Toledo Free Press: The first 10 yearsWritten by Staff Reports | | firstname.lastname@example.org
This week marks a proud milestone for Toledo Free Press. Ten years ago, on March 16, 2005, we published our first issue.
As I look back over the 10 years we have been in business, I marvel at all that has occurred in that time. The vision I had for a community-focused weekly newspaper was matched when I found Editor in Chief Michael S. Miller up in Adrian, Michigan. He was what I called “lightning in a bottle.”
Michael agreed to come to Toledo to work on a “glass half-full approach” to this city. He was very adamant I stay out of his way. I agreed and let him do his thing while I ran the rest of the business. That arrangement never changed.
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The five straight “Best Weekly Newspaper in Ohio” designations from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists say all you need to know about what talent Michael brought to the table. Now Sarah Ottney, who was mentored by Michael for four years, sits in that seat and has already shown similar skills.
I’ve watched tremendous writers come through our doors, including Brandi Barhite, whom Michael often called one of the best journalists and feature writers he’s ever known; Caitlin McGlade, who never backed down from a challenge and is now an investigative reporter with The Arizona Republic; Jeremy Baumhower (who can forget Myles Eckert?); and Matt Zapotosky, who’s now covering federal courts for The Washington Post. Duane Ramsey has been writing business and economic development stories for most of those 10 years and Jeff McGinnis brought his unique pop culture voice to us five years ago.
For our first two years, we were based out of the Toledo Edison building Downtown. Jim Murray, then-president of Ohio Edison, gave us the space to start the business.
It has been wonderful to watch the growth of Downtown’s Warehouse District from our front-row seat on Monroe Street, where our offices now stand. When Blarney Irish Pub owner Ed Beczynski and I bought this building from Dave Ball (another visionary) in 2006, we had no idea what would happen around us. From the Huntington Center, Table Forty4 and PizzaPapalis sprouting up nearby to M Osteria recently opening, Black Cloister Brewing Co. coming this month and Veritas Cork & Craft right around the corner — what a hot corner we’re on where virtually nothing stood before we moved in!
One thing TFP has done from the beginning is support local nonprofits (at least the ones that are not bullied into staying away from us). The latest effort, Dine 419, partnered with local restaurants to raise money for Veterans Matter to house homeless veterans (you will never find a more passionate advocate then its founder Ken Leslie).
TFP has been a proud media sponsor of Holiday with Heart Charity Gayla since 2010 and Toledo Pride (started in 2010 by the just-as-passionate Lexi Staples) since 2011. As its media sponsor for the first four of its five years, we helped Leadership Toledo’s Restaurant Week Toledo grow into the immensely popular fundraiser it is today.
Then there were the six charity CDs we produced for Make-A-Wish Ohio, Kentucky & Indiana, American Red Cross of Northwest Ohio and Project iAm — Michael’s babies — which raised more than $70,000.
Lucas County Children Services’ (LCCS) Wear Blue Day, which asks people to take a stand against child abuse, is one of the most touching nonprofits we have supported in our years. Same with the organization’s holiday gift drive. LCCS is a wonderful organization that has taken some unfair hits from other media in town; it does not deserve that.
Food for Thought’s Jam City and Food Fight 419 were also causes we got behind. Smoke on the Water, benefiting the Red Cross, was always a good time.
In January 2007, we shifted publication from Wednesday to Sunday. On our fifth birthday, we launched Toledo Free Press Star, a standalone Wednesday publication covering arts and entertainment, which, in 2013, was absorbed back into the Sunday TFP.
Throughout it all, loyal advertisers like ProMedica (from issue No. 1), Monroe Dodge (Ralph Mahalik Jr. has also been with us from the beginning), Fifth Third Bank, TARTA, Mercy, Hollywood Casino Toledo, Owens Community College, Estate Jewelers, Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, the Town Center at Levis Commons and Fat Fish Blue have been our lifeblood. Without advertisers who had guts like these companies (and so many more) we would have never made it 10 years.
We have taken our share of punches to the gut as well. Despite an unbelievable lawsuit from a newspaper that wants to step on us and disloyal employees stealing from us, we have found a way to fight through. The loyal and hardworking employees of the paper are the reason we have lasted this long. James A. Molnar is one of the most talented artists I have had the pleasure to know. Chick Reid, who has been working for me for years (first at The Blade and now here), is one of the best-known sales people in town and just a great guy. My now longest-tenured employees, Renee Bergmooser and Pam Burson, are loyal to the bone and some of my best friends.
