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Lake George news product remains successful

The current co-editors of the Forest Issue newsletter/newspaper are, in front, from left, Iris Olson and Jan McKay. In back are, from left, Jodey Tusler and LaVonne Edelman. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

It is no secret newspapers nationwide have declined in circulation and ad revenues. The industry was once even briefly considered for a federal bailout.

But a tiny publication operating out of Lake George is bucking the trend. Circulation, roughly 100, has remained steady since inception of the "Forest Issue" in May 1991. It's about a 33 percent saturation rate, in newspaper lingo.

The bi-monthly publication, with 40 subscribers who receive copies in the mail and 60 more sold on "news stands," had humble beginnings as a calendar of events, to keep Lake George area residents apprised of local happenings and church news.

It was begun by Wilma "Wille" Mann, Eleanor Witthoeft and Jan McKay, the only surviving member today.

"Wille knew everything there was to know" about Lake George, Jan recalled. "Her tap root was very deep."

Because Eleanor had writing skills, the three branched out to more high-minded topics, such as local events, politics and people. The format, with a smidgeon of recipes and a smattering of cartoons, humor and opinions, remains today.

Why tamper with a tried and true formula? Well, the successors are doing just that. They want new blood to rock the boat.

The paper's business model, if there is one, is to keep costs low, take little or no advertising ("we'd rather do a story on what they have to offer and help them out") and put out a product people want to read, shying away from national news, gossip and controversy. And they won't do stories about who had coffee at whose house.

"That's just old-time," sniffed co-editor LaVonne "Vonnie" Edelman.

"Oh sure we've covered controversial topics," Jan corrected. The widening of County Road 4 was one such subject. It caused north-south traffic bottlenecks for months and wreaked havoc on local businesses.

"The one area we're lacking in is sports," said co-editor Jodey Tusler. "Although we do feature animal stories, hunting and fishing."

The paper regularly delves into weighty issues about the local fire department and the township board and the lighter, featuring the town's premier event, the annual Blueberry Festival. It also spotlights new businesses, business closings, the senior citizen center, the garden club and local history.

"One of our most popular columns is called, 'Meet Your Neighbor,'" said Vonnie.

The group either allows the story subject to submit a mini autobiography or goes out and interviews the new folks in the region.

Then there's the craft page, a puzzle page and Vonnie's household tips. She includes tidbits about cleaning and her own "Hints from Heloise" advice.

"Lately we've been doing recycling articles," Jodey said.

"Our goal is to enhance the community, support Lake George," said co-editor and postmaster Iris Olson. "We keep our costs low and the size of the papers so that they can be mailed out with a first-class stamp."

Spoken like a true postmaster.

Death notices of former staffers or by some by request are included, although obituaries are not. "We leave them to the bigger papers," the group said.

But when Wille passed away five years ago, the paper printed a special edition in her honor.

"We get an occasional letter to the editor, but that's rare," Jan said. "But we encourage that, and contributions."

"We want it to be a happy paper," Vonnie said.

Saturday, the group of four reviewed their latest offering and got together for coffee and lunch.

"Here, take one, it's hot off the press," Jan said.

"This is cute," she mused, thumbing through an old copy. "There are some talented writers here."

They're trying to enlist more staffers. Two new recruits will be joining the fold, Bev Olson and Dollie Cramer. Jan, Jodey, Iris and Vonnie are excited to see what they will bring to the table - literally.

"Of course when we get together we have little goodies," Jodey said.

"Don't say that," Iris chided. "It's the news that's important, not the food."

Well, maybe both. The women said they enjoy the camaraderie of meeting periodically to go over assignments and decide what will go into the next edition.

The group meets periodically to divvy up its modest profits, what Jodey calls "the fun part" and distributes them back into the community.

Iris is the current keeper of the revolving "file cabinet," a blue plastic tote with all the issues and original stories, the repository of all that's important in Lake George.

The paper featured stories of new pastors in town. Then there was the story written to announce the planting of a clump of baby's breath near the city center. News - and the clump - spread. Now most local brides use clippings from the bushes in their wedding bouquets. The editors feel they did a public service.

Jan, who took a hiatus from the paper and recently returned, writes "an Andy Rooney-type column" titled "From My Perch," in which she makes wry observations on trends, politics, and life in general. This edition, she decries the death of written letters.

"I hate e-mails," she said. People don't keep in touch any more, she maintains, through letters or postcards.

The successful formula will continue. This edition features poetry, recipes, postal tips about holiday mailings and upcoming fundraisers.

And, because the Forest Issue has never wavered from its original mission, there is a calendar of events and church news.