Former Times publisher turned 100 on July 27
Earl Lellman was just a couple of weeks old when he first set eyes on Forest Lake. He had been born on July 27, 1913, to Albert and Dora Lellman at the home of a relative in Minneapolis. He was then brought home to a little two-room cottage on the west shore of First Lake, a perk that came with his father’s job as caretaker for the estate of Mrs. Frances Fling, a widow.
The boy’s father was a printer by trade in Minneapolis but he was forced to move into outdoor work after being diagnosed with tuberculosis in his 20s. He was first employed as a caretaker in the Minnetonka area and then for Fling, who owned several blocks in Forest Lake just south of downtown. This included the present Wells Fargo block, which was a pasture for Fling’s single cow, and several entire lakeshore blocks in that section of the village.
In the more than 100 years that have passed since that first visit to the shore of the lake, Earl Lellman has been a nearly constant companion of the water. It has been his partner in youth, adulthood and now in retirement.
His home on the north shore of First Lake has been in the family since 1952, and it was there on July 27 where the Lellman clan gathered to celebrate the 100th birthday of the family patriarch.
It would not be correct to say that Lellman has spent his entire life on the lake. But he’s never been completely away from the lake and town that has always been his home. From his early days of living in that small house a stone’s throw from the water’s edge to his office in the upper level of the Forest Lake Times building, the lake has always been close.
It was from that newspaper office that Lellman drew inspiration and made his living for parts of four decades as an employee and eventually the owner of the weekly newspaper. With the lake as a backdrop from his office window, it was at the Times where Lellman reported on the people and the town where he grew up.
Newspapers were in Lellman’s blood from his days as a boy on through high school, where he led the effort to publish the first issue of the now defunct Forest Breeze. He landed his first job with the Forest Lake Times as a reporter and went on to a newspaper career here that would not end in Forest Lake until January 1968 when he sold the Forest Lake Times to Duane Rasmussen.
A century ago
As a caretaker for Fling, it was Albert Lellman’s job to take care the grounds and buildings. Along with wages, the Lellman family was provided a small house near the shore. It was here that Earl spent his first six years before the family moved to a small home on the west side of Highway 61.
“It was handy,” Earl Lellman recalled. “We’d walk to school.”
It was a frugal lifestyle for the family. Their standard of living improved when his father was hired as a custodian at the school where Earl and his sister, the late Frances Warner, would graduate. Earl was valedictorian in 1931, a class that included 28 graduates.
Today he holds the distinction as the school’s oldest graduate and two years ago was elected to the school’s first Hall of Fame.
Newspapers and education caught Lellman’s fancy early on. He recalled pouring through the St. Paul Pioneer Press Sunday edition. The weekly children’s page offered contests for writing and drawing, and young Lellman was a frequent winner.
Two of the prizes that he won over the years included a $5 gold piece and a watch, the latter coming on the final quarterly contest before he turned 16 and was no longer eligible to enter.
“I was in love with newspapers,” Lellman said. So it was no surprise that he turned to the profession after graduating with distinction from the University of Minnesota College of Education in 1936. His first job was at home when publisher Palmer Gilbertson hired Lellman as a reporter at the Forest Lake Times in 1937.
Looking back on his many years, Lellman wishes he would have traveled more. His only venture outside of the country was to Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. But don’t think he hasn’t traveled.
Lellman did get around, but his methods were sometimes unconventional.
In early 1937 Lellman and a pal, Earl Norquist, hitchhiked to New Orleans.
“It was his idea,” Lellman said of their visit to the Crescent City and its sights and sounds. Their stay lasted two weeks.
“We were running out of money,” he said with a smile. “I think it was my money.”
The pair hopped a freight train to Louisville, Ky., and from Louisville used their thumbs to get home to Forest Lake. It wasn’t Lellman’s only hitchhiking adventure.
In April 1938, while working for the newspaper here, he set off on his own and hitchhiked to Los Angeles. It was with Gilbertson’s blessing.
While on the road, Lellman would write columns on his travels, the people he met and the places he visited. The columns were mailed home and published each week. It was the start of what would be a lifetime of columns by the future editor and publisher.
There was one more itch that had to be scratched that involved California. He hitchhiked to California a second time to join sister Frances and her husband, Don Warner, who had gone there to explore job opportunities.
