From the miscellaneous drawer

by Anne Swenson

The spring of 1976 my byline began appearing regularly in the Ely Echo. Miles Aakhus was the owner and publisher then and he had encouraged me to change from volunteering a column to working part-time and learning the business. I joined a staff which then included editor Bob Cary, reporter Doug Smith and advertising salesman Sam Cook.
On the staff side were bookkeeper Millie Simonick, and advertising layout persons Pat Harri and Lorene Mauser.
My first assignments were to create a “women’s page” and write feature stories.
There were two newspapers in town then - the Ely Miner and the five-year-old Ely Echo. The papers were as different as night and day. The Miner followed the tradition of noting who was visiting in town and who was entertaining luncheon guests.
By 1977, with the failing health of Miles and Dorothy Aakhus, the Echo was sold to me. There were few solo women business owners in those days in Ely: Rose Koschak, Bobby Evancevich, Shirley Britton, Arlene Childers and Louise Cherne were among them.
In some ways it couldn’t have been a worse time to buy a business because two devastating events were about to happen: the changes in federal law regarding the Boundary Waters and a long-term strike at Reserve Mining Company not long thereafter.
As a newspaper, the position we took - that changes in the BWCA law were inevitable due to the country’s growing environmental awareness, and that compromise was the only solution for Ely and the border towns to survive - met with 18 months of being boycotted by some businesses. In the end, two of our most vocal critics conceded that we were right in our actions to try for compromise. And with that the boycott was ended.
We endured the economic effects of the mining strike, sympathizing with the merchants who also were impacted by the change in life’s patterns.
When a group of businessmen approached me about producing a publication which would guarantee delivery to every mailing address in a 25 mile radius of Ely, we responded by introducing the North Country Saver.
When a business serves its customers with products everyone needs to buy, like groceries, the Saver is there to answer those needs, rain or shine, through the Postal Service. We tried carrier delivery but found it just wasn’t reliable enough for us.
Ely has changed over these 25 years. Tourism has moved to the forefront and now is itself being reconsidered as only a partial answer for a stabilized economy. After several winters of poor snow, our year-round businesses are suffering and only this year are able to catch up on bills from past inventories.
Most businesses are welcoming customers from outside the Ely area as well as loyal, returning customers. In order to keep the doors open to welcome back the summer trade, businesses across the Iron Range are reaching out to new potential customers, for not one of us can afford to close the door to other revenue sources.
It’s comfortable to stay with the old ways, to think of Ely as an isolated community, but it’s no longer true. It is a new millennium, a new world of internet cross-over. We need to keep open the lines of communication and understanding.
In 2021 despite changes to my life and the Echo’s, I’m pleased to see each week’s publication. Nick Wognum and Tom Coombe are doing well on the hard news. They get plenty of help from Lisa Vidal, Terri Pylka and Cam Weisert and our columnists.
Despite the increase in postage costs, we still appreciate all subscribers and hope you’ll consider the email version of the paper.