Goodbye Dear Friend

Mary Faltz retires from Marquette County Tribune
Kathleen McGwin

Forty-three years is a long time.  Forty years ago, the Commodore computer with 64 kilobytes of memory was the machine to have.  Diet Coke hit the shelves for the first time.  Inflation was peaking at 14.6% and Olivia Newton-John was getting physical.

Mary Zodrow had just graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and put her new degree in journalism to work by taking the job of reporter/photographer at the Marquette County Tribune. Fast forward 43 years and Mary Zodrow, now Faltz, is stepping into a well-deserved but bittersweet retirement.  That bittersweet part is how she will be missed by so many for her stable, stalwart, and steadfast leadership in reporting news in our community.

Mary graduated from Princeton High School.  She was always an achiever.   In 1975 while in high school, Mary won a first in Class B clarinet in the State Solo and Ensemble competitions. She was inducted into the National Honor Society and was one of the editors of the High Times school newspaper.

Her love of journalism, first with the high school paper, took her to the University of Oshkosh where she was initiated into Kappa Tau Alpha, the national journalism honor society which selects students for scholarship and commitment to the journalism profession.

The Marquette County Tribune was just waiting for someone like Mary who was committed to local newspapers.  The Tribune dates its beginnings to 1859 when the Montello Express began its life in the early days of settlement here.  Newspapers were popping up around Marquette County at the time and in the following years, Oxford, Packwaukee, Endeavor, Westfield and Neshkoro all had their own newspapers for a time.

While those papers disappeared, the Montello Express continued to report the news under the leadership of various editors such as  Charles Bissell who was publisher and editor for 25 years from 1885 to 1908 and  Charles Barry who was a typesetter for the paper under Bissel for 10 years and then editor for 20. 

In 1943, the Montello Express was acquired by Victor Hayden of Chicago who purchased it from Herman Kronshnable.  Perry Norby was then editor.  Then, in 1946, both the Kingston Tribune and the Montello Express dissolved to form the Montello Tribune with B.C. Druliner as editor and manager. 

In 1951, Bob Wright bought the Montello Tribune.  In 1960, Wright also purchased the Central Union newspaper that served Westfield.  He combined the two to form the Marquette County Tribune in that same year.   It was Bob Wright who hired Mary in July of 1980. She had been writing freelance for the Ripon Shopping News, Fox River Patriot, and Yesteryear. 

Mary was hired as the reporter/photographer and worked with six co-workers.  R.T. (Bob) Wright was the publisher, Marion Wright the Society Editor and Bookkeeper, Esther Siebert , Compugraphic, Edith Duesterhoeft, Montello Correspondent, Sis Swader, Westfield Correspondent and Sandy Allsage, Paster-upper.  Mary took the place of Mary Schjonberg. 

Just a month after Mary was hired, the Marquette County Tribune was sold to present owners Curtis and Daniel Witte of the News Publishing Company of Black Earth, Wisconsin.   Gene Conrad from Madison became managing editor. 

One of Mary’s first big stories was reporting on the Marquette County budget. The County Board approved a 3.3-million-dollar budget with a tax levy of 1.36 million and mill rate of $3.84 per $1,000 of valuation.  Mary has reported on the budget for the last 43 years and has seen it rise over time. Today’s county budget is $26,123,230 with a tax levy of $14,313,487.  The mill rate per $1,000 equalized value is $6.59. 

Just three months after she was hired, Mary was made Assistant Editor.  When Mary stepped into the reporter, then assistant editor positions, it was not serene, newsy chit chat that she had to report on.  In her first two years, the paper reported on the creation of Montello Lake District as a taxing entity, a group of Montello citizens called for the banning of a book for explicit language for disciplining the teacher that used it in class, the editor of the paper, Gene Conrad, in return, called for the banning of the Bible in school because of its explicit language.  

