A half century in the ‘fourth estate’

As of this month my family and I have been involved with The Aldergrove Star for 50 years.

Inge and Rudy Langmann became the owners/publishers of The Aldergrove Star (then called The Central Fraser Valley Echo) on Sept. 13

As of this month my family and I have been involved with The Aldergrove Star for 50 years.

My father Rudy had just turned 36 that month, and following a serious accident on a construction site near our home in Yarrow he had been looking for a career change. His brother-in-law Cesare Tofini had recently purchased an Italian language newspaper in Vancouver called “L’eco d’Italia” from Pietro Mori, and Cesare told Rudy that Mori wished to sell a newspaper in Aldergrove that he owned as well.

So it was that Rudy and his wife Inge leapt into the world of newspaper publishing, as owners of The Central Fraser Valley Echo in Aldergrove.

It was a slim four to six page broadsheet, published every Tuesday and delivered to subscribers in Aldergrove and surrounding communities, from Cloverdale to Abbotsford.

Rudy and Inge worked vigorously to understand and know the community, and to learn the craft.

They retained another former owner, Alfred Flamond, as advertising salesperson, and he stayed with us for many years. Inge also recalled how Frank Krenn, a persuasive subscription salesperson at The Chilliwack Progress had talked her into buying a subscription, and before Christmas rolled around that year she had talked him into coming aboard as a subscription and advertising salesperson for the Aldergrove paper.

Not wishing to be known as an “echo” of anything else, Rudy and Inge also changed the name of the paper to The Aldergrove Star within a few months of assuming ownership.

I was only 12 years old at the time, not yet even in high school, but I also became involved — tagging along when my parents went off on assignments, meeting the people in the community as well as the politicians and celebrities who came to the area. Over the years I’ve met every Premier and Prime Minister, all the local MLAs and MPs, visiting dignitaries and royalty, and numerous celebrities, with my fondest memory being meeting Johnny Cash during a film shoot he was doing in Fort Langley.

I accompanied my father to the press halls to pick up the paper from the presses, first at College Printers in Vancouver, and soon after at Hacker Press in Abbotsford. The Hacker brothers, Cecil and Cliff, owned The Chilliwack Progress and ASM (Abbotsford) News, as well as the press in Abbotsford, and courted our business for the print contract. Hacker always treated us decently, never sinking into the cut-throat dealings that some of the later and bigger newspaper outfits employed, especially in the 1990s. Those were good times, the best days.

Those were still the days of linotype, with the text of each page forged in molten lead. During one visit to the press hall in Abbotsford a friendly linotype operator made a strip of type with my name on it and said I could use it with an ink pad like a rubber stamp to mark my belongings with my name. I still have that chunk of linotype.

For many years in the 1960s and early 1970s The Star’s phone line also went to our home in Aldergrove. Many times we received after-hours news tips and we took down classified ads over the phone at home too.

It was all part of being accessible and involved with our community. I learned early that news didn’t happen 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, it was a 24/7 proposition. And that if you weren’t there “first” you might as well not bother.

My family came into the business at the advent of offset print, which in layman’s terms means that we set our own type as well as screened the photos for the dot-matrix and the press hall would photograph our pages and reproduce them on an offset press — not much different from a photocopier.

One of my first coups was snapping a photograph of a massive British jet flying over our heads at the Abbotsford Air Show. My dad had given me a box camera and told me to get some good shots, and he was so impressed with it that it was published on The Star’s front page report of the air show.

I have many fond memories of the colourful and interesting people in the community. There are so many it’s impossible to name them all in this column, but I’d like to pay special tribute to Pete Swensson and Denny Ross.

Pete, a former Olympian in his native Sweden, was Langley Township’s first recreation director, as well as an award-winning photographer.

He often worked in tandem with Denny, who was a local school teacher as well as head of Langley Boxing Club.

Both of these men contributed much to The Star. Pete contributed photos and story ideas, and Denny wrote a sports column for The Star. They also introduced me to a young Debbie Brill, a high jumper who they predicted would go on to the Olympics. As history shows they were right.

In that first year of their ownership of The Star, Rudy and Inge covered a wide range of events. On October 4, 1966, the front page featured stories about George Royal making throroughbred horse racing history in Canada, as well as a visit by the Lord Mayor of London, England, to the “proclamation day” (now known as Douglas Day) events in Fort Langley. There were stories about new Canadian citizens, a service station that burned down, along with Rudy’s report on the Social Credit party’s constituency meeting and newly re-elected MLA Hunter Vogel.

In November there was a report on proposed sewer treatment facility plans, as well as the controversy surrounding the proposed development of 312 acres (known as the Finning Estate) at Otter Road and North Bluff (aka 16 Avenue) with a golf course and 120 one-acre home lots. This was years before the creation of the Agricultural Land Reserve, however, both Councillor W.C. Blair and Mayor Bill Poppy told the proponents that it would have to be approved by the Lower Mainland Regional Planning Board. Blair noted that, “They have been very adamant about preserving agricultural land in the valley.”

That winter Inge and several other representatives of community newspapers were flown to Montreal for a press preview of the Expo 67 site, courtesy of the Canadian Community Newspaper Association — one of her fondest memories of those early years.

Having grown up in the business it was only natural for me to join The Star full-time in December of 1973. I had just returned from travels in Europe and Asia, and was newly married with the first of four children soon to come. I needed a steady job and I knew this one inside out.

So those 43 years have passed — some of them good years, others not much — without any regrets on my part.

Over the years I’ve been involved in all aspects of the business, starting out as a graphic designer, while handling circulation, sales and bookkeeping. I was initially shy about writing but that changed when I kept bumping into Bob Geldof at concerts — he was working as a music journalist at The Georgia Straight at the time. He said I should try writing about music, “something you know something about,” and see where it took me. He also introduced me to Drew Burns, the former owner of the Commodore Ballroom who regularly put me on his guest list. So I began writing more, and not just about music.

The business grew and flourished throughout the 1970s, before we and pretty well everyone else got kicked in the teeth by the high interest rates and recession of the early 1980s. Rudy had built a brand new office/apartment building on Fraser Highway (the one The Star currently occupies, as it happens) and had the good fortune and foresight to sell it just before the recession hit. That saved us from ruin.

Rudy was also in the vanguard of the desktop publishing revolution of the Apple/Mac computers, which enabled us to get rid of the huge CompuGraphic typesetters and horizontal line camera. Those machines were great in their time but I was so glad to see the monsters go.

My parents and I received our “Silver Quill” awards for 25 years service from the Community Newspaper Association in the same year that David Black and his parents received the awards. It was a small ceremony at the CCNA office in Vancouver and our two families enjoyed each others company — we had a lot in common.

So it was only natural that when my parents wanted to retire in 2001 that we sold The Star to David Black. My parents got a cash buyout and I got a job as editor of The Star, doing the job I liked best of all the tasks associated with operating a newspaper, while Black Press got a nice small business that makes an honest profit every year.

Retirement is probably not far off for me now too, but I’m still enjoying it and still performing a good job, and the business is still making money. I’m in no rush. But whatever happens, I’m proud of what my family has done over these past 50 years in Aldergrove. It’s been a great experience and I thank all our readers for their support and the wonderful memories.