After 42 1/2 years on the beat, longtime managing editor Christine Spangler is leaving the Daily Jefferson County Union effective Friday, Nov. 20.
APG Media of Southern Wisconsin, which in December 2018 purchased the Daily Union and several newspapers across southern Wisconsin, is expanding the role of Scott Peterson, managing editor of the Watertown Daily Times, to oversee newsroom operations in both Watertown and Fort Atkinson.
“As part of a restructuring for the southern Wisconsin region, several positions within our regional newsroom were realigned. The editor position at the Daily Union held by Chris Spangler was changed to a regional position, which is held by Scott Peterson, regional editor for APG Media of Southern Wisconsin,” said Orestes Baez, APG regional president.
Baez noted that Spangler has been a fixture in the community.
“Chris has a long history in Fort Atkinson. We appreciate all that she has done,” Baez said.
He said that the changes were prompted by the impact of the coronavirus on business and the company’s need to respond. While many media companies are reducing their commitments to newsrooms, Baez said, Adams Publishing Group continues to invest in its newsrooms and local journalism wherever possible.
Peterson also congratulated Spangler on her career.
“Chris Spangler is the rarest of breeds and one you don’t see much of anymore: someone who spent her entire career working for one paper," he said. "To many people, she is the Daily Jefferson County Union. There is no doubt that we are all going to miss someone with 43 years of experience covering Fort Atkinson, Jefferson County and the surrounding area.
“I have had the pleasure of working the last two years with her, and I have come to appreciate her passion for her job, her devotion to local news and the wealth of knowledge she has not just about the events in the community, but the people behind them," he added. "I am hopeful that Chris can continue to advise us as she explores new opportunities in her life ahead. We have some talented people on our staff and will do our best to carry on the Spangler tradition of putting out a strong local news product."
He noted that one can not underestimate the number of changes that have taken place in the newspaper business during her tenure.
"Technology has virtually revolutionized everything we do, often for the better, but it has also created new challenges," Peterson said. "When Chris started, the print product was the main vehicle for communicating news in the community. Now our web pages complemented by social media have added new demands and dimensions to our coverage. It’s astounding how rapidly it has changed our entire industry.
“I am not sure anybody outside of journalism appreciates how much work goes into getting our readers the news every day, and Chris more than paid her dues. She has earned her time for leisure," he added.
A Monroe native who grew up in Madison, Spangler, 64, graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1978 with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism. That June 5th, she began what would become her entire career at the Daily Union.
“When I was hired by Bob Angus as city reporter in 1978, I just assumed I would be here for a few years and then move on,” Spangler recalled. “But I loved Fort Atkinson and Jefferson County so much, and every time I got the seven-year-itch, another opportunity opened for me.”
The first itch was scratched in 1985, when she was named news editor upon Tom Burton’s move to the Wisconsin State Journal.
“After seven years chasing sirens, snapping homecoming photos and seemingly being everywhere things were happening, I needed a break,” Spangler said. “Staying in the office a little more to edit and ‘dummy up’ pages, while still being able to cover events and write features, fit the bill.”
In addition to Angus, she worked for his successor, Tom Beebe. She followed him as managing editor when he left the Daily Union and she was scratching her second seven-year (actually, eight) itch in 1993.
Brian V. Knox recently had become publisher when he and Angus hired Spangler as a cub reporter, and Knox would promote her through the ranks.
“Chris Blumer (Spangler) arrived at the Daily Union 42 years ago with the biggest case of rookie reporter enthusiasm I’ve ever seen,” Knox said. “Age, experience, marriage and promotion didn’t really change that outlook in all the time since. She obviously loved her job, loved teaching new reporters the ins and outs, and mostly, she loved getting a story in print ahead of the Watertown Times. While she and her staff won a lot of awards over the years, there was one back in her early years that I think she was proudest of and sealed her into the profession.”
Knox noted that one of the more difficult things to cover as a reporter is a fire or a car accident.
“The facts aren’t always what they appear to be on the surface, they almost always happen at inconvenient times for the journalist and some of the things you see stay with you long after the story,” Knox said. “Chris loved covering fires, to the point that she almost became a part of the fire department. One day I came into the office and Chris sat there beaming. Next to her desk were a pair of fireman’s boots and a white fire chief’s hat emblazoned with ‘Daily Union.’ The firemen had presented them to her as a thank you for her work.
“It’s the thank yous that make a job like this worthwhile, and Chris has garnered a lot of those over the years, but none likely ever meant more to a young reporter as that pair boots and chief’s hat,” Knox added. “Thank you, Chris, for a job well done.”
