By Richard Peterson
You might notice that on the front page as part of our flag, the notation is made that this issue of the newspaper is Volume 126, Number 1.
That means this newspaper has completed 125 years of continuous publication and has begun its 126th year.
The Farmers Press is the oldest business in Benson County and is probably older than any business in any adjacent county. There might be a business in Ramsey County which started in 1883 and is still going strong, but I don’t know of any.
The first issue of The Dakota Siftings appeared on Feb. 9, 1884. It was a single sheet printed on one side. I had a copy of it at one time, but don’t know what became of it.
When North Dakota became a state in 1889, the name of the newspaper was changed to The North Dakota Siftings.
Old-timer Harry F. Montague told me the editor-owner, William Miller was "awfully tough on the farmers." This was a time of political ferment and the Non-Partisan League was becoming a power in state government. Farmers banded together under the League and either bought existing papers or set up competing newspapers which ran its political opposition out of business. Montague said one day a bunch of farmers went into Miller’s office and told him to either sell the newspaper to them or they’d start a rival paper and run him out of business. Wisely, Miller chose to sell and the first Benson County Farmers Press appeared on June 26, 1919.
From that date, the newspaper was run by a board. There were many people who served on the board, most of whom were sympathetic to the Non-Partisan League.
The farmers discovered that running a newspaper was a pretty difficult undertaking, so in 1920 the board decided to lease the business to the editor. E.R. Cline was the first to operate the business under a lease agreement, whereby he paid a monthly rent to the corporation and ran the business as his own.
There were many editors prior to Cline, who was editor for 13 years until 1933. S.H. Farrington was editor 13 years until 1946 when he bought the Harvey Herald. Mack George was editor for two years until 1948. Leslie Strand was editor not quite a year until 1949, when his lease was not renewed by the board. Strand was a Republican and must have rubbed the Non-Partisan Leaguers the wrong way. Strand went to Leeds and started the Benson County Courier. He had a great time raking the Farmers Press board and its new editor, Gene Fesenmaier, over the coals. Fesenmaier was a talented newspaperman with a penchant for the sensational and Benson County readers were treated to some very interesting columns from Strand and Fesenmaier as they dueled editorially.
The Farmers Press building was destroyed by a fire July 2, 1950 and Fesenmaier left three weeks later. The board collected insurance, sold new stock in the Farmers Press and the board members signed personal notes for the remainder of the money to get the newspaper going again. Selling the stock was easy. For a $20 share of stock the stockholder received a free subscription to the paper, supposedly forever. What a deal!
Fesenmaier was replaced by Hugh Fitzpatrick, who served less than 4 years until 1954. Strand and the Farmers Press board managed to patch things up and Strand returned to Minnewaukan in 1954, folding the Courier into the Farmers Press. He served until November of 1963, when he tired of the deadlines and went into the real estate business in Montevideo, Minn.
He was followed by an employee who went to work for him in October of 1959. Me.
I became editor in November of 1963 and remained as editor until Dec. 31, 1966. Strand found the real estate market on the other side of the fence to be less green than he had anticipated and he returned to the Farmers Press. I went into the US Army in March of 1967 and was discharged in January of 1970 after serving a year in Vietnam.
Strand purchased the Carrington newspaper, and I returned to the Farmers Press in September of 1970 and have been here ever since. I fell into a rut I couldn’t crawl out of.
In 1981 I discovered the state of North Dakota had dissolved the corporation which "owned" the Benson County Farmers Press in 1939 (before I was born) because of nonsubmission of required reports. It turned out that all that stock sold after the Farmers Press burned in 1950 was sold illegally.
I ignored this discovery until 2003 when I realized I would never be able to retire with this mess on my hands. Nobody would take over the editorship because of legal uncertainties.
Consequently I obtained a deed to the property from the district court and I’ve been the sole owner of the newspaper since 2003. The free subscriptions for "stockholders" were discontinued at that time.
The last of the League papers in North Dakota was laid to rest.
I’m still concerned about retirement. But this time it isn’t because of legal problems. This time it’s because of financial shortfalls.
There is no pension at the Farmers Press and I can’t make it on Social Security. My stock portfolio has been decimated. If I can retire when I’m 70, I guess I’ll be lucky. Anyway, I don’t have to worry about being laid off. And I don’t mind working.
To tell you the truth, I was getting a little scared of retirement because I have no idea how I’m going to occupy all the free time I’ll have after living in the pressure cooker of meeting deadlines most of my life.