Marquette Monthly—the early years, by Mary Kinnunen

Late September, 1987
Musak, if memory serves me well, was playing in the Marquette Mall’s auburn foyer outside Angeli’s Super Valu. I was sitting on a bench conducting market research, watching shoppers and window shoppers walk by the stand piled high with hot-off-the-press premiere editions of Marquette Monthly.
Couples and singles, groups of teens and families with tots and grandparents dawdled through. How could they not see the newsstand with this perky new magazine that you didn’t even need a quarter to read?
A man, about fifty, stopped, adjusted his glasses and leaned over the stand. He cocked his head at the cover, drawn by my sister Sandra, featuring the facades of the Delft (Snow White and Dragnet were playing), Donckers and Superior View and a corner of the Nordic marquee. It was a warm tribute to the downtown we had walked to many times from our house on Second Street.
On one of those walks in the ’70s, I found E.F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful at the Peter White Public Library. Even though I would go on to not do very well in my Econ classes at the University of Michigan, Schumacher had jibed with and enlightened my general outlook on such matters, and his economic theory eventually would provide the cornerstone on which Marquette Monthly was built.
The man left with only his sack of groceries. More people walked by oblivious to the Fun, Informative and Free offerings just begging to be taken. I mean, look at the cover! No ads! No bad news! No sad news! Not even a teaser to junk it up.
Maybe people wanted to be teased, I thought as more people shuffled past. Should I have plastered, “Hot Pumpkin Carving Tips!” on the cover?
No. People would get it. I just knew.
A mother with children—one in the cart, one holding her hand and one imitating an airplane—exited the grocery store, where she stopped abruptly mid-stride, craning her neck at the stack of papers. The hand-holder kept tugging her toward the door, there was a bit of whining, but she kept looking. Then she stepped back and flipped it open to the Table of Contents, which listed 20 pages of stuff. It was agony, but she left with a paper tucked under her arm. Score!

Rupert and Me
People get into publishing for all sorts of reasons. My motivation was to get back to the U.P., hot from a job at a glossy rag and, before that, an Ann Arbor ad agency. My daughter Eleanor was three years old. My then-husband, the drummer Mr. Largebeat, was skeptical, but willing. (He would return to Ann Arbor a couple of years later.)
While doing page layout for the glossy rag, Automobile, I’d flown monthly with the managing editor to New York to check page proofs. One night at an expense-account dinner, during which we sipped a good cab and savored the foie grass melting in our mouths, I asked her about the budget.
“Don’t know,” she replied. “I’ve never seen one.”
The story goes that Aussie Murdoch, the magazine’s publisher, fancied this American foray and was funding it to whatever level it took to succeed. The magazine featured nice, mostly really nice, automobiles and the culture that surrounded them.
If Automobile was the 24 Hours of LeMans of magazines, then Marquette Monthly was the Kick the Can of magazines. It’s a beautiful game in which one must rely on one’s own resources, be nimble and patient, appreciate nuance and then, when the time is perfect, run like hell.

Super Backers
Sister Sandra was immensely important in the months preceding and proceeding the first issue, offering her splendid drawings, editorial insight and atta-girl encouragement. She brought a fine aesthetic to the page layout and she bought the filing cabinet.
My friend Paul Onstad, who’d introduced me to Mac computers on Thanksgiving Day, 1984, donated his Mac 512, on which the early issues were typeset. Babette Welch generously offered the laser printer I used to run off text and ads.
The magazine was produced in the family home. My folks had retired and were spending winters in Florida and summers at the homestead farm in the Keweenaw, so the den was available.

With a page mock-up and rate card in hand, I set out one bright morning for a walk down Third Street on the make-or-break ad sales trip. The Cat’s Meow, Scandinavian Gifts and White’s Party Store were quickly aboard. The list goes on, and in this issue, you’ll find them. Bless them.

Writers and Artists
One thing Sandra and I were sure of as we mulled the magazine’s prospects in her suburban Detroit living room during the winter of 1986, was the talent in Marquette County.
MM always has relied on freelancers such as photographer Tom Buchkoe and writer Leonard Heldreth who appeared in the first issue and are still with the magazine today. Dick Armstrong, the distribution muscle, also has been a trooper.
While never, of course, being paid their true worth, contributors were paid fairly—in fact, twenty years later, those rates are comparable in real dollars to other present-day magazines. Many good writers and artists submit work, and I hope they have enjoyed seeing it published in these pages as much as have the readers.
Full-time paid staff consisted of me and an assistant, and in my later years, an ad salesperson.