There was the investigation of a Montello police officer for misdemeanor theft, a hot revolt over the county budget, denial of operator license (bartender) and policy change regarding discrimination of same, the Posse Comitatus was placing full page ads in the paper, the county board learned that repairs to the county jail were going to cost double what was budgeted, and contested races for school boards, city council, village boards, town boards and county board were just a few of the news topics of the time in Marquette County.  But Mary handled them all with aplomb.

Daryl Christensen was Outdoor Editor for the Marquette County Tribune during Mary’s first years with the Tribune.  When asked about Mary, he said recently, “When Marquette County Tribune editor Bob Wright hired Mary Faltz, little did he know at the time that she would still be there five decades later. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to work for Mary back in the early years and throughout her career and can truly say that she was the perfect person to take over our wonderful small-town newspaper. 

Anyone who knows Mary can testify to her calming spirit during times of chaos and crises around deadline time as well as to her kind and caring personality when dealing with customers and critics. Thank you, Mary for your faithfulness to the people of Marquette County all of these years. You will be impossible to replace.”

In March of 1982 the publishers announced that Mary would be promoted to General Manager and Editor of the Marquette County Tribune. They said she had been general reporter, photographer, assistant editor, ad salesperson and circulation assistant.  Quoted at the time, she said, “Of course, I’m happy to get the promotion and look forward to the challenge of giving our readers and Marquette County the best possible newspaper.”  She kept her word.  

During this time, Rich Faltz, a Montello native, joined the Marquette County Tribune staff in circulation.  Rich attended the University of Wisconsin in Platteville and was employed at the Portage Register.  In July of 1982, an engagement announcement appeared in the paper.  Mary and Rich would be married in October of that year, and both would continue into the future with their work at the Marquette County Tribune. 

Mary’s leadership at the paper has meant so much to so many people.  Its effect is often overlooked.  The Marquette County Tribune can be relied upon every week to bring us local news that is close to our lives. 

Marquette County Sheriff Joe Konrath had this to say about Mary. “Serving in any capacity for 40 years is very special. To do what she has done and how - is a blessing to us, the residents and visitors of Marquette County. Your professionalism, integrity, fairness and ethics makes you stand above so many.”

Ken Borzick, Chair of the Marquette County Board of Supervisors said, “Rural communities depend on hometown newspapers for local news.  No one else reports on rural, local community news.  Mary Faltz has been editor of the Marquette County Tribune for over 40 years.  She has assured that Marquette County news about the schools, fire departments, town meetings, county board business, local civic groups and more has been available for our Marquette county citizens.  Mary has always seen the importance of local news and we have been fortunate to have had her leading the Marquette County Tribune for all these years.”

Long time co-worker and columnist Joan Ingraham recalled her 24 years working with Mary. “Mary Faltz is the best person to work for and I was so lucky to have worked for her or with her for 24 years. She is the first-ever female editor of the Marquette County Tribune, which has been running consecutively since 1859. Mary is also the longest running editor of this newspaper.

Mary went from the hand pasting-up of the newspaper through to the total computerized procedure. It of course went through stages so there was a period of time over years when there seemed to be constant change. 

The thing that I liked best about the Tribune under Mary’s editorship was the attitude. The Tribune was upbeat and positive. It focused on accomplishments and awards. If there was negative news to report, it was on the inside, with the exception of climactic events such as fires. I looked forward to the good news of the area, especially the accomplishments of the young people.

Bob Wright was the editor in 1960 when the Montello Tribune and the Central Union newspaper joined to form the Marquette County Tribune. He hated computers. One fun thing about working at the newspaper during all the transitioning to computers was when our computers jinxed, we would blame Bob Wright.

Thank you, Mary, for the many years of working together. I am certainly glad that I can call you my friend.”               

When long time editor Charles Barry left the Montello Express in 1920, he said, “…every article in the office is like an old friend and I know there will be times when I will long for things of bygone days.”  We’ll all miss Mary sitting behind the desk in the Marquette County Tribune office and there will be times that we long for bygone days when Mary’s leadership treated each of us in Marquette County as a friend.