Passing of a one-man rural newspaper
There are not many left, the small town newspaper with a one-man operation: editor, publisher, columnist, photographer, beat reporter, ad man, and even deliveryman.
There is an empty chair in his modest office. A tattered swivel chair where he sat long hours, week-by-week, without a vacation in seven years.
He passed from us last week, at the age of 62, when complications after surgery took him from us.
Material things were not so important to Larry Ritzo; it was the hearts and minds of hometown people that mattered, both young and elderly alike.
And above all, it was the spirit of adventure—of fun and of humor—that not only counted, but was shared daily with the 900 citizens who walked the streets of rural Drayton, N.D., where the other half of Main Street is the Red River of the North.
His trademark to most people was his humor and his deep interest in community wellbeing.
We were friends. We joked a lot too. We called each other, “my other brother Larry.”
But when he sat in his swivel chair, his words were thoughtful, deep and inspiring.
He relished talking about flying and how he loved Norway as a shared ancestral “home” after he was stationed there as a Captain in the Air Force.
He told stories about his pioneering times as a pilot, aerial mapping the old fashioned way, with a camera, film, and a “joystick” in one hand to keep the tiny airplane on track.
He often talked about the perspective that flying gives you—to see beyond the horizon, to show how communities are linked together by roads, rivers, fence lines, and telephone poles. He idealized how a newspaper should offer such a perspective.
For a man with an Italian name, he revered Norway; his great grandfather emigrated from Ål, Norway and his great grandmother from Ålesund. He related to the home-centered values and the outdoor life inherent in his genetic makeup—skiing, linked friendships from heritage, and adventurous times in Nature.
Most of all, his world revolved around his hometown of Drayton: the stories of people here, the youth at school, the seniors in the retirement home, sports, and community events.
He would go weekly to the school to interview fourth graders about their opinions, treating them as young adults, and printing their story and a photo in the paper.
He invited youth to write a column, experienced authors to share their thoughts, and community leaders to update readers.
During the annual “Old Fashioned Christmas” event, he set up a Webcam, interviewed vendors and attendees alike, and Web-streamed the fun festivities to Norway and around the world, with dozens of viewers chiming in with comments from four continents.
In the final issue of Valley News and Views, published the day after his funeral with military honors, 12 pages of remembrances filled the edition—the passing of a “one-horse” publisher, a “cherished son,” a man who “devoted his life to serving his town” and a “community” far beyond the horizon.
Larry was a true storyteller, in print and in person; a pilot in so many ways; an adventurer at heart; a patriot. His spirit of brotherhood reached across continents.
This article originally appeared in the Sept. 5, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.