By Bonnie Brown
Editor Emeritus, Yale Expositor 1958-2013
Tribune Recorder Leader Editors Note: Aunt Bonnie Brown penned this for our Anniversary before she passed away in 2013. It will always remain as one of my most important and significant treasures. She was a kind, faithful servant to God and a blessing to everyone else.
Bonnie was always there for me, no matter the circumstances, with unconditional positive regard. She and her children James and Barbie along with Janice Cork were pivotal in the resurrection of the Tribune. Just as it was in 1958, the Tribune, once again arose like a phoenix from it’s ashes in Yale. She was one of a very exclusive number of persons that have I loved, respected and admired.
It was a bright, warm and sunny day in late June 1959. I was eating lunch at a picnic table in the backyard when the fire siren began to blow. I wondered where the fire was and thought it must be serious because the alarm was sounding for such a long time.
Then the back door swung open and my mother stood there with a panic stricken look on her face.
“Come quick, the office is on fire”, she shouted.
My family had always referred to the Sandusky Republican Tribune newspaper as “the office”. We either went to work at the office, or stopped at the office or took something down to the office.
Quickly, we jumped in her car and headed down to the Tribune. It was then located on West Sanilac Avenue.
The Sandusky Fire Department was already on the scene. Flames were shooting out the roof and smoke was pouring from the windows. It was a scary sight.
When the fire started, no one was at the Tribune. The employees had all gone home for lunch. The fire was discovered by the next door neighbors at Otto Vandeveer’s Barber Shop and Mary Trend Cobleigh’s Beauty Shop. They saw smoke coming out the basement windows.
The employees had only been gone a few minutes when the smoke was noticed.
In 1958, the process for printing the newspaper and operating the print shop was very different from the technology of today. It was all done by the “hot metal” process. That meant that lead was melted in a casting pot in the basement. It was always suspected, but never officially determined, that the fire had started in the casting room.
The smoke was thick and non one was able to get down to the basement. They tried, but were repeatedly turned back by the toxic smoke. Fire shot up the walls and the building interior was basically destroyed while the exterior structure was weakened and compromised.
Many of the contents were lost including a large number of the “morgue” volumes of great historical value. They were bound copies of many years of newspapers, a printed recorded history of Sandusky and Sanilac County.
My father, William A. (Bill) Irving had purchased the Tribune 28 years earlier from Dudley Slate at the urging of D. George Tweedie. Dr. Tweedie had been friends with my parents for a number of years and had delivered my sister, Dorothy, at my parents home in Cash, Michigan where my dad was teaching school.
He had been offered the teaching job when he was only 17 years old after he had attended Ferris Institute for two years. He was a good size lad at 6 ft. tall with a sturdy build.
The Cash School Board felt he could handle the big teenage boys who were still in 8th grade. It worked out for them and he taught at Cash for several years, even after his marriage to my mother in 1918.
By the time he purchased the Tribune, the family had moved to Sandusky. He had received the appointment for the Secretary of State office, and he and my mother were running the office. He was also selling insurance.
It was the only place in Sanilac County where license plates could be purchased so of course everyone came to Sandusky to do it. All license plates were due in those days in the same month, I think it was February.
Mother would tell about the long lines of customers and the long hours at the office as the final date drew near. It also meant a great deal of money (for those time) exchanged hands.
It was the middle of the Great Depression and Mother said the town constable would come and walk her across the street (they were located on East Sanilac) to the bank when they close late at night. They were desperate times and safety measures were important. Mother said that more than once she had been frightened by the actions of some persons. Fortunately there were no serious incidents.
For a number of years prior to my father purchasing the Tribune, there had been two weekly newspapers in Sandusky. My father happily combined the names, Republican and Tribune making his newspaper the Sandusky Republican Tribune.
He was proudly Republican to the core and besides his work, politics was his passion. He caught the political bug when he was a student at Ferris and Mr. Ferris was a candidate for Governor. It was a flame that began at a bonfire rally there and burned brightly his entire life. He was active in county politics and served as the chairman of the County Republican party. He was friends with governors, U.S. Senators and state officials.
I remember as a child that my parents entertained them in our home fairly often. The good china and crystal would come out an I was instructed to be seen, but not heard. That was a tough task for me!
Dad was appointed and served on the State Unemployment commission, the civil Service commission and several other State committees. In 1952, he was named a delegate to the GOP National Convention in Chicago when Dwight D. Eisenhower was nominated to run for President the first time.
Dad and mother attended the Presidential Inauguration in 1953 and he also served as a Sgt. at Arms at the 1956 National Convention.
On the day of the fire, Bill Irving was working in Yale at The Expositor which he had purchased two years earlier.
The trip to Sandusky was no doubt a whirlwind drive after he received the call about the fire. My sister, Dorothy and her husband, Eldon Felker were at the Tribune where they both worked. They were trying hard to assist the firefighters with information about the building.
But in spite of everyone’s efforts, when it was all over, the business building was destroyed.
What to do now? That was the question. The building would have to come down and the equipment that could be save, moved out.
Harry Vickers owned the Pontiac dealership next door and he agreed to rent his vacant building where the equipment could be placed under cover.
The night of the fire, Dr. Martin Tweedie and Mayor Orville Finkbeiner cam to my parents’ home to talk it over with my Dad. Dr. Tweedie told my Dad, “It’s going to take too long to clean up your property and rebuild. I’ll sell you the hotel property so you can get right at it.
Dr. Tweedie had owned the old McDonald Hotel property for more than 10 years. After it was destroyed by fire, he got it cleaned up and had waited years before deciding to offer it to Dad, even though he had received may previous offers form others. It was meant to be.
Saturday morning the building remains were still smoldering but work was getting underway to move out and save as much as possible.
In the meantime the Tribune would be printed on the presses in Yale until they were up and running again.
Saturday afternoon, Dad was not feeling well, he was sick and having chest pains, but continued to stay on the job until he collapsed and wast take to Dr. Shimmin’s hospital where he died a short time later with his family and good friends, Doctors Martin and Evans (Zed) Tweedie by his side. He was 61 years old.
My mother fulfilled his wishes. She went ahead and built a new building on the hotel property and my sister and brother-in-law assisted her on operating the business which they later purchased.
The cornerstone on the new building was laid in October of 1958 by Dad’s grandchildren Judy (Felker) Dixon and James D. Brown.
I came to Yale to work until it was decided what to do about the Expositor. That was 55 years ago.
I’m still here and I still love working at the newspaper. It’s been a great run for a “fill-in” job, now made possible because my son and daughter, Jim and Barbara are here with me and admittedly, they are now doing the tough jobs, third generation style.
Little did I realize that June day in 1958 when the fire alarm blew that it was also signaling a great change in the direction of my life as well as the rest of my family. Our lives all changed that sunny day in June 1958.
Now Sandusky has a new Tribune owned by Bill Irving’s great-grandson. I know he would be very proud. Congratulations Bill on your 10th Anniversary. Stay the course. It’s always a challenge, but take it from Aunt Bonnie, it can be worth it to make a difference!