Newspaper begins its 145th year

Old Settlers’ Day, first celebrated in 1881 and annually observed since 1912, isn’t the only historical event in Marion this week.

Today, the Marion County Record starts its 145th year of continuous publication. More than 7,500 issues of the paper have come off the press since Issue No. 1 on Sept. 24, 1869.

Famed Kansas lawmen Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson were still teenagers living back east when the Record, then known as The Western News, editorialized in its first issue about the need for better sidewalks on Main Street of what at the time was still known as Marion Centre, population 700.

The paper — Marion’s second oldest business, trailing Case and Son Insurance by a single year — has seen 26 presidents and 44 governors since its founding by editor and publisher A.W. Robinson.

Robinson was paid by insurance agent A.E. Case and five other civic leaders — J.N. Rogers, J.H. Costello, Levi Billings, William H. Billings and A.A. Moore — to move the paper from the now unincorporated town of Detroit in Dickinson County.

Among the news in the paper’s first year was the construction of the city’s first stone house by William Billings. The structure still stands along what at the time would have been the banks of the Cottonwood River, the equivalent of three blocks south of the present-day intersection of Main and Walnut streets.

Robinson remained publisher for 19 months. John E. Murphy purchased the paper in 1871 and re-named it The Western Giant. Murphy sold the paper five months later to C.S. Triplett, who changed its name to the Marion County Record.

At the time, Marion County included Walton and stretched to a mile northwest of present-day North Newton. Marion’s third oldest business, Hannaford Abstract and Title, was founded that year.

After three years of publishing the Record, Triplett sold the paper in 1874 to E.W. Hoch, who had learned the printing trade at the short-lived Florence Pioneer before moving to Marion.

That same year a grasshopper plague devastated crops and workers completed construction of the Hill School building, which remains the oldest building in Kansas in continuous use as a school. The city itself was not incorporated until a year later, and it did not shorten its name to Marion until seven years after that.

Since 1874, two families have been involved with the Record. The Hoch family owned it for 124 years. The Meyer family began its involvement 65 years ago.

E.W. Hoch ran the newspaper until his death in 1925. Son Wallis Hoch and grandson Wharton Hoch also served as editors. E.W. Hoch and another son, Homer Hoch, both were active in politics.

E.W. Hoch, a legislator from 1889 to 1891 and from 1893 to 1895, served two terms as Kansas governor, from 1905 to 1909.

He is the namesake for Hoch Auditoria on the University of Kansas campus. Until Allen Fieldhouse was completed in 1955, the auditorium was the “House of Horrors” home for the Jayhawks’ perennially powerful basketball team.

Homer Hoch equaled or surpassed his father’s political accomplishments. A lawyer, he served as a member of Congress from 1919 to 1933 and as a justice on the Kansas Supreme Court from 1938 until his death in 1949.

During the Hoch family’s tenure, several other newspapers were folded into the Record — or simply folded.

Eighteen separate newspapers were published in Marion, each for fewer than two years, between 1880 and 1895.

The Marion Times, founded in 1890 by C.E. Foote and Henry Kuhn, became the Marion Headlight in 1899 when J.J. Buschlen purchased it. Buschlen sold the paper to the Record in 1909.

The Marion Review, founded by D.O. Bell as the Lincolnville Lance in 1907, became the Marion County Lance, moved to Marion in 1908, and eventually changed its name to the Marion Review.

C.C. Jones was the Review’s first publisher. Mr. and Mrs. T.B. Matlock, Mr. and Mrs. Burton Smith, and Mr. and Mrs. John Riddle followed him as publishers until, in May 1944, the Record and the Review merged to become the Marion Record-Review.

Wharton Hoch, who had taken over as editor of the Record in 1944, purchased the Riddles’ interest in May 1948. Three months later, Bill Meyer joined the staff as associate editor. In October 1957, the paper changed its name back to Marion County Record.

Meyer became editor after Hoch’s death in 1967. He and his wife, Joan, and son, Eric, a journalism professor at the University of Illinois, purchased the newspaper from Wharton Hoch’s estate in 1998.

Joan Meyer, who continues to compile the Record’s popular Memories column, is the newspaper’s most senior staff member. She has worked at the Record for 55 years.

Three of the paper’s former editors are members of the Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame.

  • E.W. Hoch was inducted in 1932.
  • Wharton Hoch was inducted in 1974.
  • Bill Meyer, only the second living inductee in history, was inducted in 2003, a year after becoming the second Kansan in history to win the Eugene Cervi Award for lifetime achievement from the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors.

Donna Bernhardt, who remains a member of the board of directors along with longtime employee Melvin Honeyfield, became editor after Bill Meyer’s retirement in 2003. Susan Berg succeeded her as managing editor in 2008. Adam Stewart became news editor in 2012. Eric Meyer has served as president and publisher since his father’s death in 2006.

Over the years, the newspaper was instrumental in building or preserving numerous public improvements, including Marion Elementary, Marion Reservoir, Marion’s dike and levy, Hospital District No. 1 (St. Luke), the Hill School, Butler of Marion, and Marion stadium.

The Record is the oldest newspaper in Marion County by only a small margin.

The Peabody Gazette-Bulletin, which the Record purchased in 2001, is three years younger. The Record purchased the Hillsboro Star-Journal, now in its 106th year, in 1999. Together, the three newspapers serve as the official publications for every municipality in the county.

Detroit, Kan., meanwhile, retained a post office until 1961 and a tavern until this day, but since the Record’s departure has managed to be home to just one more newspaper, called the Free Press. It folded in 1898.

 

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