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Calumet County, Wisconsin Genealogy & History
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Otto J. Zander

Jill Zander shared this Biography


Otto's Story


Otto was born 8 Jan 1872 in Gibson, Manitowoc County, Wisconsin to Fred and Rosa Zander. He married Anna Isabella Trossen on 31 Aug 1897 and together they had three children. Their first child, a daughter, Juanita, was born 9 Jun 1898 and died on 13 Oct 1898 and is buried in Brillion Community Cemetery. Otto and Isabel's two surviving children were Lucile and Elliot.

Otto received a common primary education up to grade 8 in a two-room school as was typical of the times. A disastrous fire thwarted Fred and Rosa's dreams of sending their children to college and as a result, Fred insisted that his children pursue the very noble profession of teaching. Having earned a third grade teacher's certificate at the age of 17, Otto taught in the district schools of Saxonville, Meeme, and Centerville. He taught for seven years while earning $45 per month.

Otto's dream of becoming an editor was still calling out to him so he took his savings of $300 and began an apprenticeship at a printing plant in Manitowoc. He stayed there for two years earning $4 per week for his labor and his supposed "partnership." Otto sensed that there was imminent financial ruin for the firm and decided to cut his losses, his $300 investment, and decided to try a new avenue towards reaching his ultimate goal. He went to Chicago where he enrolled at the Chicago Art Institute for several months. This coincided with the time period of the Chicago World's Fair. Not caring for the financial pressure, Otto decided to return home and went back to teaching for another three years, this time in the Mishicot School District.

In 1899, Otto bought The Brillion News from Jay A. Matthews for a sum of $450, his life savings at the time, and published it continuously until his retirement. Otto was the first of five previous owners to make this newspaper a success and the subscription list rose steadily from 300 to 925 a week under his leadership, after he first eliminated the 200 delinquent subscribers. When he bought The News, it was a five column, eight-page newspaper that was printed one page at a time on a foot-powered Cordon jobber. The foot-powered press was another good reason to eliminate the delinquent subscribers, although Otto was a young man, he didn't feel his legs were up to the task of printing newspapers for non-paying customers. Apparently, the advertisers did not mind as Otto claimed that most of the advertising was charity anyhow, to help the printer.


The Wisconsin Historical Society holds the copyright for this photograph

Otto always made it clear that the previous owners of The News were good newspaper men, skillful typesetters, and that they should have been successful financially. However, Otto had one skill to his advantage that these men did not possess; the ability to read, write, and speak German. In 1899, Brillion's population was predominantly German and it was at a time when German language newspapers were readily available and the preferred form of publication to the general population of the area. Otto referred to the previous owners as having a "linguistic handicap" which made it impossible for them to click with the community.

The early years were difficult for the family. Both Otto and Isabel worked late into the night. Isabel was known to curl up on a tabletop to nap while Otto finished setting type. When the work was done, they would go home together.

Otto's teachers always said he should be an editor. He always turned in longer compositions and used bigger words than any of his classmates. Otto penned the following letter in The Brillion News during the week he took over ownership of the paper: "As will be seen by an announcement elsewhere, we have purchased and assumed charge of The Brillion News. It shall be our endeavor to make The News, everything that its name signifies; to furnish our readers with a bright readable sheet. To place before advertisers a circulating medium that will secure the best possible returns of their investments; to discuss current events in a dignified and nonpartisan spirit. In our opinion, the times demand an independent and candid discussion of national problems. At the same time we recognize the fact that the editor of a paper should aim to cover the best sentiments of every class of his patrons without regard to political of factional differences. We hope that the acquaintance hereby formed may ripen into most friendly feeling, and that the relations established between the public and this office may prove mutually pleasant and profitable. We should be glad to meet personally with those already doing or intending to do business with us and we cordially invite such to call in and see us whenever convenient."{1}

Otto owned and operated The Brillion News for almost forty years. During that time, he was instrumental in the development and advancement of his community. He was very proud of the fact that after all of those years, his fellow citizens of Brillion could not determine his personal political viewpoints such was the unbiased reporting of his newspaper. He said as much to his cousin Arnold W. Zander in a letter he wrote to him on 29 February 1940 stating, "I have a little nook in one corner of my paper where I waddle around in journalistically appealing and have all kinds of fun razzing and hazing dignified statesmen and politicians and who are trying to spoon-feed people. It is a lot of fun and I have kept free of all entangling alliances, as Washington would say. At a meeting of our Lions Club a few years ago, one of my friends here introduced me for a talk saying, 'I've known Zander for over 30 years and I still don't know whether he's a democrat, republican, or socialist.' Strange to say I felt flattered, for that is exactly the status I want to maintain through my little newspaper; where I can say what I care to say on any subject at any time regardless of political affiliation and no expectation of "Pap" or political reward from any source. I have made my living off my friends and neighbors here at Brillion and no politician owes me anything; which is exactly as much as I owe him. In my editorial column, I discuss public questions as they arise and in my own way."

