CARO — Rudy Petzold, longtime community stalwart, award-winning and inspiring journalist, and former editor, publisher and owner of The Tuscola County Advertiser, died Saturday at age 82.
Petzold had been living at the Medilodge (Tendercare) Nursing Home in Frankenmuth and died after a long period of declining health.
The news saddened many who worked with him throughout his career in Caro, with just about everyone who knew him seeming to have at least one “Rudy story” from his four decades as a newspaperman in Tuscola County.
“He was quite a guy. A colorful character and really a unique personality in the newspaper business for his era,” said Brett McLaughlin, publisher of The Tuscola County Advertiser for 10 years between 1991-2001. “He just had such a sense of what community journalism needed to be.”
McLaughlin was the first full-time reporter hired at The Tuscola County Advertiser in 1972. He recalled his first week at the newspaper, when he didn’t know where to begin to look for stories. Petzold walked by and asked what McLaughlin was working on.
“I said ‘I’m trying to come up with a good story idea, Rudy,’” McLaughlin said. “Long story short, he sends me out to a house on M-81, just past Ellington and says ‘They got a great story there.’ I said ‘What is it?’ and he says ‘Just go, you’ll find out.’
“I went and I knocked on the door and these people didn’t have a clue what the great story was,” McLaughlin said. “I can’t remember what the story was but I can tell you I came back with something.
“His point was, there’s a story at every door. He believed everybody had a story to tell and somebody else cared to hear it so get out there and write it,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin said Petzold understood the balance needed in successful community journalism.
“The first time I went too far in terms of maybe being too harsh, he was quick to remind me ‘You know, we tell the truth, but we do it with some charity,”” McLaughlin said. “Because that person that you’re writing about in jail could very well be sitting next to you in church next Sunday.”
Petzold was born in Millington on March 26, 1933 and graduated cum laude from Vassar High School before attending Michigan State University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He served in the U.S. Army between World War II and the Korean War before returning to the Thumb region.
Petzold’s list of accomplishments throughout the community are almost countless.
To name a few, he was president of The Rotary Club of Caro and served as a member of the Caro Community Schools Board of Education, Caro Historical Commission, and director at the State Savings Bank of Caro. He was named Caro Citizen of the Year in 1974.
Petzold was a founding board member of Caro’s Downtown Development Authority and one of three men who created the Thumb Meet of Champions track meet in 1973, one of Michigan’s first Olympic style track meets for high-school athletes, awarding them gold, silver and bronze medals in each event. That event also continues today.
Petzold also helped establish the Tuscola County Advertiser Bowler of the Year tournament, a county tournament that continues today though no longer sponsored by the newspaper.
It was with his support that the Lead Tuscola organization was able to get off the ground, said Tom Young, a Tuscola County Board of Commissioners member.
“When we started Lead Tuscola 20 years ago, we had no money,” Young said. “But Brett (McLaughlin) and Rudy gave us a helping hand by printing some fliers for us.
“If it hadn’t been for The Advertiser, we probably wouldn’t have Lead Tuscola.”
Petzold’s life centered on being a journalist, going back to the time when he attended a one-room rural parochial school and edited his first newspaper, the St. Paul’s Gazette, in sixth grade.
In high school, he worked as a part-time reporter for the Vassar Pioneer-Times, which he would later own.
While serving as a non-commissioned officer in the U.S. Army with Cleveland Nike Missile Defense Command, he edited the Command newspaper, The Nike.
He returned to Caro and joined The Tuscola County Advertiser as a reporter before becoming editor and its owner and publisher for 25 years.
“He lived that newspaper,” said Arlene Wirth of Vassar, who worked for more than 30 years for Petzold – 19 of them with the advertising department.
“He was the first one there in the morning and the last one to leave at night, being that his apartment was right above The Advertiser,” Wirth said. “He set a good example. You saw him and you wanted to work hard, the way he did.”
Wirth recalled Petzold as a talented writer with a special skill at laying out the newspaper – who put in long hours and paid attention to detail.
“Publishers from across the country would call and congratulate him on special sections that we went way above and beyond on as the county newspaper,” Wirth said. “He knew how to use color, and he never held back. He wanted his stuff to look good. Where other people, I think, might have tried to save money, he didn’t do that. He wanted a good finished product.”
During his time as a publisher, the newspaper was awarded more than 100 awards of excellence by the Michigan Press Association, three times was named the state’s best weekly newspaper by the University Press Club of Michigan, and was designated a state historical site.
Petzold also oversaw coverage of embattled President Richard Nixon’s visit to the Thumb area in 1974, deploying reporters and advertising sales representatives with cameras to photograph and report the event.