Many of our columnists have been with us for years. Our cartoons and crossword puzzles are created locally too.
Last but not least are you, our readers. Thanks for sticking with us and thanks for reading.
It’s the people who have made us and who are the key to our success. This is the reason we are still the largest Sunday paper in Lucas County and in my opinion the best.
Thank you, Toledo!
Thomas F. Pounds is president and publisher of Toledo Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com.
The first issue of Toledo Free Press, published March 16, 2005, featured a cover story on crime statistics in Toledo, Maumee, Perrysburg and Sylvania. The story by Dave Wasinger, “Criminal Divide: Beyond the good news of falling numbers, Toledo crime stats offer a glimpse of two very different realities,” remains relevant today.
The article featured Maumee shop owner David Swesey, who said he felt safe, and block watch leader Sally Hampton who said it seemed like crime reports dominated the news, and even though statistics showed crime had dropped, she didn’t feel safe. According to the article, crime dropped in Toledo by 5.6 percent in 2004, a drop then-Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre called “significant” compared to the drops of 1.5 and 1 percent in 2003 and 2002. Arsons, auto thefts and thefts all dropped. Rapes and robberies dropped too, but overall violent crimes — murder, manslaughter, robbery, aggravated assault and rapes combined — rose 3 percent. At the time, Mayor Jack Ford said the increase of block watch programs from 59 to 144 since his election had helped curb crime.
Also covered in the first TFP were the opening of The Market on St. Clair, a former fresh bread, produce and “upscale groceries” store in the Warehouse District, “Meet the Mayor” meetings with Ford, a profile of Toledo-Lucas County Public Library Authors! Authors! series guest Edward P. Jones, the grand opening of Dr. Scott’s Pinball at its new location on Conant Street, a community feature on former drug addict Derek Feniger who turned his addiction to running marathons, a business feature about Toledo-based GatewayDefender offering “new age tactics in the war on spam,” sports features on high school basketball standouts Ben “B.J.” Raymond of St. John’s Jesuit and Ali Wallace of Sylvania Northview and an Arts & Life review of DC Comics’ Gotham Central.
STILL IN THE NEWS
A few of the hot topics we covered 10 years ago are still in the news today.
TFP covers in May, June and July 2005 and August 2006 featured developers David Ball and Jimmy Jackson’s plans for the Downtown steam plant. These days it’s ProMedica who has big plans for the space as its new Downtown headquarters. Our Oct. 19, 2005, issue about rioting in Toledo following a visit from the National Socialist Movement (NSM) featured a double cover — one with a black man and another a white man. In October 2006, we revisited those affected one year later, including Lou Ratajski and Terry Rybczynski, whose Mulberry Street bar Jim and Lou’s was looted and burned. NSM recently announced it would return to Toledo next month to host a rally.
Five people have held the office of Toledo mayor since Toledo Free Press first saw print: Jack Ford, Carty Finkbeiner, Mike Bell, D. Michael Collins and Paula Hicks-Hudson. Collins and Bell are tied for most cover appearances, with nine each.
Politicians from all parties and levels of government have been featured in our pages, from mayoral and City Council candidates to members of Congress like Marcy Kaptur, Paul Gillmor and Rob Portman. Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain were covered during their 2008 race as were Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012.
In July 2005, we ran a never-before-published interview with Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. On Jan. 3, 2007, we published Bob Taft’s final print interview as governor.
On Feb. 22, 2009, we spoke to unlikely political firebrand Samuel “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher, the Holland resident who rose to national prominence several months earlier when he asked Obama how his tax plan would affect his plumbing business.
We’ve covered issues such as public breastfeeding (September 2007), when we talked with an area woman asked to leave PacSun at Westfield Franklin Park Mall for breastfeeding her 1-year-old son. In October 2009, we looked at Issue 3, which passed that November, allowing casinos to be built in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. There were two attempts to unseat Finkbeiner and years of well-documented “dysfunction” at the Lucas County Board of Elections.
Younger readers may have a hard time believing smoking in bars and restaurants was once commonplace. But plenty of business owners got quite heated about the issue when it first came to light a decade ago. From 2005-08, TFP featured cover stories about the smoking ban issue at least four times, with owners of Delaney’s Lounge and The Distillery among those vowing to fight the ban, saying it would keep customers away and irrevocably hurt their business. Both bars are still in business.
