Swift buys Irrigator 50 years ago
by Ron Swift | Patterson Irrigator
Aug 23, 2012 | 794 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It was 50 years ago on this date — Aug. 23 — that two young Midwesterners burst upon the Patterson scene, ready and willing to tackle the world and yet without a clue of what they were doing.

Ed Sternberg and this scribe were in our mid-20s. We had met and become good friends in college, had briefly gone our separate ways and then had scraped up some family financing to purchase this newspaper. The sale was announced in the Irrigator’s Aug. 23, 1962, edition and became effective that Sept. 1.

Ah, the joys of being your own boss, a position that allows one to work many evenings and not a small number of weekends. That was needed not only to make a go of a small-town newspaper (population 3,012 during its peak season), but also to learn the ins and outs of the publishing game.

By the way, Patterson’s population then was nearly equal to the total of both Iowa towns in which we grew up. To us, Patterson was Big City.

I’ve been asked numerous times how two guys from small towns in Iowa, living in Utah and Oregon, ended up purchasing a newspaper in California. The answer is simple: almost by accident.

I was a reporter for a small paper in Central Oregon; Ed had completed military service and was taking journalism courses at University of Utah in Salt Lake City while working for a large printing house. By then, we had decided on our joint venture, not fully realizing what we were getting into.

In those days, small newspapers were usually sold through brokers specializing in the business. We contacted one in Los Angeles.

We had both quit our jobs after having become interested in a paper in Preston, Idaho, just across the Utah border. But that transaction just wasn’t to be.

So, one night in Ed’s apartment in Salt Lake, we talked with a broker in Los Angeles who informed us that he had listings in our price range for newspapers in both Ceres and Livingston. We took down the financial information he gave us verbally, and at the end of the conversation he commented that he had received a call just that morning from the publisher in Patterson. But at that point he had no facts and figures.

Ed was on the phone. I was nearby with a map of California. I remember saying that I preferred Patterson’s rural location (no I-5 in those days), and we told the broker we would meet him in Patterson the following Sunday morning.

That meant driving here from SLC — 812 miles — on Saturday. Needless to say, we arrived after dark, found a room in the dingy Mission Motel on Highway 33 that has long since been converted to apartment units, and grabbed a bite to eat at the Paradise Café.

By Tuesday noon, we had met with attorneys and bankers and had closed the deal with sellers Ira and Noni Kaplan. We headed back to Salt Lake, proud owners of a newspaper but not much wiser. A couple of weeks later, in mid-August, we moved to Patterson in the middle of a heat wave that hit 100 degrees and above for 14 straight days. By then, it was too late to back out.

Ed remained co-publisher and co-editor for 5½ years before leaving the business and moving to Monterey, where he still resides. We stay in touch but don’t see each other often enough.

I’ve often wondered what Pattersonites thought of two young greenhorns bouncing into their midst. The Irrigator was a small, yet stable business, but had changed hands five times in the previous 14 years since being sold by the Fleharty family in 1948. R.C. Fleharty was publisher for 29 years and was a Patterson institution. We had his shoes to fill. Would our names soon be added to the list of previous owners?

But preservation paid off. I was married three months after arriving here; our kids were born and educated here; and we’ve enjoyed the many pluses of small-town living. Say what you want about small towns, but they offer the opportunity for residents to be whatever they want to be and do what they want to do.

By the way, it was six months before we ever visited either Ceres or Livingston.

Here and there

•Patterson’s downtown museum has set the evening of Thursday, Sept. 13, for its re-grand opening. The museum has been closed for renovation for almost three months, and a major party is warranted. I loosely use the term “spectacular,” so mark your calendar.

•Oops. Last week’s long-forgotten Fast Talk mentioned that a Modesto choir that included three Pattersonites sang in Rome’s Sistine Chapel, among other Italian cathedrals. Wrong. Members visited the mind-blowing Sistine Chapel, where even whispering is frowned upon.

•The neighborhood raccoon returned to our house the other night. Not only does he/she not only polishes off a bowl of dry cat food, but apparently washes in the nearby water bowl, leaving the water muddy and our outside cat much chagrined.

•You may have already read that scientists have found a way to remove bad fats from chocolate. Another sign that the world is improving.

Another 90-pluser

Let’s add Vivian Wheeland to our 90-plus list. She will celebrate the occasion Aug. 31 but first will enjoy a little party this Sunday at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church. She was a member of the Olson family and moved here from Minnesota when she was 14, graduating from Patterson High in the class of 1940. The next year she married the late Jack Wheeland.

Vivian ups the list to 66, and more are just coming over the hill. Stay tuned.

And a belated happy birthday to Aurora Garcia, who turned 96 on Aug. 13. (By the way, Justin A. Traina turned 92 a few days ago. We inadvertently had him down for 90 in this column.)

That reminds me of the guy who turned 50. He should have been 52, but as a kid he was sick for two years.

For the sports fan

As was mentioned recently in this column, the original Patterson High School building opened for use in the spring of 1915. (It was razed — sob — in 1975.) The high school district was formed two years earlier, and classes were held in the grammar school until the impressive new facility was constructed.

But Patterson High had no gymnasium, though it had early sports teams, including boys and girls basketball. So where did the teams play basketball, and what was their nickname?

Basketball games were played downtown in the upstairs hall of the Leverton Building on North Third Street, now the home of Schut Insurance. And the first nickname used by the athletic teams that included baseball and tennis: the Mercurys.

No, I didn’t attend any of those early games.

And finally…

Sure, we’ll give you another paraprosdokian:

“Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.”

Ron Swift is editor/publisher emeritus of the Patterson Irrigator. He can be reached at ronkay@gvni.com.

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