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Small town newspaper operator sheds light on 50-year career

Daniel VanderVeen
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

With  more than 50 years of service at small town newspapers, Bill Rischmueller has done it all.

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Bill Rischmueller of Wakefield, Neb., operator of the Wakefield Republican.

Rischmueller’s exposure to newspapers began early.  His father, a newspaper printer, sparked his interest in newsprint production.  By his sophomore year in high school in 1953, Rischmueller was working as a printer at his hometown paper, the Coleridge Blade.  He worked there until he was 21 years old in 1959.

After Coleridge, Rischmueller joined the Army and served from 1960-62.

He found himself in newspapers again after he left the Army.  He began working for the Sioux City Journal as a printer in the March of 1962 and stayed until 1969.

He left the Sioux City Journal when the Wakefield Republican was looking for a new owner and operator.  Rischmueller and his wife bought the paper  in  January of 1969.  At the time, the business of the Republican was divided equally between the newspaper and commercial printing.

Before taking over the paper, he knew very little about the town he was going to be covering.  He concedes it was challenging. But luckily, the town was patient with the new owners as they gradually grew into the swing of things in Wakefield.

Owning a newspaper in a small town comes with positives and negatives.  The biggest plus is  “community support,” which Rischmueller said is key to longevity in the business.

Another critical element is adaptability.  Rischmueller has seen changes in technology affect the newspaper many times. He said he’s watched the paper transition through four different ways of printing including its first use of computers.

One of the negatives of working in a small town is covering “tragedies.”  When everybody knows each other and there is a tragic death, it hits even harder.  Rischmueller has vivid memories of fatal car accidents and suicides. That is his least favorite part of the job.

Rischmueller’s favorite part of putting together the newspaper is photography.  He likes to screen the photos for the paper.  He works closely with his wife, who enjoys attending and covering sporting events.

The Republican delivers about  1,000 issues every Thursday to the area. The paper operates with a staff of only about three or four people.  That’s why Rischmueller believes adaptability is critical.  Although he wasn’t trained as a journalist,  the paper thrived. He and his wife  have handled every aspect of the newspaper — design, photography, reporting, writing and printing.

In July 2009, the Rischmuellers sold the business to Brad Kurtenbach, intending to retire.

When Kurtenbach died in October 2012, the Rischmuellers were pulled back into service. They operate the Republican as “co-special administrators for the estate of Brad Kurtenbach.”  That means they’re running the paper until Kurtenbach’s family decides its fate.

Rischmueller wants the paper to survive. In a small town, he knows people depend on it.

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