Featured Squire employee, Managing Editor

Beth Altena 

I was in high school when my parents purchased the Rockford Register from a group of business people who had combined several local papers to form one big paper and quickly went broke. Nearly immediately I figured out I was not interested in newspapering as a way to make a living. My parents worked long hours, sometimes my mom was doing layout all night long on deadline, and they kept putting money in rather than taking it out.

The current Squire staff poses for a photograph earlier this year. What a team!

I went to college, didn’t study business or finance, and worked on a major in English and a double minor in political science and history. My dad had told me I wasn’t there to earn a trade, but to get an education and just study what I wanted. I don’t know if that was such great advice, but I took every class I felt like, including Chaucer and Greek, both of which I liked a lot. I never ended up graduating, despite completing the major and minors, though. It seems there are curriculum requirements and they want you to have those before they give you a diploma.

Anyone who has had a family business will know what I mean when I say they have a strong gravitational field—they suck you in. In my summers home, my dad gave me about every job in the paper at one point or another. I tried sales and ended in tears—sales people have to be tough. I tried doing the bookkeeping and missed those finance skills I never learned. I enjoyed doing layout—that’s placing the stories and pictures on the pages. It’s like doing a puzzle and is really fun. Unfortunately, like my mom, it seemed I was often there all night long on Tuesdays. When my kids were little, my mom babysat and often got them off to school on Wednesdays.

By then, I was married and had worked full time as a cashier at Meijer before quitting after the second boy to work part time at the Squire while the kids were small. I wanted to stay part time until they were in school all day and almost made it. I heard my dad was thinking of closing the newspaper after several failed attempts to get someone beside himself to run it. He said he didn’t want to die behind the desk, so I offered to give it a try.

I didn’t mark the occasion with an announcement in the paper or in any other way, and I was pretty sure I couldn’t do it. The others who tried before me were pretty sharp, and it is a complex business. I guess I managed, with constant help from my family, and I’ve been at the helm 10 years.

I call my dad a lot. I have dragged my husband, Bill, and our two boys, Will and Ethan, now 18 and 15, to a million fire department pancake breakfasts and other events. How many kids have been lucky enough to attend Rotary Club meetings with their mom? I’d say my kids are pretty lucky in all the things they have been to.

I love being involved with news and have become a meeting addict. Anyone who has never attended a City Council meeting or a township meeting should give it a try. At first I was scared to death to go to a council meeting. I think I thought they were going to be wearing powdered wigs or act like royalty, but I was wrong. After becoming a regular attendee, meetings are like going to an ongoing play where you know all the characters. Try it—it’s fun. You can sit by me.

I guess the reason I’ve kept the paper going is I must have a knack at hiring good people. I tell anyone new that I make a point only to hire people smarter and more talented than me, and it must be a good formula, because here we are. There are seven-and-a-half of us in the office (the half is our new layout person, who is in two days a week). The employee who has been with us longest is Melanie Ragsdale, who has been with the paper 18 years and taught me the layout job. Now I don’t do layout, but instead have the honor of writing up news with the help of many, many community volunteers who bring us stories like sports (which I can’t write, nor understand) and the many other events that take place all over.

In addition to working at the paper, I love doing things with my family. We are outdoor people, and when the kids were pre-teens we hiked with them all the time. Now that they are teens, they loath to spend time with my husband Bill and me, so we have replaced them with our family dogs. Not only do the dogs still get excited about family outings, they have never once complained about boredom. My husband and I also love geocaching during our hikes.

When we were first married, we drove to Maine for our honeymoon and fell in love with Acadia National Park. A few years later we went back with our little ones in tow, and spent a week or two camping in Bar Harbor Campground near the park. Except for this year, we have been going every year since. Highlights of the trip are fabulous mountaintop views, lobster, a deep-sea fishing trip on the Vagabond with Captain John, lobster, exploring tide pools, and lobster. It’s funny that Bill doesn’t like seafood, so he orders chicken tenders at the lobster pound. We love camping here in Michigan as well and always head to one of our great state parks with our pop-up or tents. There is something very calming about being out in the woods.

Go figure, but I also love stories and listen to books on tape nearly constantly while I’m home. Any job where your brain is not required, such as washing dishes or making the bed, is improved with a good book on tape. My weakness is books and I have too many. I love cookbooks and guidebooks that tell you how to figure out which bird you see, or tree, or mushroom. I really have gone overboard on learning to identify wild mushrooms and think I could write a book of my own. I don’t need to, though, since I must have a hundred mushroom books already. My husband thinks I’m crazy, but I know you’ll agree it’s hard to pass up a good mushroom identification guide.

My favorite person in the office is Kate, our office manager. Just kidding. I like everyone I work with and hope they are happy at the paper because they do a great job. Anyone who is in charge of a business of any kind ought to know they would be in charge of nothing if they didn’t have a stellar staff backing them up. Thanks, team!

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