|Decorah's Dale Ahern Is Retiring from Deadline
L. DALE AHERN
Decorah Newspaperman "Retires"
|DECORAHFor Dale Ahern to say that he is retiring from the
Fourth Estate makes about as much sense as the fellow who smokes two packs of cigarets [sic] a day and
suddenly says he is quitting by cutting down to a pack and a half. True enough, Ahern has resigned as
editor and general manager of the Decorah Newspapers, effective in a few weeks, but at the age of 58
he's about as ready to sit and rock as an ant at a picnic. A high school journalism teacher who went into
newspapering in 1940 because he was "becoming a little weary of teaching young people to do what I
myself wanted most of all to do, write," Ahern has been editor and general manager of Decorah's former
rival newspapers, the Public Opinion and the Journal, since they consolidated in August, 1951. Last week,
after he made his announcement, a subscriber stopped him on the street and paid him the highest
compliment: "You have built this paper from a little paper to a big paper," the reader told the editor.
Well, it turns out that Dale Ahern is not retiring at all. "I'm retiring from deadlines," he says. "The pressure
of running two weekly newspapers is quite terrific. I feel like a student getting his diploma." So, if Ahern is
not retiring, just what are his plans? "Farming interests, writing freelance articles for newspapers and
magazines. Well, as a matter of fact, you could say that I will be ready for trouble-shooting assignments
on newspapers, doing relief work when and where needed."|
|By "troubleshooting" Ahern means that he will be available when any
newspaper needs some expertise in the organization or reorganization of its news, advertising, column and
editorial writing departments, or in newspaper management. And, if the paper is in a bind, Ahern can be
called upon for temporary help in any of the departments with which he is familiar. His "farming interests"
include several hundred acres near Bluffton in which he is associated with other businessmen and
Woodland Acres, a Christmas tree plantation in Winneshiek county in which he also has an interest.
Of particular interest to him is the Porter House museum in Decorah which the board of trustees hopes
to open in 1969. Ahern is president of the board of trustees. The museum was given to the Winneshiek
Historical society by A. F. Porter, who was nearing 90 when he died this year. During his lifetime he
collected many rare artifacts, butterflies, stamps, insects, etc., in his world travels.
Ahern's editorial experience goes back to 1928, when he served as editor of the Ottumwa high school
newspaper and yearbook. At Drake university, where he was graduated in 1932, he was literary editor
of the Times-Delphic. In the years after college, Ahern taught English and journalism at Alleman, Leon,
and Winterset. He was a part-time staff columnist and subscription promoter for the Winterset Madisonian
while teaching in that southwest Iowa town. Ahern left the teaching profession in 1940 to accept a job as
editor of the Cherokee Courier in northwest Iowa. He moved to northeast Iowa in March, 1941, as editor
of the Decorah Public Opinion, succeeding John McAndrews, who had been editor for 40 years. A year
later he was appointed general manager as well.
|When Ahern came to Decorah the Public Opinion had a circulation,
paid and unpaid, of about 1,900, while the competing Jouranl [sic] had a net paid subscription list of 3,000.
The Public 0pinion's new Editor started a column called "Roadside Ramblings", getting his personal items
by going house to house in the country and the small towns and at the same time pushing subscriptions.
"Sometimes, on the first call." Ahern recalls, "I got the door slammed in my face. But, often, on the next
visit they invited me in to dinner." Within several years, the Public Opinion pulled up even with the Journal
with 3,000 subscribers. The Public Opinion gradually became the stronger of the two newspapers and the
Journal interests sought to buy out the Public Opinion. Instead, the Public Opinion bought out the Journal
and the two newspapers consolidated in August, 1951. Since then the two papers have been published
weekly, the Republican Public Opinion on Mondays and the Democratic Journal on Wednesdays. Both
Decorah newspapers have won numerous awards since 1940. The Public Opinion was named first in
general excellence by the Iowa Press Assn. again this year. Ahern received the Master Columnist award
again in 1968. Awards have been for everything from advertising to best use of illustrative material.|
|According to Ahern, the secret of building a successful newspaper
includes continuing service to the community, an aggressive circulation department which builds a
subscription list big enough to commend [sic] a fair price for advertising. "We now have the two largest
ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulation) weekly subscription lists in Iowa, over 12,000 a week for the two papers,"
Ahern said. "A good newspaper must not only report the news," he continued. "It must interpret the news,
to point the way to readers to better things." Along this line, it could be pointed out that Ahern is known as
the father of the successful Decorah "Nordic Fest". He promoted the idea through his editorial columns and
the project was picked up and carried through by the Decorah Jaycees. Some of the newspapers' other
editorial promotions have included improvements in the Decorah public school system, adoption of the
petunia as the town flower, the raising of $5,000 for assistance to a family whose son remained unconscious
more than five years as the result of an automobile accident, and the lifting of a censorship order imposed
during 1957 by the Iowa board of control on the Iowa state prison publication, the Presidio. Presidio named
Ahern its "Man of the Year" in 1958. Since Ahern has been with them, the Decorah newspapers have
published news without fear or favor, not always to the delight of all of their readers.|
|He recalls the time some "burly business men came into my office
and threatened an advertising boycott, even threatened to beat me up" if he published the story about a
prominent citizen who had been arrested for drunk driving. Ahern listened for awhile and then said: "You
fellows can climb over the counter and beat the devil out of me, but that story will be in the paper tomorrow.
"One of the men then reached over the counter, took my hand and said: " 'We never knew how you felt
about this.' " Another time, another prominent citizen came to the office and was quite abusive and
demanded that some story be kept out of the paper. Ahern explained his position and the newspapers
position. The man "stormed out of the office, but came back an hour later and reversed himself." When
Ahern came to Decorah, he was among the pioneers in use of newspictures. He also introduced feature
stories with pictures, multiple column headlines, deleted editorial comment from news stories and started
a full editorial page. Since he comprised the news department, he was also its photographer, although his
previous experience had been with a box camera. He laughs about the first fire he had to cover. It was
about five miles out of town. He took pictures and then hurried back to the newspaper to develop the film
and see whether he had anything on it.|
|One of the thrills of a weekly newspaperman is that rare opportunity
to "scoop the world." "We had a kidnap case that broke early on press morning. We got a picture of the
kidnap car, flew the picture to Mason City, where we were then having our engravings made, and got the
cut back here and in the paper that day."
Ahern married Doris Milligan in 1932. They have two daughters and one son. Editor Ahern has been very
active in his community. He is a past member of the Winneshiek county fair board, past president of the
Decorah Lions club, past president of the Decorah Development Co., past chairman of the Winneshiek
county civilian defense corps, and a past chairman of the Winneshiek county chapter of the Iowa Good
Roads Assn. He is a member of the Decorah Methodist church. In his own words, he is a high school
journalism professor who got to do what he wanted.
| Cedar Rapids Gazette 18 August 1968|