{1}"Brillion Wisconsin The First 100 Years," Laura Behnke, Elliot Zander, Robert Van Enkenvoort, Zane & Noel Zander Copyright 1985.

Otto was liberal in his political views and showed a constant and effective interest in local public affairs. For 33 years he served as a member of the school board, and also served one term as the village clerk, he served one term as justice of the peace, and a member of the income tax board of review for Calumet County. He was a member of the Masonic fraternity, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the Modern Woodmen of America and the Beavers, and was secretary of the Brillion Advancement Association.

When Otto's ownership of the Brillion News passed the quarter century mark, he was quoted in the Manitowoc Herald on April 16, 1924, as saying, "It's really great to be a country editor. A country weekly editor. With time enough to edit, joy enough to laugh and increment sufficient enough to bid your neighbor home and break bread with you the while your little community's weighty problems are happily and thoroughly solved." Another witty quote that sums up Otto's approach to the success of his paper follows, "I've never felt the need of staging journalistic circuses to keep the people interested in their home community. I don't claim to have created that interest. I just banked on it. I have made my paper the continuous and cumulative record of the people's community activities." This attitude was also reflected on Otto's letterhead. At the top of the letterhead was printed, "The only newspaper in the world that speaks for this community."

Otto died July 25, 1944 at the age of 72. At the time of his death, a newspaper colleague said, "I run a newspaper to make a living and more, too, if I can. Otto edited a newspaper because he liked it."

Otto said of his chosen path, "Mere money is no compensation at all to the kick we get out of community advancements which our little sheets continually promote…It's a great game, and after nearly forty years of performance in this one-ring circus, I am able to look back on it all and say that it was worthwhile."


Elliot's Story

Elliot T. Zander was born February 5, 1907 to Otto and Isabel Zander. He went through the public school system in Brillion, graduating from Brillion High School in 1925. Elliot went on to study at Carlton College and in 1927 began his professional career at The Brillion News.

As a boy, Elliot would work at The News helping his father just like many other young boys in town. In the book "Brillion, The First 100 Years," he recalled the work he did around 1916, when he was allowed to help with the job of printing pocket checks for the local bank. His job included perforating, stapling and binding. He referred to it as "Saturday work."

In 1930, Elliot married Margaret Specht. Just as Isabel assisted Otto, Margaret also took up various duties at The Brillion News her foremost job being the bookkeeper. At the time of their marriage, Margaret recalled that Elliot was a linotype operator making $30 per week. She commented that, "in those days you just made a comfortable living….I enjoyed every minute."

In 1944, after the death of his father, Elliot took over as publisher and editor of The Brillion News. He became known for his "tell it like it is" editorials. Occasionally, his editorials were cited in official congressional journals and by other newspapers. In an interview that ran in The Appleton Post Crescent in 1964, Elliot made the following comment: "I never pull any punches in my editorials, but my objective is to inspire our readers to think. A strong editorial does not necessarily mean that I am right. I am subject to human errors, but if I can get the people to think about specific matters, I think I have done my job."

Elliot also implemented several changes at The Brillion News; he endorsed the use of the Diamond Valley layout style that later became a journalistic standard. The style was published in a textbook used at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In an effort to accommodate the shopping habits of the citizens of Brillion, Elliot changed the publication date of The Brillion News from Friday to Thursday. He directed two building projects for the business. The first was a remodeling of the office on Main Street and the second was the construction of an addition to the same office in 1964. In 1965, Elliot and his sons, Zane and Noel, made the decision to incorporate the business.

As his father before him, Elliot was elected for a term as president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association in 1953. Through the Association, Elliot and Margaret were able to establish many friendships. By 1973, Elliot retired and turned the helm over to his sons. His retirement, however, did not keep him away from the paper. He visited often and enjoyed sharing some words of wisdom to the new breed of inspiring journalists.

As the charter member of the Brillion Historical Society, he was a lifetime member of the organization. He was also a member of the Odd Fellows fraternity and the Lions Club. For 12 years he was Brillion's justice of the peace and served on the fire department for 25 years. He died at his home on January 5, 1991, at the age of 83. He was a true servant to the community of Brillion.


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