was a watershed event for The Chronicle, indelibly
changing how it did its job, broadening the scope of its news reporting.
Okanogan County had many small community newspapers, each
focusing on its own town and immediate surroundings. Missing was a county-wide newspaper
to report on the larger events of the region.
The Chronicle grew to fill that niche. News coverage
expanded, and circulation more than doubled despite relatively slow population growth.
News reporting grew more complex as Okanogan County became a
frontline in the national struggle over environmental policies.
Stories took on a life of their own, demanding ongoing
coverage for years on end: The Early Winters ski development, Crazy Rapids agricultural
project, Battle Mountain gold mine, Loomis State Forest management and the never-ending
Equally complicated were issues and stories emerging from
the Colville Confederated Tribes. After the proposal to terminate the reservation was put
to rest in the 1960s, the tribe aggressively asserted its jurisdictional authority on a
number of fronts.
Of the many awards for journalism and civic leadership John
won over the years, he is perhaps proudest of the beaded belt buckle presented to him by
the tribe for his clear and comprehensive coverage of its legal issues.
Stories sometimes took us far from Omak. We hiked the back
country in search of the elusive spotted owl. We flew to Washington, D.C., to meet with
members of Congress. We covered hearings, trials and meetings from Seattle to Spokane, all
because they were of vital interest to the people of Okanogan County.
Yet we never wanted to lose sight of our goal to be a
down-home, community newspaper. It was still our job to tell the everyday stories of our
readers, from births to deaths, from school awards to anniversaries.
No story was ever any bigger than those.
Sale of The Chronicle to Eagle Newspapers ended its long
history as a family owned and operated newspaper. It had been, very literally, a mom and
Just as a newspaper mirrors its community, it also mirrors
the community's economy. Compared to 50 years ago, locally owned businesses in Okanogan
County are fewer and farther between.
Newspapers, too, are part of that trend; to stay alive and
competitive they need the economic underpinning of a larger corporation.
We were gratified that Eagle offered to buy The Chronicle.
It is a family company that began with a single, small-town newspaper in Oregon.
Eagle is dedicated to operating each of its newspapers
independently with a resident publisher responsible for making the paper meet the unique
needs of its community.
It's easy to start a newspaper. Dozens of them have been
started in Okanogan County over the years. Most have failed.
Merilynn, John and I may be the three surviving
owner-publishers, but the most important survivor of all is The Chronicle. Of that we are
Photo by Elizabeth Widel
|Merilynn Wilson (from left), John E. Andrist and Mary Koch are the last of The