The heartbeat of a vibrant community is its business environment, and Toledo Free Press has consistently strived to cover business matters as they affect both corporations and the average resident.
In early 2006, we covered the contentious battle between Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner and Toledo City Council over bringing Costco to Westgate Village Shopping Center.
We celebrated Tony Packo’s 75th anniversary in February 2007, Owens Corning’s 75th anniversary in 2013 and Sam Okun Produce’s 100th anniversary in 2014.
We looked at how rising gas prices were driving sales of hybrids in May 2007, explored attempts to save Downtown science and technology museum COSI in December 2007, offered a tour inside the new Bass Pro Shops in April 2008 and got to know Randy Oostra as he began his position as president and CEO of ProMedica in 2010. We also interviewed personal finance guru Suze Orman in March 2011, provided a look inside the new Hollywood Casino Toledo in January 2012, took an in-depth look at the city’s vital and ongoing attempt to keep production of Jeep Wrangler in Toledo and more.
From high school football to college basketball to minor league baseball and hockey, Toledo is a proud and fanatical sports city, and Toledo Free Press has featured a vast array of athletes and sports figures on our pages over the years — many gracing our covers.
TFP’s biggest issue of every year is the Mud Hens Opening Day special section. We also dedicate space each year to the beginning of the Toledo Walleye season as well as the Marathon Classic LPGA golf tournament.
Football has been the cover story 12 times, including four NFL features. Anyone remember Rex Grossman leading the Bears to the Big Game against Peyton Manning in 2007? Or the Steelers vs. Seahawks’ 2006 Super Bowl throwdown in Motown? TFP also featured former University of Toledo star Lance Moore, bound for the Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints in 2010, and a 2011 interview with Findlay native Ben Roethlisberger when he was QB for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
There was also Ohio State coach Jim Tressel; Dick Cromwell leaving the sidelines after 26 years at St. Francis de Sales; Linda Jefferson, who took the National Women’s Football League by storm as a running back for the Toledo Troopers in the 1970s; UT legend Chuck Ealey, who led the Rockets football team to 35 straight victories from 1969-71; and the OSU-Michigan rivalry game in 2006 between the two undefeated teams.
We’ve run five hockey covers: two featuring the Storm, including owner Barry Soskin in 2006, two for the Walleye and one of the Toledo Cherokee. We’ve also featured NASCAR’s Danica Patrick heading into a 2010 race at Michigan International Speedway; deemed Ealey, Jamie Farr, Christine Brennan and Jim Leyland the “Northwest Ohio Mount Rushmore of Sports”; and covered Toledo’s own William Buford of Libbey High School being named an All-American basketball player in 2008 and then leading his Ohio State team in 2011.
In March 2010, we launched Toledo Free Press Star, a weekly publication focusing on arts and entertainment — but TFP has been covering since the beginning. Star was the natural progression. From musicians to television to summer blockbusters to Star Wars, we’ve covered it all. Our June 29, 2009, issue featured “The Simpsons” including “Simpsons”-ifying all our columnist headshots and other Springfield-esque touches throughout the issue. “Star Wars” made its first cover appearance in May 2005. Harry Potter was featured in July 2007, Spiderman in April 2007, Superman in July 2008 and the first of many Batman covers in November 2009. Musicians, both national and local, have been featured in TFP over the years, including Bob Dylan in May 2007, John Tesh in October 2008 and Bootsy Collins and David Cook in April 2009. Local artists are also a major part of our coverage, with Kyle White, Empire Drift and Johnny Knorr all featured on the cover in 2009.
Brain Gain is one of those Toledo Free Press legacy series that perfectly meshes with the paper’s mission of community-focused journalism focusing on the positive while not simply being a mindless cheerleader.
“Few phrases irritate me as much as ‘brain drain,’” TFP president and publisher Tom Pounds wrote in a column when the series was launched in May 2007. “I have heard that concept discussed since I moved to Toledo, not stated as theory, but accepted as fact.
