Thoughts on Things (tribute to Floyd Sneer)

July 23, 2021
By Dale Kovar

On July 14, 2021, the ashes of Floyd Sneer were interred at the Winsted Public Cemetery. He passed away in November 2019.

Floyd and his wife, JoAnn, were publishers of the Winsted Journal from 1961 to 1986. For the small group gathered at the cemetery that day during a much-needed rain, it was a time of remembrance and acknowledgment.

I arrived in Winsted Oct. 16, 1978, having been hired on-the-spot by Floyd as the Journal’s first reporter. I was deemed worthy with a year’s experience at the county seat twice-a-week paper in Redwood Falls and being from Silver Lake. “People from Silver Lake always pay cash,” Floyd would say.

Our office was on Main Avenue in an old building made from Lake Mary brick on what is now a parking lot just west of Keaveny Pharmacy. It had a small makeshift darkroom where I spent many hours developing film and making prints for the next paper.

Floyd’s best friend, electrician John Parten, would often stop by for a visit and coffee. At one time, the three of us had a contest going of who could re-use his Styrofoam coffee cup the longest. I don’t remember who won, but it went on for weeks.

“Pete” Peterson of the Howard Lake Herald would also stop by for a chat and to exchange commercial printing jobs that needed numbering, since only Floyd had the right equipment for that. Pete made it a point to leave soon enough so he “wouldn’t be late for quitting time.”

In those days, the area communities were more self-contained and most had independent newspaper owners.

“Barney” Barnaal of the Cokato Enterprise would conduct an invisible parade every year on St. Urho’s Day. We looked forward to reading his description about the details of the Winsted Journal’s float each time.

Floyd and JoAnn also were friends with Don and Carole Larson, then owners of the Delano Eagle. It seemed unusual to me then that they would know someone from so far away as Delano.

The Journal carried a line on the front page noting that it was “McLeod County’s first offset newspaper” referring to a new method of printing that had come around in the ‘60s at a central plant in Hutchinson rather than each office running its own hand-fed press.

Floyd taught me a lot about the postal system. We didn’t just send the paper off to press and that was it.

After it was printed, it came back and we ran each copy through a stenciling machine to imprint each subscriber’s mailing info on it. Next the papers had to be grouped into bundles and bags fitting the post office’s distribution scheme, and then we pushed a cart of papers half a block down the sidewalk to the post office.

Then we were done . . . no, then we had start on the next one.

That was in the heyday of community newspapers when there were many more local businesses to serve. Winsted even had a jewelry store at that time.

There was a period when we had five full pages of grocery advertisements each week. Both grocery stores in town ran two-page spreads, and the new Tom Thumb convenience store also got in the act with a full page ad.

The Sneers were involved as the transition to multiple ownership of newspapers grew. In 1980, Bill McGarry bought the Lester Prairie News and moved it to Glencoe to compete with the Glencoe Enterprise, renaming it the McLeod County Chronicle. By doing so, he was able to maintain the status as a newspaper qualified to publish legal notices, which otherwise took a one-year waiting period.

At the same time, the Sneers started from scratch the Lester Prairie Journal. A few years later when Pete was ready to move on, they acquired the Howard Lake Herald. For those of you who don’t know, those are the roots of the Herald Journal.

All of that is the background to get to Floyd.

The last time I saw him was several years ago when we got together to catch up over lunch at Blue Note.

Floyd wasn’t just a newspaper publisher for Winsted. He was a person for Winsted.

If there was any type of effort to help the community, he was involved, and more than likely had a part in starting it.

He was very active in the Winsted Civic and Commerce Association, served on the public school board (when Winsted had an independent district), and frankly, too many other boards and committees to even try to list.

He also served as mayor of Winsted, and of course, was one of the world-famous Bratbusters.

Although I’ve stayed in the newspaper industry my entire working life, I think those first three-plus years with Floyd and JoAnn were the most enjoyable. Eventually I left for an editor’s job up north; then received the welcome of a prodigal son upon returning.

When the winters got nasty, Floyd would often tell me “yeah, but it’s a dry cold” referring to what he was told when he had worked on the Iron Range in northern Minnesota. Between us, that comment later morphed into “it’s a dry heat” and even “it’s a dry ____ (fill in the blank)” as a light-hearted explanation of anything.

Standing under an umbrella at the cemetery, I couldn’t help but think he would tell me “Dale, it’s a dry rain.”

There’s only one fitting way to conclude this, and it is the same way Floyd signed off on his “Thoughts on Things” newspaper column:

That’s it. FS

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