Passing of former Times owner, editor Earl M. Lellman came Saturday at his Forest Lake home
By Earl M. Lellman and Cliff Buchan
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The death of former Forest Lake Times owner and publisher Earl M. Lellman at age 100 on Saturday, Sept. 7, marked the end of a nearly lifelong association between Lellman and this area. The following is Lellman’s obituary written by Lellman. Former News Editor Cliff Buchan edited the piece and added a second segment that delves into Lellman’s life and thoughts on his retirement years. A formal death notice also can be found at right.)
Earl M. Lellman was a native of Forest Lake and lifelong resident of Forest Lake following his birth in Minneapolis on July 27, 1913. He lived his first six years with a sister and his parents in a two-room cottage without electricity or indoor water supply a few feet from the west shore of First Lake.
His father, Albert Lellman, was caretaker for Mrs. Frances Fling’s extensive estate just south of the small village’s downtown.
The estate included several cottages and homes along the lakeshore as well as most of the land now occupied by Wells Fargo Bank and the former Blockbuster location that today houses a liquor store.
He attended the Forest Lake schools for all 12 years. As a sophomore he and another student, Jim Elwell, launched the school’s first newspaper, the Forest Breeze.
He wrote the words for the first FLHS school song, adapting the melody from the University of Illinois’ loyalty song. While still in high school, during summer vacations, he wrote a column for the Forest Lake Times called “Summer Breezes.” He was valedictorian of the 1931 graduating class.
Lellman spent his freshman year at St. Thomas College on a scholarship before transferring to the University of Minnesota, where he majored in English in the College of Education, with minors in French and history.
He worked for his meals at a campus tea shop, served in the University’s Educational Test Bureau as a depression-era “federal student” and later worked as a teaching assistant in the General College. He graduated in 1936 earning a Bachelor of Science degree in education “with distinction.”
While an undergraduate, he was engaged by a Minneapolis advertising agency to write a series of radio dramas called “77 Pages of History” that were sponsored by Gluek Brewing Co. The programs highlighted significant historical events for each year and the skits were enacted live in the studio and aired weekly by KSTP.
With teaching positions scarce to nonexistent following graduation from college, he was hired by Forest Lake Times Publisher Palmer Gilbertson as a reporter and columnist. While serving at the Times, he enrolled as a post-graduate in the University’s School of Journalism, commuting between his job and classes and filling in the gaps in journalistic studies that he missed as an undergraduate.
He moved from the Times to a short-lived St. Paul suburban weekly newspaper and then to the Owatonna Daily People’s Press, where he served as night editor. While in Owatonna in February 1942, he and Doris Skog, Forest Lake High School English and Latin teacher and school librarian, were married.
In August 1942, qualified for only “limited service” because of poor eyesight, he was drafted into the Army. He was assigned to publication work in the post headquarters at Fort Snelling and later transferred to Camp Gordon Johnston in Florida for transportation corps training.
In February 1946 he was discharged after 3 1/2 years in the service and returned to his night editor job at Owatonna. Soon after, Newell Barnard, who had purchased the Forest Lake Times during the war, invited him back to Forest Lake as editor and advertising salesman.
After about 15 months in this role, he joined with Palmer Gilbertson and Sidney Anderson to form a new corporation and purchase the Forest Lake Times from Barnard.
In 1953, Earl and Doris Lellman purchased Gilbertson’s share, and in 1964 they become sole owners of the Times when Anderson’s share was split off to become a separate firm, Forest Lake Printing.
During Lellman’s tenure, the Times became a leader among Minnesota community newspapers in converting to offset publishing on high-speed equipment. This opened the door to contracts for the camera and press work for a number of neighboring newspapers, shoppers and other publications.
The Times also earned a reputation for excellence, winning many state and national awards for general excellence, community service, typography, photography and others. Lellman won two “School Bell” awards for editorial writing and support of education.
Reflection on life
Lellman spent the final three decades of his life in relative privacy, enjoying the north shore of First Lake where the couple had built their home in 1952. It was here where he passed away on Sept. 7. It was also at the lake home where Doris Lellman passed away in 1999 after a battle with leukemia.