Throughout the years, Spangler has been recognized with numerous Wisconsin Newspaper Association awards for editorial, news and feature writing; photography; Freedom of Information Act coverage; and interpretive/investigative articles. She also has won honors from the Inland Newspaper Association and Kettle Moraine Press Association.
“Of course, we do not write to win awards, but I am very proud of the recognitions the Daily Union has earned throughout the past four decades,” Spangler said. “I think our small, but mighty, news and sports staff have been and are among the best in community journalism.”
As her little free time allowed, Spangler has been involved in various organizations throughout her career, ranging from the Fort Atkinson Rotary Club to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Civil Service Commission. She bowled for many years and is a member of the Women’s Investment Network and Fort Atkinson HeathCare's Women Who Care, and chaired the Building Committee when First Congregational United Church of Christ undertook its Building for Christ renovation and expansion. She and her husband, Peter, enjoy spending time at their Lake Alice cottage near Tomahawk.
“I always have felt bad that I could not be as active in community organizations as I would like to have been, but my busy schedule often got in the way of being able to make a serious commitment,” Spangler said. “Instead, I tried to do my best to support, through the Daily Union, all nonprofit and civic efforts that improved Jefferson County and its wonderful quality of life.”
Newswise, Spangler has covered a myriad of events and topics in her career, both happy and sad. Unfortunately, the "hard news" stories remain the most memorable.
“So many come to mind, but the record 1979 and 2008 floods and the tragic murders of Tim Hack and Kelly Drew are among those rising to the top,” she said.
Coming from Madison, Spangler said, she was used to lakes, but when the Rock River and its tributaries rose far above their banks during her first spring on the job, she was amazed.
“Here I was, riding with then-Sheriff Keith Mueller in a boat down Blackhawk Island Drive and North Shore Road, photographing deputies rescuing residents from their submerged homes,” she recalled. “It was crazy.”
Some 14 months later, she received a telephone call from Pat Hack of Hebron, who told her that her son and girlfriend went missing after having left a wedding reception at the Concord House.
“That began months of daily stories on the disappearance of Tim and Kelly — and sadly, the recovery of their remains in a field and woods near Ixonia,” Spangler said. “Standing vigil with other reporters at the end of the road watching the coroner working the scene was gut-wrenching.”
Decades would pass before the crime would be solved after the daughter of a man named Edward Edwards told authorities she thought her father had killed the Fort Atkinson couple, as well as others throughout the country.
“I never thought I would see the day when the murderer was behind bars,” Spangler said. “It was bittersweet, of course ... a monster had been caught, but Tim and Kelly were not here to help us all celebrate.”
Sadly, many other such tragedies would take place in the decades that followed: the fatal Easter morning shooting of Reuben Borchardt by three teens hired by his wife, which ended up as a made-for TV movie starring Ann Margret, Peter Coyote and Toby McGuire, and most recently, the double murders of Jim and Nedra Lemke, allegedly by her own brother.
“People who think that nothing goes on in a small town are absolutely wrong,” Spangler said. “Jefferson County is a microcosm of the world, and the Daily Union reporters have covered pretty much everything — happy, sad, bizarre — that their counterparts at large newspapers have, if not even more.”
News aside, though, Spangler said she is most proud simply to have worked with talented professionals throughout the years. Many have moved on to larger newspapers and magazines, and one even a New York City public relations firm. But larger is different, not necessarily better, she noted, and those who have remained in community journalism have contributed just as much to the field as those who have moved up the ladder.
Spangler said that the baby boomers and Gen-Xers likely are the last of their kind to stay in one job for a long time.
“I have been so very fortunate to have had a staff of dedicated long-timers whose talents and institutional knowledge have made my job much easier,” she said.
She cited former regional editor Ryan Whisner and former sports editor Jeff Seisser, who worked for 22-plus and 27 years at the Daily Union, respectively. And, of course, current news editor Randall Dullum and reporter Pam Chickering Wilson, in their 25 1/2 and 20 years, respectively, on the staff.
In addition, there is publisher Knox, whose dedication to local news has given her and the newsroom full rein to do their jobs while providing any support they needed.
“That is what has helped make the Daily Union what it is ... loyalty and commitment to our readers, the communities we serve and our craft,” Spangler said.
She noted that the newspaper industry has gone full circle since she arrived at the Daily Union only one week before the typewriters were replaced with word processors. Technology has changed a lot of how reporters and editors do their job, mostly for the good but some for the bad.
“But you change with the times, and unfortunately, the times, well, they are a-changing a lot,” she concluded. “Thank you to everyone who has supported me and the Daily Union, and I look forward to seeing you all more now that I won’t be on deadline.”