When the editorial and advertising content was ready, production sprang into action. Our tools—from my first issue in 1987 to my last issue in 1992—were X-Acto knives, Sharpies, masking tape, transparency paper, a hot waxer and a burnisher. Columns of type and the ads were waxed to paste-up board, then boxed up with an envelope of photos and sent to the Soo for printing.
Although the production was old school, the music we played during those intense hours was contemporary, and vital, as music, coffee and Diet Coke were our fuel.
I remember playing The Eurhythmics, Sonic Youth and Big Audio Dynamite. Mari Fleet, the NMU graphic art graduate who responded to an ad calling for a “Marquette Monthly Slave,” e-mailed me her paste-up/boom-box recollections:
“Braindead Sound Machine, Come Down from the Hills and Make My Baby, got the wax flowing. The Pretenders’ Greatest Hits. My Life with Thrill Kill Cult. Brian Eno and John Cale’s Wrong Way Up. The Cramps. Laibach. And always, as I remember it, in the wee hours of the morning (but not until there was an end in sight and we could relax a bit), The Art of Noise’s The Ambient Collection played repeatedly until the damned thing was taped safely in its box. At which point the sun was generally rising over the Lower Harbor.”
After so many years, Fleet, a.k.a. “Smudge,” still rolls out the paste-up attitude.

Crime and Curto
I’m not sure which is more notorious. When the Crime Map, with its scattering of circles, squares and stars first appeared, I got calls. Some people thought it would give the wrong impression to tourists. I replied that most tourists would look at that map and marvel at how low our city’s crime was.
The first time I heard the words “calling my attorney” was after Don Curto poked fun at the name of a muffin. Don signed on to do the food column after we ran into each other in the Frame Factory. I knew him as the Bagel & Ladle guy, and he asked me whether I was the person publishing Marquette Monthly. I nodded. Then he said, “Love it. But the food column is terrible.”
“Why don’t you write it?” was my reply. This taught me to be very careful about making similar offers in the future.

MM Miscellanea
Within a year after debuting, the magazine’s vibe was progressively good and a tad irreverent; its circulation and ad sales were increasing seemingly under its own power.
The office was moved from the house to the second floor of the Wattsson & Wattsson building, where one afternoon while Babette and I were chatting, a woman walked in. Dressed smartly in a tweed cape and a red beret with matching gloves and lipstick, she said, “I read your magazine.” (Here I sort of remember her adding, “enjoy it,” but that may be fantasy.) She handed me a copy, saying, “you misspelled a word.”
Then she turned around and left. I opened it to find the word circled in red ink and, believe me, I’ve never dropped a raccoon’s consonant since.
It was in that office where late one evening I was startled to notice a man outside the window. He waved to me from his cherry picker and I took a break to watch him move down Washington Street, stringing Christmas lights.
A few years later, MM found itself in the middle of new Marquette tradition. With expanded offices now on the third floor, Smudge was doing paste-up during the first UP200.
There weren’t many people downtown when the last few teams crossed the finish line, so when a racer’s name was announced, she’d throw the window open and yell congratulations.
In the mix of this, I fell in love with Jeff Eaton, who happened to be city editor for the Mining Journal. Not long after, he enrolled in Northern’s English graduate program, as well as becoming a contributor to MM. One night near the end of his studies, he came home and said he’d been offered a chance to participate in an exchange program between NMU and a Chinese teacher’s college. Did I want to go? I said yes, and in August 1992, the magazine was sold to Pat Ryan-O’Day shortly before Jeff, Ellie and I left for a year in Chengdu, Sichuan, PRC. Jeff’s parting “Arts in These Parts” column was about township participation in library funding.

MM and NC
For me, the story of MM will forever be tied to that of New Coke. With much ballyhoo, in 1985 Coca-Cola, Inc. abandoned its formula for something that tasted like Pepsi. In the buzz of millions of dollars invested in market research and advertising, New Coke failed spectacularly and was pulled from the shelves three months after its debut.
Whereas MM, that nimble Kick the Can of a magazine, with zero spent on market research (well, $1 on market research—while in Ann Arbor, I had written to area media asking them for rate cards) and the same on advertising, has grown into a trusted community friend. I take this twenty-year-anniversary as proof of Schumacher’s theory.

Copper Country Visit
Jeff and I recently made a trip to the Kinnunen family gravesite in Nisula, where my father, Reino, and frequent MM contributor, mother Sylvia, are buried. Although best known for her historical columns, early on, mom created the crossword puzzles.
She drew them on yellow legal paper and then I’d painstakingly Press-Type every ‘answer’ letter in a grid I’d run off on the computer. I remember us marveling at the elegance of the crossword software program I’d finally tracked down.
From Nisula, Jeff and I drove to Hancock for a pasty lunch and a stop in the Keweenaw Co-op. Ever the champion, I told the deli clerk, “Saw your ad in Marquette Monthly.”
He smiled. How sweet it is.
—Mary Kinnunen

Editor’s Note: Mary Kinnunen is the founding editor and publisher of MM. Mary and Jeff live in Rhinelander (Wisconsin).

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