Archived Story

John Eby: Fred Senger worked with paper all of his long life

Published 11:55pm Wednesday, September 7, 2011

It’s a sad day at these newspapers thinking of forging ahead without Fred, who could always guide us through where we’ve been.

Former Cassopolis village president Fred Senger worked here for better than 50 years.

He kept retiring, but we kept needing him back.

Now he’s gone for good at 83, though those of us who benefited from his tutelage will do our best to honor his memory and to keep it alive — especially moments like him driving the women wild with his earring.

I think back to when Doug Phares was publisher and future publisher Jan Griffey was managing editor of the Niles Daily Star and Fred reached the half-century mark.

I wrote a satire the first time he retired, portraying his family as the most powerful in Cass County because at the time he had the last word what went in the paper proofreading pages, his wife, Carol, was in a vital position with Cassopolis Public Schools and son Rick ran the Road Commission, controlling access to the arteries in and out of the county.

We inventoried his legendary bottomless junk drawer.

Fred came to the Vigilant about this time of year — the day after Labor Day — in 1952 from Charlevoix, his daughter Christi only a week old. The press was in a building at 104 S. Broadway in the county seat.

Pages printed two at a time.

Each copy had to be hand-folded. Type didn’t spew from a computer, which is why the Fred in my mind always has scissors sticking out of his back pocket.

“I worked with paper all my life,” he told Marcia Steffens for one of our retrospectives.

The Manistee native even worked at a paper mill for a few years. While writing sports for the town paper, he had his eye on a younger basketball player.

She had already spotted him at the drug store while having a soda. “I was going to remember him,” Carol said. “He bought me a milkshake and walked me home.” Fred married the farmer’s daughter from Freesoil two years later.  For a few months, the Sengers lived on Diamond Lake, then moved into the village he would serve on the council during the time Don Horne Park was developed.

Both Sengers were involved in their community, including church, St. Paul’s Lutheran on Stone Lake. Carol worked for the school district for 21 years and for seven years as a deputy clerk in the county clerk’s office.

She also became involved in promoting Barn Swallow Theatre and MARSP, the local chapter of the Michigan Association of Retired School Personnel.

Travels took them to Germany several times, Iceland, Scotland and Hawaii.

Fred always had ink on his hands, running a press in his basement that turned out forms, letterhead and business cards. He also gardened and read mysteries. As the V&A coalesced into Leader Publications and came to include the Star and the Daily News, it must have been 2002 that we ate cake and watched Fred receive a home computer with which to surf his way onto the information superhighway.

Doug, now publishing the Sandusky Register in Ohio, talked about the many changes that had already occurred almost a decade ago, Fred adeptly thwarting predictions he couldn’t adapt to pagination.

Not only did he cope with whatever technology threw at him, as Jan used to like to say, “If a bread truck hit him, I don’t know where he’d be. He does the layout each week of the Leader. He’s the one with the knowledge of what to do.”

“When I came in I was wet behind the ears,” Griffey said. “I learned more about the business from that man than from anyone else.”

His work ethic benefited us all — especially his knack to find the tasks meaningful when frustration often mounted.

“I’ve seen a lot,” he’d say. “We set the grocery ads one piece of type at a time” as the Vigilant grew from six pages to 12, then 18. Sometimes he wouldn’t get home until the wee hours of the morning. Fred was knowledgeable about all of our jobs because he had done them all in his day.

Wrote stories. Covered sports. Laid out pages. Set the ads.

When he moved over to the Niles office in the 1970s, he enjoyed an art department composing staff of 22 women.

Thanks for all the times you caught mistakes in my stories, Fred, like when I misspelled homicide. Your earring remains my favorite bit of lore.

Clip-on, as it turned out.

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