July 3, 2012

Gackle remembered as outstanding journalist, publishing leader

Don Gackle's death this past Sunday leaves behind a lifetime of achievements.

Gackle was among one of the first North Dakota publishers with a journalism degree. Newspapers were then hot lead and an owner needed to be skilled at setting type, with the help of a printer's devil or two.

He said in an interview in 1996, “We might work the night around to get that damned thing out.”

He developed a love of the printed work while working for his hometown newspaper, the Kulm Messenger. He also worked at the newspapers in Lamoure, Wishek, Napoleon and Valley City.

“I was interested in politics since I've been a kid. When I was 11 years old, I worked on Wendel Wilke's campaign when he ran against FDR in 1940. When Bill Langer came to town, I'd go to his speeches even if he was on the other side.”

His dad wanted him to be a lawyer, but Gackle leaned toward journalism.

“I was a young upstart, out to crusade,” he said. “Maybe it was my ego or something, I liked the bylines,” he told a reporter.

He bought the Garrison paper by raising $40,000 from the sale of a Fargo home, selling out his shares in the Gackle & Sons farm equipment business in Kulm and with an unsecured $5,000 loan from Wayne Stroup, Garrison banker and, later, a close friend.

The newspaper at the time was more interested in political activities than in the individual lives of Garrison's residents. Gackle set out to change that and to make it a hometown newsy publication.

“I really felt good, really excited about what I was doing,” Gackle said.

But reality set in soon enough. He was dressed down publicly while covering a Democratic-NPL fundraiser in Garrison. The emcee, a man who later became a close friend, said Gackle had mistreated the party.

“He said, 'We've got a young man here and he's got some things to learn.' He really tore me up. My wife was just shaking.” It took some time to get over that incident, which gave him a strong taste of how personal community journalism can be."

Stroup said in 2000 about Gackle, “Don arrived with an open mind and immediately began the long process of turning around the newspaper in Garrison and the entire area. This involved changing thrust and tone of the newspaper along with the attitude of many of the business people in the entire community.”

Gackle became a trendsetter in 1966 by purchasing the first offset press in North Dakota capable of printing a newspaper.

Roger Bailey, executive director of the North Dakota Newspaper Association, said when Gackle was named to the N.D. Newspaper Hall of Fame, “While many publishers waited for others to pave the way, it was Don who most-often was doing the paving. He set the kind of example that many of us in the generation following him, attempted to follow.”

The newspaper group became a leader in technology, mailing procedures and expanded into everything from office supplies to conducting opinion polling for an Oklahoma City-based firm. The corporation, based in Garrison, today includes 11 other newspapers (including Center, McClusky, New Town, Parshall, Turtle Lake, Hazen, Beulah, Underwood, Velva, Washburn and the Minot Air Force Base), two free circulation newspapers, the Dollar Saver and the XTRA, as well as a printing plant and Viking Screen Prints.

About the growth to 12 community newspapers, he said, “I never set out to become that big. In almost every instance, they came to me. I never went out looking for property. But I had to have a challenge.”

Gackle prided himself on setting high standards and on providing the communities with a local editor who made independent decisions. His greatest joys came in his community efforts outside of the newspapers. He was active in forming Better Living for Garrison, and attended Garrison Chamber of Commerce meetings, while serving in a variety of capacities for nearly 50 years.

He was active in the First Congregational Church UCC. He served as president of the North Dakota Newspaper Association in 1975. He was one of the founding directors of the NDNA Education Foundation. He was inducted into the North Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2000.

Gackle left his mark on many community projects. He led fundraisers to build a low-income housing development in Garrison and, more recently, to build a tennis court in Garrison. He helped with the establishment of other ventures in other communities where BHG operates newspapers including the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn, the Dakota Walleye Classic in Beulah and the Sakakawea Medical Center in Hazen.

In 1996, the Garrison community held a Don Gackle Appreciation Day and in 1977, he received the Garrison “Citizen of the Year” award.

Long-time friend and former publisher John Andrist, said, “If there is an important job to be done anywhere, people look to Don. And a worthy cause never seems to get 'no' for an answer. He is innovative, imaginative and dedicated. All of us who have known and worked with him over the years are richer because of it.”

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