common / Misc

History of the Leelanau Enterprise

The Leelanau Enterprise is one of the county's oldest businesses, chronicling the people, places and events of Leelanau County for more than 140 years. Since its beginning in 1877 by B. H. Derby, some 14 different persons have owned or partially owned Leelanau County's newspaper. There have been only 10 publishers or co-publishers in that time. The publishing families include a father-son combination, while the four sets of business partners who ran the paper include three husband-and-wife teams. The newspaper was founded in Northport by Mr. Derby, who owned the paper for two years. The Enterprise was moved to Leland by W.C. Nelson, who bought the Enterprise in 1879, sometime between 1881 and 83. Old editions of the paper contain little information about Nelson, although his 46-year tenure as "editor and proprietor," as the paper put it then, is by far the longest tenure of any owner. Dayton Selby owned the Enterprise from 1925-1939. Selby's son, Gerald, took over upon his death, and ran the newspaper for four years.

Julia Dickinson of Glen Lake, who owned the paper with her husband, Fred, from 1943 to 1948, is unique among the owners because of her association with so many of them. She was originally hired by publisher Gerald Selby and was an acquaintance of her father. Mrs. Dickinson, died in 2008, recalled that Dayton became convinced that he couldn't run the newspaper and continue as superintendent of Suttons Bay Schools. So he sold to the Dickinsons. The Dickinsons sold the paper in 1948 to Clarice and Karl Detzer, a retired military officer and contributing editor to Reader's Digest. The Detzers hired a fresh graduate of Michigan State University, Don Gordon, as the paper's managing editor. Just three years later, Gordon and E.J. "Dino" Ziebell bought the paper. Gordon went on to work as writer, editor and advertising salesman for the paper, while Ziebell worked on the production end of the business. Gordon is still alive and lives in Lansing; Ziebell has passed away. Gordon and Ziebell moved the paper from a cramped building in downtown Leland now housing Two Fish Gallery to a site along the Leland River and, at the time, across from the county courthouse. Gordon sold his interest in The Enterprise to Clifford G. Egeler of Leland, who was Ziebell's son-in-law. They published the paper together for 14 years, until 1975. Ziebell owned the newspaper for 24 years, tied for the second-longest tenure with R. C. Kerr. Egeler has since passed away. Kerr's tenure as editor/publisher represented significant growth for the paper. Trained in big-city newsrooms in Michigan, Kerr shifted social news and events off the front page in favor of thorough local government reporting. Kerr sold the paper on Sept. 1, 1997, to publisher Alan Campbell. He had worked under Kerr in the late 1970s and early 1980s and left The Enterprise to purchase and operate the Herald Advertiser in Holly, Mich. Campbell sold that newspaper and the two shoppers he started to raise funds for the purchase of The Enterprise. Campbell and his wife, Debra, operated the Enterprise as co-publishers. In 2000, they built the newspaper's present plant off M-204 in the community of Lake Leelanau and moved into the new location. Other improvements include web press purchases that allow quality four-color reproduction, publication of the Leelanau Visitors Guide and Leelanau Pages phone book, and creation of the popular website.

On October 1, 2018 the Campbells sold The Leelanau Enterprise to J. Louis Mullen of Buffalo, Wyo. Mullen is the 15th owner in the newspaper’s history that dates back 141 years. “Leelanau is an incredibly strong community,” said Mullen, who owns community newspapers in Oregon, Washington and Wyoming. “The vibrancy of the paper and the county go hand in hand.” Mullen started in the newspaper business as a paperboy when he was 4, delivering for the Sioux City Journal in Iowa. “There are only a few months of my life that I didn’t work at a paper in some function,” he said. “From janitor to publisher, I’ve worked every job available at the different community papers I’ve worked.” Mullen has tapped John Elchert to take over the duties of publisher. Elchert a native of Tiffin, Ohio, also has spent his entire career in the newspaper industry, serving at papers in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Minnesota.

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