GENEVA — One hundred twenty-two years ago, Frank O. Edgecombe purchased The Nebraska Signal newspaper, established in 1881, from Dr. J.B. Brazleton and Will R. Gaylord of Fairmont, moved the business to Geneva, and combined it with two newspapers he already owned.
Through the years, 13 other newspapers were consolidated into it, enabling The Nebraska Signal to become the oldest continuous business in Fillmore County and the second-oldest one in Nebraska today.
John F. Edgecombe Jr., the current owner and publisher, has been associated with the business for 48 years, in different positions, and now is retiring.
Edgecombe said his career has given him a lot of good memories.
“I’ve enjoyed all the people I’ve come in contact with through the business very much and being on Main Street of ‘Small Town America,’ ” Edgecombe said. “One finds comfort with other business owners — not only are they your customers, but also your friends.”
The new fifth-generation owners and publishers, Jim and Mike Edgecombe, are the sons of John Jr. and his wife, JoAnn, of Geneva. Together, Jim and Mike have 41 years of experience in the newspaper business.
Jim, 46, and Mike, 44, grew up in Geneva, with Jim graduating from Geneva High School (now Fillmore Central High School) in 1990 and Mike in 1992. Jim has been the publisher of the Minden Courier for 23 years, and Mike has published the Hebron Journal-Register for 18 years.
A retirement celebration for John was April 11 at The Nebraska Signal’s Museum behind the office area, which features turn-of-the–century letter press equipment.
The two brothers are excited about the business change with their new positions in Geneva and said there was no question about doing it.
“I’m very proud to be involved with this,” Mike said. “When Dad was looking to retire, he had two sons capable of taking over. Fillmore County is a wonderful place, and I don’t know of any other family with this five-generation accomplishment.”
Both Jim and Mike will be retaining their current owner/publisher positions in Minden and Hebron, respectively, and believe the added responsibilities in this transition will be easy.
Jim said the great advancements in technology will help and they will make weekly schedules as to who is available to be at the Geneva business, therefore balancing their time between locations. And both brothers said the excellent staff at The Nebraska Signal will keep things running smoothly.
“Greg Scellin is a great editor who can handle news, sports, etc. and Kathy Kahler, Cheryl Baker and Carol Strothkamp are the eyes and ears of the business,” Jim Edgecombe said. “They do a great job here every week and have done so for years.”
Jim, who graduated from Doane College (now Doane University) in Crete in 1994, said his life was predetermined and everything just fell into place for him, as he graduated from college on a Saturday and went to work at the Minden Courier on Monday.
Mike worked with Jim at the Minden Courier in the 1990s and then became owner and publisher of the Hebron Journal-Register when it came up for sale in 2000.
The two brothers had worked at The Nebraska Signal ever since they were able to do so, assisting with photography, the news process and stuffing inserts.
JoAnn Edgecombe, wife of John F. Edgecombe Jr., has been of assistance to The Nebraska Signal and her husband throughout the entire 48 years. She typed and formatted the copy as well as taking care of the subscription department. She also commuted to Minden and Hebron for many years, assisting her sons in every way. And when John served in the national office, she traveled alongside of him on all occasions.
Before acquiring The Nebraska Signal, Frank O. Edgecombe purchased the Geneva Republican and Geneva Journal in February 1894. After combining them with the Signal in 1896, he was The Nebraska Signal publisher for 50 years.
Tyler Edgecombe began work at The Nebraska Signal in 1913 and became publisher in 1941 due to Frank O. Edgecombe’s failing health. His previous experience included working at the Beatrice Daily Express (also owned by Frank O. Edgecombe, as well as papers in Fillmore County.)
John F. Edgecombe Sr. returned to Geneva in 1947 after serving three years in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War ll and became a partner of his father in 1954. He became publisher in 1972 after his father’s death.
John Jr. attended linotype school at the University of Missouri and then served in the U.S. Navy from 1966-70 where he was a printer for the captain. He learned offset printing, then took his knowledge back home to the Signal office where he helped transition their commercial printing from linotype to offset. He worked at many different positions during that time.
In 1977, John Sr. purchased Service Press and spent his time in Henderson. John Jr. became manager of The Nebraska Signal at that time. John Sr. died in September 1995, whereupon John Jr. became the official owner and publisher.
John Jr. said that throughout the years the news in the papers has always been the same, and they’ve always used the U.S. Postal Service for mail delivery, but the printing presses changed drastically.
“The printer went from one letter at a time (handset print of 1894), to one line at a time (linotype print prior to the turn of the century to the mid-1960s), and then newspapers were being converted to offset printing designed to print thousands of papers at a time,” he said.
He added that another major change had occurred with the early newspapers.
“There were no pictures in the early papers, due to the fact that they had to be sent away to be engraved, sent back by mail and then put into the paper,” Edgecombe said.
Edgecombe said that the one change that has made the biggest difference in the business is the computer that emerged in the 1980s.
“The speed of computers allows for faster production with less manpower,” he said.
Edgecombe said he believes the future of The Nebraska Signal is secure.
“Small-town community journalism is very important to a small community, as we’re doing what no one else does,” Edgecombe said. “We do everything the daily papers don’t do, which is relevant to our readers — we keep the community connected. The Nebraska Signal will continue because it is strong.”
What is it that makes this job so special that five generations would devote 122 years to it?
“The love of the community makes us strive to do our best by chronicling what goes on,” Edgecombe said, beaming. “Where else can you go that captures history and makes a book of it every week?”
John Jr. served as president of the National Newspaper Association in 2014-2015. His great-grandfather, Frank O. Edgecombe, was the group’s president in 1925, 90 years prior to John.
The Nebraska Signal is the only newspaper in the country with two national presidents and it is the smallest newspaper to have that honor.