“It’s insulting to imply that all young smart people exit Toledo as fast as they can, leaving behind only mentally deficient bumblers. Do some young people leave our area when they finish college? Of course; that happens in every city, coast to coast. But to imply that our future is bereft of talented young minds is not only inaccurate, it’s demoralizing to the people who choose to stay. …
“With this week’s cover story, we are beginning a regular series of profiles of young people who are choosing to stay in Toledo, to live here and make a difference. These are tomorrow’s business leaders, politicians and parents.”
Former TFP Editor in Chief Michael S. Miller also addressed the new series in a column in that issue.
“Once I was a ‘brain drain’ statistic. But I, like legions of others, came home,” he wrote.
TFP has always been quick to point out that the series is not an attempt to ignore the problem of so-called brain drain, but rather to shed a positive light on those who choose to stay.
In all, more than 70 people were profiled for the series, which ran, from what I can tell, through most of 2007 and 2008 and periodically in 2009 and 2012.
Our first Brain Gain profiles featured Jim Walrod, Wendy Gramza and Stephen Vasquez. All three are still living and working in Toledo. In fact, at least seven of the eight area residents featured on our covers during the series are still living and working in Northwest Ohio. (One could not be reached.)
In fact, a not-exhaustive followup with as many subjects as I was able to track down found the years had brought weddings, children, houses and job changes — but most are still in Northwest Ohio and loving life here.
Walrod is still with The Image Group. Wendy Gramza is still with the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce — it’s first female president, in fact — and Vasquez is transitioning to a role in business development with the chamber.
“I love Northwest Ohio more than I did when the first article was written,” Vasquez said. “A lot changes from age 23 to 33 and all of it has been positive and would not have been possible anywhere but in Northwest Ohio.
“While there will always be work to be done, we are growing as a city — not in numbers, buildings, houses, etc., but rather in an attitude. It feels like Northwest Ohio is finally starting to realize what we have and where we want to be.”
Vasquez, a St. Francis de Sales High School graduate, returned to Toledo after working for a while in Cincinnati, he told TFP in 2007. It’s all a matter of getting involved, he said.
“The more you know about the city around you, the better off you’re going to be,” he said. “New York or LA could be boring if you just sit there.”
Unlike those who believe young people leave Toledo because it lacks job opportunities and things to do, Gramza told TFP in 2007 she believes some individuals simply want to experience other areas of the country.
“I don’t think it’s all about a negative perception of Toledo,” she said. “I think they want to spread their wings.”
After experiencing other areas, many find themselves appreciating the things Toledo offers, often returning to raise a family, she said.
“Why do I stay in Toledo?” Gramza told me recently via email. “I like challenges and I like to think that the work I am doing is making a difference. The Toledo region has been an excellent place for my family and I. We love the affordability and accessibility of the Toledo region.”
Walrod still believes, as he told TFP in 2007, that Toledo is big enough to always find something to do, but small enough to offer great quality of life.
“You can always make more money somewhere else, but then what’s your quality of life?” he asked.
“As a young professional, I have had the opportunity to work with, and learn from, the greatest and most respected business leaders in our area,” Walrod told me. “I seldom wait in traffic. My wife and I enjoy taking our girls to the Toledo Zoo, Imagination Station or the closest Metropark. I fish in the Maumee and Lake Erie. I could go on and on. … Point is, this area offers so much I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”
Tamara Bumpus has lived all over the country, but said she keeps coming back to Toledo. “Like a boomerang,” she told me recently, laughing. She said she stays because it’s inexpensive, offers lots to do and her family is here.
Bumpus, who was a nurse at the University of Toledo Medical Center when TFP profiled her for the series in 2007, now works with the Neighborhood Health Association (NHA).
“I am really excited about what I perceive to be the beginning of the Downtown renaissance — the influx of new restaurants, ProMedica moving Downtown and NHA building a new clinic in UpTown,” she said.
John Smythe, featured on our cover in March 2012, is still president of Habitec Security. His wife is expecting their first baby this summer.
“Toledo is a great place to live and do business,” he said. “There is still value in being a local company that is involved in their community. I think this gets lost in bigger cities.”
Shawna Woody, profiled in January 2008, is still with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Toledo, now as director of program operations.
“I never thought I would stay in Toledo, but I often tell others that I was meant to be here,” Woody said. “Every time I try to leave, I get promoted. I love my job, but I love my family even more.”
Those I talked to who have moved to other areas said they miss family, friends in Toledo as well as the food.
