Howe ownership comes to a close as Courier Press gets sold

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Morris Newspaper Corporation of Wisconsin has purchased the Mississippi Valley Printers Inc. newspaper group of Crawford County and Clayton County (Iowa), including flagship publication, the Courier Press. The acquisition was finalized Tuesday, April 30, with MNC taking over operations on Wednesday, May 1. Pictured are MNC of Wisconsin Publisher John Ingebritsen and Courier Press General Manager Gary Howe. (Photo by Correne Martin)

By Correne Martin

The Courier Press has changed ownership after four generations and 108 years under the Howe family name. 

Morris Newspaper Corporation of Wisconsin purchased the Courier, The Trader shopper, as well as their three sister publications in northeast Iowa: North Iowa Times in McGregor, The Guttenberg Press in Guttenberg, and Clayton County Register in Elkader. 

The acquisition was finalized Tuesday, April 30, from Gary Howe, longtime owner of Mississippi Valley Printers. MNC took over operations Wednesday, May 1. Howe will remain at the company as general manager of the five publications for one year until his retirement. 

“We’re going to keep on keeping on and we’re going to have fun. We care about our product, our newspaper family and our community,” Howe said. “We, as a family, bought community newspapers, and retaining that family feel to them was nice. Having a company with the wherewithal to buy us and hopefully continue that investment is important.”

MNC of Wisconsin owns newspapers in Lancaster, Platteville, Fennimore, Boscobel, Gays Mills, Cuba City, Darlington, Richland Center, Muscoda and Monroe. With the addition of these five publications, the group has grown to include 14 newspapers and four shoppers. Both weekly newspaper groups will join forces in continuing to serve the small communities across the region.

The former Mississippi Valley Printers group will move forward with producing its own newspapers in office, and printing of the four papers and shopper will be done in Calmar, Iowa, as it has been. From there, papers are expected to be mailed out to subscribers and placed on newsstands as usual. 

“We see this as a wonderful fit with our group of weekly newspapers in southern Wisconsin,” said MNC of Wisconsin Regional Publisher John Ingebritsen, who has been with MNC of Wisconsin since it began operations in this region in 2002. “We understand the weekly newspaper business and we value the relationship with the communities we serve.”

The Courier Press has been published in historic Prairie du Chien since 1848. The Howe family began its business in community-minded news in 1911, and the newspaper has made its home at the corner of Beaumont and Wisconsin streets since September 1912. 

Henry “Hank” Howe bought the Courier, one of the oldest newspapers in Wisconsin, from the wife of the late W.D. Merrell. Not knowing the kind of dynasty he was starting, Hank and his wife, Sue, were the first to try their hand at the family printing business. Son Lyman “Ly” and wife Eliese (aka Dick, in print) were next, followed by their sons William “Bill” and Lyman “Jack.” The fourth generation included one of each of their sons, Gary and Lyman “John.” 

In 2015, Gary became the sole owner of the Courier Press, when the newspaper  and its sister publications split from the commercial printing operation, Howe Printing. (Just last year, John Howe sold that to Supreme Graphics.)

In December 2017, the old press at the Courier office retired, and printing of the bi-weekly paper, as well as the North Iowa Times, was sent to Calmar, Iowa.

“Since it was a family business, I started as a grade schooler setting leads and slugs (used in spacing out lines of type). I got a nickel for working all day long,” Gary remembered. “I ran the proof press. I ran prayer cards. I spent my Sunday nights developing film and prints; my father would run the enlarger and I’d do the pan developing.”

Around 1975-76, Gary started in advertising. He dealt with sales and stepped into the managerial side of the business.

“We used to burn the midnight oil. We were working all the time. Now we’re so much more efficient and the quality is better,” he said, laughing about the days of crooked headlines and overlapping paragraphs. “I’m amazed how we can take pages of content now and move them with such ease. That’s far from the hot metal days, spacing out galleys of type, the Compugraphic computer—which punched a hole through tape on film—and using rubber cement to glue type down and run it through the waxer. It was really a process.”

Working for the family business, according to Gary, was not always easy, but a pretty good deal, at the end of the day.

“It was nice to have a sounding board for the challenges,” he shared. 

During the Howes’ century of ownership, they never missed a week of printing the newspaper. Gary recalls going to Guttenberg to deliver pages or pick up papers by boat, snowmobile and airplane. When the Wisconsin-Iowa bridge was closed for a year decades ago, he said they hauled by scratcher boat and ferry.

Having been a small-town publisher for over 50 years, Gary feels Morris Newspapers was the best community-minded buyer for his business. He just turned 65 and his father, Bill, 96. They’ve dedicated their lives to local media and feel grateful they did so.

“I love what I do; I really do. There are challenging aspects to any business, but I have good people in place who are just making it easy, and making me look good,” Gary stated.  

He added his appreciation for working with the business and lay communities. “I’ve gained a lot of friends, built a lot of relationships.”

Gary believes his group of four newspapers and shopper matured into strong, popular products under his tenure. 

“I think we’ve tried to be the voice of the community and represent the community in a positive way,” he said. “Although news isn’t always good, we’ve maintained a focus on the unique people and stories that need to be told throughout the community.”

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