The Lellmans spent 27 years in Florida before selling and moving back home to Forest Lake. It was 1986 when Lellman began learning computer skills and became proficient with the tool. It sparked his return to writing.
Following the family celebration of Earl Lellman’s 100th birthday on July 27, 2013, the Forest Lake Times published this feature story on the life of the former editor and publisher.
In the daily blog that is printed below Lellman reflected on a question that frequently swirled through his mind. It was simple question for a man who had lived a relatively long and healthy life. It was this subject that was Lellman’s final blog as the centenarian recognized that his days were waning.
In the final “Morning Report,” Lellman wrote on this topic: “If you had to do it over, are there any changes you would make?”
Lellman wrote the following:
“The first 55 years, until we sold the Times, I was moving mostly in high gear, living the American dream – through relative poverty as a child, managing college with part-time work and the pinching of scarce pennies, marrying ecstatically happily, a limited service term in the Army, raising a family, navigating the business world reasonably successfully, retiring relatively early.
“I wouldn’t change any of that except possibly the 3.5 seemingly wasted years as a clerk in the Army’s message department and for that I was drafted; it was wartime and it was mandatory.
“From 1968 on, though, through those 27 idle years of retirement spent largely in Florida, in good health – there surely are other goals that I could have pursued.
“There are so many needs and injustices affecting the poor and disabled in this country and around the world that those who are able would seem to have an obligation to volunteer their help – in fundraising, in services and other forms of assistance to fellow men less blessed.
“We contributed annually to worthwhile causes and I could have taken an active role in one or more of them. They could all have used more hands on deck.
“I was certainly physically able. I could have let the weeds grow around our Florida home, then have spent the time working on beneficial projects. Instead of idly walking the sands of Daytona’s wide beach or spending all those lazy days in the shade of our palm trees or at the drawing board creating Weirdo characters for my grandkids’ greeting cards, I could have been working with other retirees on the many problems and solutions that deal with the needs of the expanding population in the world.
“As I begin running out of time, I sometimes do have thoughts that challenge my having devoted so many hours … days … months … to fund projects, with little more than a few pages of weird drawings to show for my creative efforts. It could be argued, I suppose, that the hours were not wasted; that they built a bond with my children and grandchildren that wouldn’t have existed if, instead, I had been engaged in other pursuits.
“Of course, I could have done both. Instead, I found the leisure so enjoyable, I couldn’t get enough of it. From one standpoint, it was a successful retirement, a fitting reward for those many years of intense pressure at the Times, never far from the grindstone, often on 16-hour work days and seven-day work weeks.
“Should I regret the idle days? Certainly not. Can I harbor thoughts of other possibilities? There’s no way to avoid them.
“But really – no serious regrets. It’s been a great life in a wonderful world.”
Editor’s note: The following account was written by Earl Lellman’s son, Mark.
Carried into the light
Maybe it was the great blue heron that patrols my father’s lakeshore. It could have been the bald eagle, who sits on Dad’s tall, straight cottonwood, right on the bank of the lake. I saw the eagle circling, again and again, over dad’s home a couple of days ago.
I was hoping it was the light, which Dad could see and I could not. Dad reached his arm out to it, toward a dark wall, in the black of the night.
When I asked him what he was doing, he said he was trying to find the light.
“Your flashlight?” I asked.
“No, the light there. Can’t you see it?”
I could not.
Maybe they all shared in transporting him away from this world. I do believe that the 10 Canada geese, honking in unison as they flew by his home on the lake, each carried a decade of his life away, minutes after his heart stopped beating.
Dad sought immortality on earth, but unable to achieve that beyond his 100 years, settled for his second wish, to die a natural death of old age, in his home, surrounded by his children.
This is exactly how he left this world on Saturday morning, Sept. 7, 2013.
Deirdre, Bruce and I are respecting Dad’s wishes that no religious service be performed.
We have chosen to honor his life in the fashion that he would be most comfortable attending: a celebration with his family, in his home, after a simple burial of his remains in Cedar Hill Cemetery, just a thousand feet through the woods from his home.
– The writer is a 1968 graduate of Forest Lake High School.