Gary Feider’s life’s work is to be the editor, reporter, photographer, typesetter, paginator, ad salesman and business manager of Random Lake’s treasured weekly newspaper, The Sounder
The closest Gary Feider ever came to filling out a job application was when he crafted a “term paper-like” document called “What I would do if I was Editor of the Random Lake Times.”
He mailed that document in the spring of 1975.
More than half a century earlier, Henry Scholler, a printer in Campbellsport, was lured to Random Lake by local business owners who offered $1,000 of advertising during the first year if he put out a newspaper in their community.
The Scholler family later shifted the focus of its business to the printing side and had nobody dedicated to the newspaper.
Feider’s “term paper” that suggested focusing on local government and high school sports came at an opportune time, but Ray Scholler, Henry’s son, came up with some requirements.
The paper had to change its name, operate separate offices but still be printed by the Times printing company, and it had to make its own money. The Schollers would not subsidize it.
“I said I’d give it a try,” Feider said.
One week after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in May 1975 with a journalism degree, Feider put out his first professional newspaper, a 12-page edition.
The Dacada native has served as editor and general manager of The Sounder ever since, running nearly a one-man show.
The job was a good fit for Feider, who got his start as reporter for the Dacada 4-Leaf Clover 4-H Club. His snippets appeared in the Ozaukee Press, Sheboygan Press, Port Pilot and Random Lake Times.
“I guess I didn’t expect it would get to be what it is now,” Feider said of his career that’s 42 years old and counting.
Feider’s father hoped his son would join the family farm or cattle-trucking business. He did neither, calling himself the “black sheep of the family.”
Feider attended UW-Sheboygan for two years before going to UW-Madison. He served as editor of UW-Sheboygan’s paper, The Centerpiece, where he learned how to do paste-up, a process in which stories, photos and ads are physically placed on pages rather than on a computer as is done universally today.
Feider was soon named sports editor of The Badger Herald in Madison and landed a job in the sports department of the Wisconsin State Journal, working from 6 to 10 p.m. four days per week.
“I definitely am a night owl,” Feider said. “That was excellent training.”
During his senior year, Feider wrote letters to every paper in the state seeking a job. He was turned down by everyone, all saying they weren’t hiring recent college grads.
Feider posted all 25 rejection letters in his apartment. That’s when he wrote the “term paper” that landed him a career for life.
The newspaper’s name came from an old colleague at the Wisconsin State Journal, Bill Barnes. The Sounder captured the concept of sounding the lake and sounding out ideas.
Feider started with an electric typewriter. He has since graduated to a computer — his first was a Tandy in 1985 from Radio Shack.
Admittedly slow to change, Feider grudgingly gave up paste-up for electronic pagination in 2011. One of Feider’s longtime friends, Ozaukee Press reporter Mark Jaeger, and his wife Christine gave him a crash course one afternoon.
For newspaper photos, Feider switched from film to digital photography in 2005, and his first fax machine arrived in 2009. He doesn’t have a cell phone but spends so much time at the office, people don’t have trouble reaching him.
The Sounder got a website in 1999 that includes obituaries and sports scores and schedules for free. The 2,000 subscribers who get their papers in the mail each Thursday have the option to receive an email version as well. Feider said that works well with people who own lake property and spend winters down south.
While the technology has changed, the paper has not.
“I’m still doing the same thing now I did then,” Feider said. “You’re informing the community of what’s going on, and there’s nobody else doing that.
“A lot of towns this size don’t have a newspaper. I wish every community had its own newspaper.”
In a small community — Random Lake has about 1,600 people — Feider said covering news can be challenging as he sometimes writes difficult stories about people he knows well.
Feider said his favorite beat is sports. He attends as many Random Lake and Ozaukee high school events as he can. Similarly, he likes the competitiveness of elections.
“They’re trying to win a race and they’ll do almost anything to do that,” he said.
Local government remains the paper’s staple, and school news fills many of the pages. Feider said children like seeing their names and pictures in the paper. He said he learned in journalism school that photo captions should always include names.
Feider has one employee, Katie Cremer, and a few freelance writers and photographers. With a tiny staff, Feider said he knew he had to make decisions on what to cover. He leaves court cases and crime alone, instead focusing on the Random Lake School District, villages of Random Lake and Adell and towns of Sherman, Scott, Belgium and Fredonia.
“We’re definitely pushing it to the limit with how big our staff is,” he said.
The paper is regularly at least 28 pages. The bulk of the writing and layout falls to Feider, who is single and doesn’t have children.
“Let’s just say I spend many, many hours here,” he said.
His time is not spent on organizing his office, as the mountains of paper that overwhelm its every surface attest.
“I know I’m not the best housekeeper. My focus is on putting out a good-looking newspaper every week,” Feider said.
Feider said his happiest time is Wednesday night after the paper is completed. But rest is rare as he said that “pretty brutal deadline” always looms. Planning for the next week starts soon after the last issue gets printed.
Early in March, Feider contracted with Port Publications, Inc., of Port Washington to print the Sounder. The newspaper is now produced on the same high-speed web offset press as Ozaukee Press.
The paper is now owned by Ray and Bernice Scholler’s four children — Judy Mueller, Jack and Jim Scholler and Jean Vetter. No family members have ever interfered with how Feider runs the paper, he said.
And there’s no sign Feider, who turns 64 in April, will retire anytime soon.
“I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t doing this,” he said. “I guess I’m married to the newspaper.”
Image Information: Longtime Sounder editor Gary Feider said he focuses on putting out a good newspaper for Random Lake rather than organizing his office. Photo by Sam Arendt