The Squire to introduce staff

Here at The Rockford Squire newspaper, located right in Rockford at 331 Northland Drive, we have been cranking out your local paper for years, taking pride in being a unique source of local news. What we haven’t done so much of is letting readers know what it is like “behind the scenes” and telling you how your paper happens each week. In the next few months we will be giving you articles about the people here who work out of our office.

Above, Roger Allen and Beth Altena. Roger has a history of the newspaper industry in his blood. His great-grandfather was a columnist.

We often receive calls asking for our classified “department” or our education editor. With big newspapers, this may be a reasonable request, but we chuckle when we transfer the phone to the “department.” In fact, the newspaper, although heavily reliant on community members who help us with local coverage, is actually run by a staff of just seven people who work out of the office. We don’t have departments of people in charge of production, classifieds, circulation, or a team of editors.

Our first featured staff member is Roger Allen, who was in charge of the paper for about 30 years after saving it from bankruptcy. He is the father of current Managing Editor Beth Altena, Here is his story. 

Better with Age 

You get a free history lesson: This newspaper you’re reading, The Rockford Squire, is the product of Rockford’s oldest continuously run business. Begun in 1871 (counting on my fingers)… it is 139 years old.

My personal history began in Washington, D.C. I was born there only because I wanted to be near my mother. It was 1928. The Great Depression started the next year (not my fault). The family moved to Lombard, Ill., and then on to New Jersey, where I grew up.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, I signed on with a major corporation. It didn’t take long to learn that I didn’t like corporate life. Moving to Michigan, I settled into insurance claims adjusting and started my own company.

That endeavor evolved into catastrophe adjusting and employment with the National Flood Insurance Program and then with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). These jobs required a lot of travel, which I loved.

In slow times I worked as an accountant, but would leave for a catastrophe assignment when called.

The Allen family started the Squire in 1983 when its brief predecessor, the Northland News, died in bankruptcy. The owners of the Northland News owned the original 1871 paper, The Rockford Register.

When the paper became available, I looked around Rockford and knew this was a good place for a newspaper. I had coffee with some former staffers, put $600 in the bank for capital, and started The Rockford Squire.

Why “The Squire”? The assets we bought included the name of the original paper, The Rockford Register (and we still own the name). But, because the bankruptcy proceedings weren’t completed, we couldn’t use the “Register” name right away and we wanted to get started. So I named it “Squire” after our popular downtown area and the old English name for landed gentry.

The Register had been a subscription paper for its 100 years and we started that way, too, with the help of the local Sports Boosters. The merchants wanted lots of circulation, but printing and postage always cost big bucks. We didn’t know if a free paper could pay its way with advertising only, so we tried a free paper just to Bella Vista. It was a big success with advertisers. A Squire completely free to local readers soon followed. It’s been that way since.

As the Squire grew, we started the Cedar Springs Post, which supplanted the historic Clipper, brought down in the same Northland News bankruptcy. In spite of the dismal state of the newspaper business nationally, both papers are still here.

For years I was involved with the newspapers and with FEMA. My daughter, Lois Allen, handled things for the Post. I had a trusted hired manager for the Squire. In 1996 I found out one bleak September Saturday that my trust had been betrayed. Although the Squire survived, it took a while for me to get over my disappointment in people I thought I knew.

Despite that crisis, running the Squire was the most fun job I ever had. When I outgrew it, I turned the paper over to my daughter, Elizabeth (Beth) Allen Altena, who, I notice with pride, is doing a better job than her dad.

I always hoped it would turn out that way.

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