Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.

August 30, 2004

A penny a copy

I was really glad this week to hear from Jim McDonnell, Jr., publisher of the Wright County Journal Press.

I had known him as a frequent Waverly visitor from Buffalo when I was growing up. I was in love with his famous first cousins, Catherine and Mary McDonnell, the daughters of Charles and Mary McDonnell. Jim was kind enough to answer my request for some Waverly Star history.

He had other relatives in Waverly besides Catherine and Mary. He was related to the Pusustas on his father's side and also, the one and only "Marks" McDonnell, his uncle, and the man behind The Waverly Star during its heyday.

"Marks" was a one man dynamo, even though he was horribly crippled and barely able to walk. He had a keen mind, a delightful sense of humor and a calm, even disposition.

And he loved Waverly and all its people. He knew every Tom, Dick and Harry, and their dogs and cats.

When Marks first started, not only did he solicit news, sell ads, and write the entire copy for the paper every week, but he set the type by himself, did the layout, put the leaden type in the forms, and ran the printing press itself. It was all done in the same room in the building next to McNellis Grocery, which later became Hughes' Grocery and later, Campion's Store.

Putting the lead type into the press bed is the origin of the term, "putting the paper to bed." But first you had to cook the lead until it melted and then became hard enough to take the impressions from the type setter keys. The clack made by the typesetter keyboard had a distinctive sound and it seemed to be music to Marks' ears.

His whole life was The Waverly Star. His whole life was an inspiration. He was the most popular man in Waverly. During World War II, the troops didn't write home to their families. They wrote home to "Marks."

Jim McDonnell recalled all this for me in his remarks:

"My earliest memories of The Waverly Star come from the late 1930s and the early 1940s. I was born in Oct. 1931, and by that time, The Waverly Star was pretty well established as the community newspaper around Waverly.

"What I remember about the early days comes mostly from stories told to me by my Dad – J. P. McDonnell. I know he got the Star established and later consolidated it with The Waverly Tribune to form the Waverly Star and Tribune in about 1908. The Waverly Tribune (1890-1908) was begun by Joseph Chadderton, who sold it to the McDonnells.

"My father often said that he printed out the first issue of his Waverly Star with a pencil, when he was eight years old. He sold copies on the street for a penny.

"I also know his brothers (my uncles) Charles and Frank ("Marks") were very involved with the newspaper. I have always been sorry that I didn't get to know my Uncle Charlie better. He died when I was nine years old and I recall being at his wake, which was held in his home. My dad loved Charlie very much and spoke fondly of him all through the years.

"I have a much better memory of Frank because he was still operating the Star & Tribune until I was grown up. He was really a great guy and always had something interesting to talk about. We enjoyed many pleasant visits in his shop, or more often, on a bench out on the sidewalk in front of Ogle's Cafe.

"When the weather turned cold, the visiting was still enjoyable, sitting in those large, overstuffed leather chairs inside the restaurant. Frank died in 1953. He perfectly fit the role of a country newspaper editor.

"When Frank died, Dad wanted to continue publishing the Waverly Star & Tribune as a special edition of The Wright County Journal Press. The front page was completely made over with Waverly news each week, and often there were additional news stories and ads on the inside pages.

"During most of those years, we kept the Waverly office open and Nap Le Duc, from our sales staff in Buffalo, went over to Waverly for a day or so each week to be in the office.

"My dad died in 1963 and we continued publishing the Star & Tribune Edition at Buffalo into the 1970s.

"It was a sad day, years later, when I had to take the responsibility of cleaning out and closing down the old Star & Tribune office. I could picture in my mind how many late nights the little crew toiled to get the weekly edition out in time. I had the strangest feeling that I was surrounded by a roomful of grand old Waverly memories that day.

"About that building. It had a very large series of windows all joined together, on the north side of the building. I was always told that the building had once served as a photo studio for my Dad's sister, Aunt Celia (Mrs. Joe Pususta), when she did some professional photography work.

"Photo studios always had lighting problems in those early years and the theory was that by always having a large window to the north, you could always get a stable source of daytime lighting. The north window was unaffected by the sun as it swung from east, through south, to west each day.

"As you mentioned in your letter, several bound file boxes of printed newspaper copies were unaccounted for when we later closed the Waverly office. Those would make interesting reading if they ever turn up.

"My Aunt Mary (Mrs. Charles McDonnell) wrote a very interesting column of Waverly local news for publication in the Waverly Star and Tribune, over a period of several years, continuing even when she went to work full time for Citizens State Bank in Waverly.

"A country print shop always had such a unique collection of sights, sounds and smells that have a way of staying with you, even as the years go on.

"I could probably come up with some more material if you want, but there are probably some old timers out there who remember those old days better than I.

"I hope this helps a little."

Jim McDonnell, Jr.

As a matter of fact, it helps a lot, and I think it is extremely generous of Jim to write such an interesting piece for what, in effect, is a rival newspaper. I think he is in the tradition of The Waverly Star as I remember it. Neither "Marks" nor anyone else I ever knew who was associated with the paper was in the business of getting rich or winning a competition.

I wish I could name all the reporters over the years. They didn't ever have bylines, including my own mother, who turned in her copy to Nap Le Duc faithfully every week. Hers was written in pencil on lined tablets, just like the eight year old JP McDonnell's.

I know that Mrs. Harold Ogle, Patty Ogle Campbell's mother, was a reporter for a long time into the 1960s and put flattering stuff in there about me, James O'Leary. Did I ever thank her for it?

And Mrs. Ken Hausladen (nee Bette Goodridge) was perhaps the last regular reporter who turned in her news every week for publication.

I miss it. Very much. Don't we all?

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