Commentary by Dick Wolfsie
Betty Weesner had the same job for almost 60 years and never got a promotion. She would have complained to the boss, but she was the boss – both the editor and the publisher of The Republican, the oldest newspaper in Hendricks Co. One hundred seventy years old to be exact. Betty always liked to be exact.
Betty passed away last week at the age of 90.
Since 1890, The Republican has had only three editors. When I reached their office to send my condolences, her long-time assistant Betty Bartley said, “Yeah, some newspapers have that many editors in a year.”
Betty Weesner started her career at The Republican in the late ’30s – when she was 10 – writing school news. The editor was a crusty old journalist who also happened to be her father. The publisher was a crusty old journalist, too. (Also her father.) “My dad paid me a dollar a week. I was in it for the money,” she once kidded me.
In the 1950s, she graduated from the IU School of Journalism (rare for a woman at the time) and took over for her dad in the mid-60s. The tiny storefront on Main Street in Danville has housed the newspaper for more than a century, having moved from a couple of other locations over the years. During Betty’s 60-year career as editor, she didn’t miss a single issue, even battling snowstorms to make her deadlines. “People love their local paper,” she said. “When we mess up, we hear about it.”
The old building is chock-full of, well, everything, but mostly stacks of newspapers going back decades. There’s also an old linotype machine and wood type from the Civil War. Up until just a few years ago, the paper was laid out the old-fashioned way by cutting and pasting news copy onto story boards, then sending the proofs off to the printer. They went digital about five years ago.
Betty’s view of what was worthwhile for her publication echoed her father’s philosophy. He was once asked why Lindbergh’s crossing of the Atlantic was not reported in The Republican back in 1927. “Because Lindbergh was not from Hendricks County,” said the late Edward J. Weesner. Betty had a more lax policy. “If you want to get in The Republican you have to either be born in Hendricks County, live in Hendricks County, work in Hendricks County or get in trouble in Hendricks County.” I once asked her to print my humor column each week and she pretty much told me that unless I was thrown in the local pokey, she couldn’t justify putting my name in her newspaper.
Betty believed in local newspapers. “They confirm the gossip you’ve heard all week,” she once told me. She was an influential force in the community for decades and still covered town council news until just a few years ago. Even from her nursing home the last few months, she read each issue, occasionally pointing out a typo, but she was more apt to praise her tiny but loyal staff for their hard work.
In 2007, I interviewed Betty for my TV segment. The story earned an Emmy award. I went to Danville to tell her about the honor, but she said she still couldn’t mention me in her weekly Edition. “But it’s only noon,” she told me. “Plenty of time for you to still get arrested.”