Brian Weinblatt, who worked in the University of Toledo’s alumni relations office in 2007, has since moved to Florida, where he works at the University of Miami. But he still visits Toledo regularly — including this weekend.
“Nothing compares to the kind, generous nature of Midwestern people,” Weinblatt said. “I guess you take it for granted growing up there that everyone is friendly. The other things I miss most about Toledo are my favorite tastes of the city, namely Barry Bagels and the pizza.”
Todd Davies, who was transitioning from the city to the Regional Growth Partnership in 2008, has since relocated to West Virginia, where he works at Marshall University. He said he misses the food in Toledo but was discouraged by local politics.
“We in Toledo had a tendency to make things harder than they have to be,” Davies said. “Everybody talks about the resources or potential, but whenever someone tries to do something with it, people get in their way because they’re not doing it their way or they just want to complain.”
Willie Williams, formerly of Owens Community College at The Source, now works at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“Toledo gave me such a wonderful background, but I wanted to utilize that skill set in a larger city,” Williams said. “I’ll always miss Toledo because of the family feel you get.”
Brian Babcock, profiled in 2008 and still a senior Industrial Engineer with GM, perhaps sums it up best.
“I stay because of the good work environment and family and friends that are here,” Babcock said. “Basically, it’s home.”
Sarah Ottney is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Toledo Free Press has covered crime in a variety of ways: from examining cold-case murders in October 2005, to considering questions raised by the family of Andrew VanHorn, an 11-year-old boy found dead in July 2009, to profiling John Tharp in 2013, when he became Lucas County’s first new sheriff in nearly 30 years.
In January 2007, we looked back at the 1992 slaying of University of Toledo student Melissa Herstrum by UT police officer Jeffrey Hodge, talking with her family members about how they still struggled to deal with her murder. We covered the on-duty death of Toledo Police Det. Keith Dressel in February 2007 amid his pursuit of 15-year-old Robert Jobe.
In January 2007, we talked to advocates seeking a legal showdown over conceal-carry gun laws. A controversial photo illustration of a gun pointed at UT’s iconic bell tower on an April 2007 cover garnered plenty of letters to the editor as we considered what local universities were doing to prepare themselves for school violence in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings.
In November 2007, we detailed Toledo Police Department’s effort to join a statewide fight against gangs and youth violence. In October 2013, we offered insight into underage drinking by talking with local teens after the drunken driving death of Ottawa Hills teenager Brian Hoeflinger. In August 2014, we reported on the spike in heroin deaths in Lucas County.
Few local crimes got as much attention from local and national media as the June 2013 disappearance of 18-month-old Elaina Steinfurth, often referred to as “Baby Elaina.” Her remains were found in the garage behind her home that September, with Elaina’s mother, Angela Steinfurth, and Angela’s ex-boyfriend, Steven King, pleading guilty to the murder. They’re serving 15 and 25 years to life in prison, respectively.
Health issues have been and continue to be important areas of coverage at Toledo Free Press.
This year, we launched our “Eye on Health” special section, which focuses on a particular area of health each month. So far, we’ve covered diet and fitness, heart health and cancer, and will cover seniors and aging in April. Each section features a variety of stories about programs from the area’s leading health centers, columns from patients and health experts in each field, as well as listings of upcoming health-related events.
The section may have a new name, but we began covering health issues long before this year. We explored the childhood obesity epidemic in May 2005, looking at why more and more youth are dealing with hypertension, diabetes, depression, coronary disease and high cholesterol. In October 2008, we dug into the drive to immunize Lucas County’s children, a topic that still bears cultural discussion today with the recent measles outbreak in the U.S.
A couple of months later, in December 2008, we covered the last Christmas of Beverly Kanthak, a 61-year-old woman with terminal cancer. We investigated what Northwest Ohio was doing to protect itself against swine flu in May 2009.
A cover story in December featured area women struggling with infertility, but we also covered that topic in June 2007 with a look at the fertility drug Clomid. On numerous occasions we’ve featured Kaylee Halko and Carly Kudzia, two children with an extremely rare rapid-aging disease who happen to live within minutes of each other in Lucas County.
We featured an interview with Dr. Oz Mehmet in January 2012 as the famous TV physician offered tips for Toledoans looking to live healthier lives. TFP has told many stories on area residents fighting various health situations, from obesity to cancer to amputation to those waiting for organ donations.