Former owner, publisher and editor remembered

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By Michelle Hollenhead

As the Morgan County News turned 100 this year, it would be hard to imagine its history without the contributions from former owner/editor and publisher Dan Bonifacius.

He owned the paper for more than 30 years, and had become affiliated with it less than a decade after its 1917 humble beginnings as the Morgan County Press.

A life-long Wartburg resident, Bonifacius became affiliated with the paper around 1924, at which time he was the sole operator, compositor, pressman and news writer, according to his obituary.

He acquired its ownership in 1927, and continued publishing it until ill health forced him to retire and sell his beloved newspaper in 1960.

However accounts indicate that his affiliation was only diminished, and he continued to spend time there, reportedly offering assistance and advice to the new owners.

His last surviving child of six, Virginia Jo Oney, says her father did not receive schooling beyond the eighth grade, and she is not sure what led him into the newspaper business.

She does however, remember a man so dedicated and passionate, that he worked continuously, and even operated the printing press out of his basement.

“He would be gathering news stories, and picking up advertisements from as far away as Harriman,” she said.

Bonifacius would get a lot of story ideas and tips by visiting with “movers and shakers” around the courthouse, noted his granddaughters, Betty Maden and Sandra Leopper, who still remember his newspaper activities.

“He loved to go out, and sit. They met on the corner, on the wall in front of the courthouse, every day, at break time,” said Maden.

His activity was constant, beginning just as the current week’s paper was finished, and leading up to the next week’s edition.

A look at the papers from Bonifacius’ era show an oversized broadsheet – typical for the time - with submitted and gathered news from all over the county. The paper seemed to have many contributors who rounded out the coverage.

Interestingly, the cost of the paper ranged from $1.50, to $2 and even more if readers lived outside the county, which is more than double what the paper costs today at .75 cents.

The newspaper business became a family affair, Oney said, noting that “all of his children learned to set type.

“We would set every word by hand.”

She said the children would also help with the folding and distribution of the finished products.

“We would take bags of papers to the post office, and also take them to Lancing, Sunbright and Oakdale.”

“And, he never would let us work anywhere else!”

Oney, Maden and Leopper all remember one specific thing about Bonifacious’ work – the ink.

“He was always dirty,” Leopper said. “He always had ink all over him. I remember my grandmother always fussing at him for that.”

“I do remember the stains, especially on the floor,” Oney said of the former homeplace, which is still standing today. “I’m sure a lot of them are still there.”

Her father also dabbled in real estate, was very helpful to others in the community, and was also a dedicated member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.

Some of the property he bought was located near the church, and was given to his children, said Leopper.

“He owned the whole hillside at one point, and that is where we all grew up – on Bonifacius Street.”

Even with his busy work life, Oney said, “he was a good dad – very loving, very caring, and mild-mannered.”

Maden and Leopper also remember a “wonderful” grandfather.

“His house was our favorite place to be,” said Maden.

“And he was always helping people, but if someone was in need, he would help them discreetly – you never knew about any of it.”

But by all accounts, his true love was the Morgan County News.

“He really enjoyed his work,” his daughter said. “It was his life – the paper was everything.”