“Eventually we all ran out of money and came back home,” Lellman said.
Lellman’s youthful years of wanderlust faded in the 1940s. After a short stint with the Suburban Home News, St. Paul, he was hired as night editor for the Owatonna People’s Press on Dec. 1, 1941.
He married Doris Skog in Cannon Falls on Feb. 8, 1942, and six months later was drafted into the U.S. Army as part of the World War II call to service. He served stateside until his honorable discharge on Feb. 2, 1946.
After the war, Lellman returned to his job in Owatonna but did not stay along. Forest Lake called and in May 1946, he joined the Forest Lake Times once again as a reporter for publisher Newell Barnard.
In September 1947, he teamed with Gilbertson and Sid Anderson to form a corporation and buy the newspaper from Barnard. The Lellmans held a 40 percent share. In May 1953, the Lellmans purchased Gilbertson’s 40 percent share. Anderson, who ran the print job division of the company, remained as a 20 percent owner until 1964, when he sold to Lellman and relocated the printing business under the name Forest Lake Printing.
It was a good time to be in the business, but also a time of intense work, Lellman said.
The company had launched the St. Croix Valley Peach advertising shopper in 1951 under the lead of Bob Shaw, now 91, who would later go on to serve as chief of the Minnesota Newspaper Association. The newspaper was doing well, and Lellman continued to add press capability necessary to print other newspapers.
“It grew from that point,” Lellman said of his early years with Gilbertson. “I was ambitious. I could see the possibilities of a central printing plant.”
In 1964, the move from hot type letterpress printing to offset printing was made. Lellman believes he was the second editor in the state to make the switch.
“It was great – the best thing that ever happened,” he said of offset printing.
But by 1964, the Lellmans were growing weary. Days lasting 16 hours were not uncommon for the editor. Doris Lellman logged some office time but often worked from home, writing her weekly “local news” column that touched on people of the area and their activities.
Earl Lellman worked in all facets of the business, and the duties included reporting. He was a regular on the school board beat until Jim Broede was hired in 1965.
“He was the answer to all my prayers,” Lellman said of Broede. “He took over all the news.”
But Lellman knew he was also looking for a change in lifestyle.
“I was tired,” he said. “It was rewarding work, and we were successful. We had a real busy shop.”
When Rasmussen offered to buy the newspaper in 1968, a deal was struck.
The sale came during the midst of a family transition. Daughter Deirdre graduated Forest Lake High School in 1963 and eldest son Mark followed in 1968. Doris and Earl’s youngest, Bruce, would not graduate until 1972.
For retirement, the Lellmans settled on Ormond Beach, Fla., a suburb of Daytona Beach. Earl, Doris and Bruce moved to Ormond in 1969 and Bruce graduated from Seabreeze High School, Daytona Beach, in 1972.
The family would spend the winters in Florida and summers in Forest Lake. Lellman stayed out of the newspaper business for only one year.
For three years, Lellman worked on the proofing desk of the Daytona News Journal. He would report at 5:30 p.m. three or four nights a week and work until 2 a.m. He would reapply for his position each fall after returning to Florida.
Once Bruce had finished high school, the summer stays at their lake home here were extended. There was no missing the summer heat and humidity in Florida nor the cold and snow of a Minnesota winter. The fall migration continued through 1994.
In June of 1995 the Lellmans sold their Florida home and moved back to the home they had built in 1952.
“We thought it was time,” Lellman said. “We were both in our 80s. We had the home here. I’m sure glad we never sold it.”
Being closer to family came at a good time. In December 1998 Doris was diagnosed with leukemia and given two months to live. She passed on Feb. 13, 1999, five days after the couple’s 57th wedding anniversary.
With one chapter in his life closing, Lellman opened a new chapter that rekindled his love of writing.
In 1999 he started writing his “Morning Report.” Each day after the sun has popped up, Lellman moves to his home office where he writes thoughts of the day in a column that is sent by email exclusively to family members. It is a distributed daily with the only misses in 15 years a result of computer malfunctions.
From his office, Lellman can glance at the lake as the sun dances upon the waves, fueling the inspiration that produces his daily jottings. It’s the same water that greeted him 100 years ago and inspired a young lad of humble means to carve a successful life anchored by newspapers.
And mostly from his hometown.
“I’ve never not had a Forest Lake address,” Lellman said.