Folksy Ill. Paper Closing After 143 Years
ROBINSON, Ill. (AP) _ The push of a switch starts the homemade conveyor with a squeak and rumble. Sam Scarpone grabs sheets of paper from three shelves and places them together on the chains that move toward the old folding machine.
Finished and folded, another weekly issue of The Robinson Argus falls into a cardboard box.
``Just a little, folksy newspaper″ is how Scarpone describes the Argus, which he and his wife, Carol, have published since taking over from her parents in 1986.
The Argus has recorded Robinson’s history back to the Civil War. Founded by George W. Harper in 1863, it has reported events from Abraham Lincoln’s assassination to the discovery of oil in southern Illinois to construction of a new high school in Robinson. Along the way, it chronicled thousands of proms, weddings and funerals.
It also became a hometown link for many who have moved away from Robinson. More than half of the 1,000 copies printed each week are sent out of town.
But that all ends on May 29, when the final edition is published.
``It gave a good written history of our community,″ said Mayor Wallace Dean. ``That newspaper has seen the whole history of the city. You just can’t replace that.″
Scarpone, who is 73, is looking forward to retirement and more frequent visits with the couple’s three sons, in suburban Chicago, Oregon and Indiana.
``Sam’s worn out, and as it approaches I feel more worn out,″ said Carol, who doesn’t discuss her age.
Efforts to sell the newspaper and its sister commercial printing business found no buyer. The equipment and mountains of memorabilia will be sold at an auction, tentatively scheduled for July 12.
Stepping into the 96-year-old home of the Argus a block off Robinson’s town square is like stepping into a history book. Photographs of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, the colorful Sen. Everett Dirksen and others line the walls. Another room holds cabinets filled with old metal newspaper type. The old offset press, which still prints the newspaper, sits on an ink-stained floor.
The floor is littered with brittle pieces of worn newspaper pages. Bound volumes of the paper are stashed everywhere in the office.
``You stop to think,″ Scarpone said. ``(Harper) started this in 1863. ... And since that time this paper has reported everything that’s ever happened _ first paved streets, first telephone, first electricity, first gas, first everything.″
Harper started a daily newspaper to go with his weekly in December 1908, but stopped the following March because there wasn’t enough advertising to support both papers.
A decade later, the Robinson Daily News was founded by F. Wood Lewis, publisher of the rival weekly Constitution. The Daily News still publishes six days a week. The Constitution still exists, operated by the Daily News.
Scarpone discusses the Argus’ history with visitors while he leans over a lighted table to work on pages for one of the final issues.
``See, I’ve got holes here,″ he said, looking down at his page. ``This is going to jump (to another page) so that’ll help.″
Before long, the holes are filled and Scarpone takes the finished pages to the Robinson Daily News to be photographed. The negatives are made into plates, which are attached to the old offset press.
An employee from the daily paper moonlights on Wednesday evenings to print the eight pages of each week’s edition on white paper, not newsprint.
``I guess it’d be a mom-and-pop operation,″ Scarpone said.
The Scarpones do most of the work, including most of the writing, but they do have other help. Sue Jones, who operates the outdated Macintosh computer used to print out the articles, has worked at the Argus for 18 years, longer than the Scarpones have owned the paper. Two unpaid columnists also contribute to the newspaper.
Scarpone describes himself as ``just a broken down ballplayer″ who played for independent teams in places like Bismarck, N.D., and Paris, Ill., for several summers in the 1950s. Then came a career in corporate public relations and his 1981 move to Robinson, a small town that today has a population of about 6,500.
He met his wife when she was a reporter for the Paris Beacon-News. They were married in 1956.
They took over the Argus from her parents, Victor L. Smith and his wife, Agnes, who was a foster daughter of the founder’s son, Paul B. Harper. Victor Smith was chairman of the Illinois Republican Party in the 1960s and left the newspaper office filled with political mementos.
Some of those mementos will be given to the Crawford County Historical Museum; the rest will be sold at the auction.
The Scarpones plan to stay in Robinson, but their readers will miss the weekly ``Bits ‘n Pieces″ column with news of family visits and local events and the pictures of subscribers’ children and grandchildren that were the highlight of the Christmas issue.
``They are the heart of Robinson, this place right here,″ said reader Deborah Valle. ``He brags about everybody, but they’re the story of the town.″