“He had photographers stationed at all of the key places,” Wirth said. “You knew where you had to be and you had to go like the devil to get your film back to Caro. That night, before midnight, he had a special section on the street, delivered to all the newsstands, of the president’s visit to the Thumb. It was an outstanding section he put together.”
Carl Palmateer, village president, Cass City, said Petzold put just as much effort into covering everyday events in the community.
Palmateer, 84, a former deputy with the Tuscola County Sheriff’s Office, said there were times in the 1950s when he would be the only deputy on duty in the county during the nightshift.
Petzold would ride along with him just in case there was news to cover.
“He would ride along with me up until midnight or so because he still had to work at the paper the next day,” Palmateer said. “We each had our own set of experiences and would help each other out. We were just close friends.
“He was an ace of a fella,” Palmateer said.
Harry Gabalis was hired by Petzold in 1971 in the Heritage Press print shop.
“(Rudy) was a great person overall for the community, not just the business,” said Gabalis, who would eventually buy the shop and own it before retiring.
Gabalis said almost every morning Petzold would go to the Oasis in Caro and meet with various community and business leaders over breakfast.
“They would sit there and talk and he would pick up ideas from the town,” Gabalis said. “He would come back and talk with the editors about the stories.
“You could dig in his past and I don’t think you could find anyone who would ever say anything bad about him,” Gabalis said.
“He always said the employees were his family, because he never had any kids and he never married,” Wirth said. “He would always throw a picnic in the summer months, and there was always a Christmas party. You would always receive a Christmas card from him, and the letter in that would always state how much he appreciated everything that you did for him.”
In 1983, Petzold suffered a near-fatal cerebral aneurysm that crippled his left arm and leg. He turned 50 while in the hospital.
“We didn’t know if he would live that day,” said McLaughlin, who had been named editor two weeks prior.
He was able to recover to some degree, and would continue writing, even serving as president of the Michigan Press Association in 1986. However, McLaughlin said Petzold had lost a step or two that one can’t afford to lose in the newspaper business.
In 1988 he sold the paper to McDurmon Media Corp., which sold it to current owner, Edwards Publications about a year later. Edwards named Petzold “Publisher Emeritus” – his name is on the door to this day – though McLaughlin said Petzold “more or less retired” when he sold the paper.
In 1992, Petzold published the book “Reflections of a Country Publisher” that included writings from throughout his career.
The book included part of his inaugural address as president of the Michigan Press Association.
Petzold addressed how he would describe what he does if someone walked into his business and asked what he was doing. He said this is how he might answer:
- …I have a very special challenge and opportunity in this community.
- I am not too important in my community but I try to be important to my community.
- I chronicle and preserve the on-going history of my community – not just stories about the big shots but about wonderful everyday folks as well.
- I focus attention on my community problems, its needs and challenges and try to arouse people to do something about them.
- I try to stand up for the little guy and try to be brave enough to stand up to the big guy if he gets too pushy.
- I make heroes out of the good people in my town who do things that might otherwise get missed …young football heroes, pretty beauty queens, wonderful neighbors, talented craftsmen, happy newlyweds, delightful jubilarians. I have the honor and joy of recording their special moments that, summed together, make up life in my community.
- I also have the job of pegging the heels in our community…isolating the few who use, or rather abuse their power, money or public trusts at the expense of the rest.
- I am sort of an unofficial member of every club and committee, because I help promote and publicize their good work and help their civic projects succeed.
- I don’t make a lot of money…some months none at all, but I feel well paid with a feeling of fulfillment and of being someone special and useful to many people in this community.
What do I do?
I am a newspaperman.
The Petzold family will receive friends on Wednesday July 27, 2016 at
the Hanlin Funeral Home in Millington from 3:00 pm to 8:00 pm. On
Thursday there will be a brief time of visitation at St. Paul Lutheran
Church from 10: 00 am until the services begin. Funeral services for
Rudy will be held on Thursday July 28, 2016 at 11:00 am at the St.
Paul Lutheran Church in Millington. Pastor James Bruner will deliver
the funeral message and the closing committal prayer at the cemetery.
Burial will be at the Millington Twp. Cemetery; Military Honors will
be conducted. Memorial gifts of remembrance can be directed to the
St. Paul Lutheran Church. Hanlin Funeral Home has been assiiting the
family. You’re welcome to express personal condolences, share a
memory, or light a memory candle at hanlinfuneralhome.com.
Rudy Petzold’s obituary can be found at http://bit.ly/2adP76H