Former Express circulation manager talks about his 43 years with paper
(Editor’s Note: As The Express celebrates its 140th year, we continue to highlight its staff and history.)
LOCK HAVEN — For Larry Rupert, his time spent in the circulation department at The Express is something he’ll never forget.
Even at 78 years old, the former circulation manager can still tell you how much a paper cost while he served as his hometown of Blanchard’s first carrier. And he can list off circulation numbers from various times in his 43 years.
“It was great, I don’t regret a thing,” Rupert said. “It was actually a lot of fun, sometimes you didn’t think so in the moment, but it was.”
Rupert was hired in 1962 by former Express Editor Rebecca Gross. At the time he was working at Woolworths in Harrisburg. When he was hired, he served as assistant circulation manager under Circulation Manager Wendall Wright.
“The circulation when I started was about 6,800 or so and we didn’t really go much beyond the county limits,” he said. “When I started we had three vehicles — two Jeeps and a van.”
Prior to being hired in 1962, Rupert said he served as Blanchard’s first-ever paper boy at 12 years old. At the time, a paper was 7 cents a copy or 42 cents a week.
When he left in 2007, circulation was about 15,600, he had 109 foot carriers — 95 percent of which were young adults — 18 motor routes and three bundle routes.
“We had a lot of people,” he said.
During his time as circulation manager, Rupert would name “Star Carriers of the Month,” and created a newsletter for his employees. He’d give out gift cards and plaques as well to help with employee moral.
“We gave out a lot of those, probably thousands,” he said.
In Rupert’s near 50 years at The Express, he witnessed a lot of changes, got to know many of the common names associated with the paper and created many fond memories with other members of staff.
One of the first major occurrences was the purchase of the Jersey Shore Herald in the 1960s. Rupert said he could remember meeting the pressman, a man named Charlie. “I remember he was skinny and tall,” he said.
The printing press the Herald used at the time was also something to remember. “They used an old flatbed press. It was amazing to see because I was used to our press,” he said.
In the 1960s, prior to Frank D. O’Reilly, Jr.’s retirement, The Express used a lead cylinder press.
According to Rupert, you would create the line of type and advertisements and imprint them onto a sheet of cardboard. From there, the cardboard pieces would be run through another machine that poured the lead to create a plate.
The plates would later be placed on the press to run. Photos at the time were etched into plastic, and those pieces laid onto the press, too, he said.
“Charlie (Ryan) and I used to stand out there during the press run every day and kept pulling papers off to make sure the inking was right and there were no missing pictures,” he said.
At the time, The Express was printed daily at 11:30 a.m. The deadline was kept firm by Ryan, who became publisher after O’Reilly retired in 1968.
“We were selling 350 copies a day at Piper at the guard house. We had to be down there before they left out at 3 o’clock,” Rupert said. “The guy would be standing their with a tin can, people would come out, drop their money in and take a paper.”
In the 1970s, the Lock Haven News Agency — located near the Garden Building — was the other hot spot in the afternoon.
“We took them down there and to Piper and we were good to go,” he said.
Rupert said working with Charlie Ryan was great.
“He ran a good ship. He didn’t want any newspaper going out of this place that didn’t look the best,” Rupert said.
And although he didn’t work with him quite as long, Rupert had many positive thoughts on Frank D. O’Reilly, Jr.
“Mr. O’Reilly was one of the most intelligent and compassionate men I knew. The paper really was his life, everything revolved around it,” he said. “I was amazed, at being new, how much I was accepted and part of the gang.”
The same could be said of the one who hired him. Although, he noted she was very strict about the work of those she employed.
“Now she was very demanding. If you did your job, no problem whatsoever. But if you weren’t… you heard about it,” he said.
Rupert said the circulation department was located near the elevator that Gross, who lost both her legs in a car accident years prior, would use to reach the second floor newsroom.
“She would come in every morning and always say ‘Hi’,” he said. “This newspaper was her life.”
Rupert said O’Reilly, Gross and Ryan were all extremely community oriented. He noted that O’Reilly and Gross in particular played major roles in a lot of events in the area including the creation of the Route 220 bypass, the Blanchard dam construction, the levee and more.
Much like his predecessor, Ryan was as dedicated as O’Reilly.
“He was hardnosed, he practically lived here. No matter when you came in, Charlie was here,” he said. “He started out as a carrier and worked his way up.”
There were times when Rupert would step in for Ryan, particularly when he had a heartattack which required open heart surgery in the 1990s.
“I was filling in more or less for him. The worst thing about working here was signing all the checks,” Rupert joked.
Ryan also had him attend functions for Thomson Newspaper — which purchased The Express from the O’Reillys in 1974.
Although Lock Haven and Clinton County saw many changes in his time, some of the biggest moments Rupert can remember happened on a national scale. One in particular, was just a year after he was hired on Nov. 22, 1963 — the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
“I was actually flying the press that day — the pressman was off or something like that,” Rupert said.
Rupert said the first run had to be stopped, and the papers already enroute to the Renovo area had to be brought back three times that day as news about Kennedy’s death changed.
“We had a pile of papers in the pressroom like you wouldn’t believe. They kept changing the front page as news came in,” Rupert said. “We ended up putting the three editions together and sold them as a package.”
Rupert said a lot of big things such as JFK’s assassination happened over the years. Another was decades later, on Sept. 11, 2001.
Rupert said he could remember coming up the stairs into the newsroom on that day, stepping into its conference room and seeing the second tower get hit.
“We heard about the first one and we came up stairs. No more did we get into the room and we saw the second (plane) hit the building,” he said.
Even through the hardships and the long days and nights, Rupert is thankful for his time at The Express.
“We were like a family. We had parties together, played softball, had picnics,” he said.