Ellsworth County Independent-Reporter Publisher Linda Mowery-Denning wants everyone to know that even though a fire destroyed the newspaper’s rented building on June 19, the publication is alive and well and determined to keep doing its job.
Here is her letter to the community from this week's newspaper:
For someone who makes their living with words, this may be one of those frustrating times when finding just the right words — or any words at all – fails me.
As anyone who reads a newspaper or watches television probably knows by now, the building that housed the Ellsworth County Independent-Reporter was gutted by fire Sunday night. Such a loss is traumatic but there was a good side to this story, too. Our friends and landlords, Mark and Josie Roehrman, escaped the building without injury. That is something to cheer.
There is more.
I can't help but be a bit amused by the reaction to the fire and the newspaper's future Sunday night as probably more residents than attend the annual Cowtown Festival watched firefighters from across central Kansas fight the flames and smoke for several hours. Several people joked that we didn't have to worry about work Monday. Seriously? When a major fire disrupts your town, when a tornado rips through your community – it's more important than ever for the newspaper to do its job. It offers a sense of normalcy during a time or event that is anything but normal.
Not publishing a newspaper this week was never an option.
That said, the newspaper you are holding in your hands right now is the product of many people.
The first call I made Sunday night was to Eric Reid, incoming superintendent of the Ellsworth-Kanopolis-Geneseo School District. It was obvious the I-R staff wouldn't be using any of the newspaper's equipment to produce this week's edition. However, the high school journalism department had everything we needed – and Mr. Reid didn't hesitate to say yes when I asked for his help.
Then my cell phone started ringing.
The Salina Journal offered equipment and expertise. The next day, the newspaper's systems manager, Bob Kelly, arrived with three computers, which he also installed.
John and Bree Baetz of the Lincoln Sentinel-Republican offered meals and use of their staff.
Daughter Allie called to tell me she was on her way home from Wichita.
The Kansas Press Association provided more computers and other support.
Here at home, Margaret Bourne pulled business manager Juanita Kepka and I into her air-conditioned business and offered us food and water as we watched our office disappear inside a cloud of black smoke. Alice and Ken Robson opened their store to us, then refused to let us pay for the supplies we needed.
Monday brought more acts of kindness. Randy Gottschalk, who owns the former Holm Motor building, refused rent on a storage unit for the damp hard drives and other equipment Juanita and I salvaged from our building. Susan Hicks and her employer, Kirkham Michael, also offered storage space.
But it was Shirley Raney and Tina Davis who made me cry. Tina called me Sunday night to offer the use of the building that she and husband, Rick, own less than a block away from our former office. Monday, as the I-R staff worked at the high school to complete this week's edition, Tina and her mother, Shirley, turned the vacant building into a real office. The arranged desks and chairs, a front counter and wall decorations, including the I-R sign from Wilson's Eschbaugh Advertising. The sign, which looked a bit crispy when we pulled it from the debris of our office, was taken by Tina and Shirley to the car wash and made to look presentable. I was brought to tears of gratitude Monday night when I saw the results of their efforts.
Finally, the firefighters who battled Sunday night's blaze were absolutely, positively awesome. Their skill and dedication prevented a much greater disaster in downtown Ellsworth.
My apologies to the many I've missed. Local businesses provided food and water and opened their doors so exhausted fire fighters could escape the heat.
Of course, as much as our job is to get out the newspaper no matter what, the job of a small community is to rally around its residents in times of need. Ellsworth showed this week that it's doing its job.