Remembering the Express

A long look back at a local institution’s 135-year run

By Jennifer Moody
For the Lebanon Local

Suzan Namitz wanted to get to know the town when she and her husband first moved to Lebanon 55 years ago. Subscribing to The Lebanon Express seemed the quickest way.
She’d look first at the ads, especially the garage sales. She’d page through the calendar events, the obituaries, the wedding and birth announcements, the sports section.
“What’s going on? Who did what?” she said. “Everyone read the paper.”
In recent years, however, Namitz stopped subscribing. The Express was much thinner, she noted, and canned county and state information had replaced much of the hometown news. It was no longer a weekly draw.
She hadn’t known publication of the 135-year-old weekly was about to cease altogether – as it did, with little fanfare, on Wednesday, Jan. 18 – but she wasn’t surprised.
“It’s a sign of the times, and I’m sad,” Namitz said. “I’m sad about it.”
The Lebanon Express is the seventh mainstream Oregon newspaper to go dark in the past two years, its demise coming less than one week after the Jan. 13 shuttering of the Mail Tribune in Medford. Most were more than a century old.
The Ashland Daily Tidings closed in 2021. Four other papers shut down in 2022: The Stayton Mail, The Rogue Valley Messenger, The Pendleton Record and The Silverton Appeal-Tribune. The Catholic Sentinel also ceased publishing last year.
Stated reasons vary, including everything from a drop in advertising to rising costs of newsprint to readers shifting to online platforms. A global pandemic that closed multiple businesses didn’t exactly help.
Penny Rosenberg, editor in chief of The Albany Democrat-Herald and the editor of record for The Lebanon Express in its final years, declined to comment on reasons for the closure. Emailed messages left with Lee Enterprises, the parent company, were not returned.
Subscribers learned of the closure through a two-sentence notice dated Jan. 5 that came in the mail. “This letter is to inform you that as of 1/18/2023 we will no longer be Publishing a Lebanon Express newspaper,” it read. “We want to thank you all for the Local Support that kept the Lebanon Express paper going as long as it did.”
It was signed “Lebanon Express” and included a phone number for questions: Albany’s circulation department.
Rep. Jami Cate, R-Lebanon, posted the letter on a Facebook page for people who grew up in the community. Her family had subscribed to The Express when she was a child, and she purchased her own subscription as an elected official in 2020.
“I just hadn’t seen anyone mention it was ending,” she said.
Comments on Cate’s post echoed Namitz’ reaction: sadness, but not surprise. Other residents, subscribers and former staff members agreed. No one batted an eye at the announcement that publication would cease. Several said they didn’t realize it hadn’t quit already.
With its in-town office closed for more than five years and the last in-house editor having departed shortly afterward, The Express, readers said, really left long ago.
In fact, they said, that’s what they’d miss most: the paper they used to read.
“The talented writers of columns over the years brought smiles and thought provoking stories to our community,” one Facebook poster said. “They wrote of news in our surrounding areas like Sodaville, Lacomb, Hamilton Creek, Gore, Tennessee, etc., of garden clubs and grange meetings and other activities that made for real community.”
“I have articles of my toddler birthday parties, an article I wrote for Scouts about my grandfather building over 100 homes in Lebanon post WWII,” added another. “Truly a paper that reported on the People.”

KAE HAYDEN, at right in print dress, smiles while helping staffers with inserting, circa 1940s. Photo courtesy of Tony Hayden

The Paper That Could

Lebanon was paperless for its first four decades as a city. According to a special 120th year edition published in 2007, the first issue of The Express – four pages long – was printed Feb. 26, 1887.
“It’s high time,” owner and publisher J.H. Stine wrote in his first editorial, “for Lebanon to have a good, up-to-date newspaper.”
A handful of other papers fought The Express for dominance in those early days: The Criterion (later the Linn County Advocate), which began in 1898 and shut down about a decade later, The Advance, which dates to the early 1890s and which the Express bought out, and The Tribune, which folded in 1913 after a year in business.
In 1924, The Express and The Criterion were sold to one ownership, known as Alexander and McMillan. Twelve years later, the partnership sold The Express to R.M. “Bob” Hayden and H.W. Fredericks. Hayden, who bought out Fredericks, remained publisher until 1971, when he sold the paper to Glenn L. Jackson.
The Jackson family already owned the Albany Democrat-Herald. Under its business banner, The Democrat-Herald Publishing Co., the Jacksons bought the Ashland Daily Tidings the same week as they purchased Lebanon, remembered John Buchner of Albany, former publisher for both Albany and Lebanon.
“It was a strategic effort at the time to protect the D-H from potential daily competition in east Linn County,” he said.
In 1980, after Jackson’s death, the Albany properties became part of a chain called Capital Cities. “Cap” Cities purchased the American Broadcasting Company, better known as ABC, a few years later. The Walt Disney Company briefly owned the papers after purchasing ABC/Cap Cities in 1996, but sold them the following year to the present owner, Lee Enterprises, which already owned the Corvallis Gazette-Times.
Over the decades, The Express saw changes in both location and technology.

Robert Hayden at 13 with his friend, “Mr. JW Walker,” works on the pair’s edition of the “D” Street News.

J.H. Stine’s first press was housed in a frame building on downtown Main Street. Alexander and McMillan printed from the corner of Main and Sherman. Hayden and Fredericks had a new building constructed especially for the paper, complete with a pit for a new, modern press, at Sherman and Second streets. The paper moved in 1958 to its last location, a former Buick dealership at the corner of Park and Grant.
For much of its life, The Express was published once a week. That rose to twice in the 1940s, when, under Hayden’s ownership, the paper acquired a new Intertype mixer, known as “one of the finest typesetting machines available,” according to the paper’s centennial publication in 1987.
Later, the switch to offset printing allowed briefly for three publications per week – Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays – but by the early 1970s, the paper was down to twice a week. By 1985, it was back to just printing once.
The paper had its own in-house press until sometime in the ’70s, when Hayden sent it to be printed in Springfield, which had an offset printing press, much more efficient but also much more expensive than the hand-set type the paper had been using. When Albany took over, printing moved to the Democrat-Herald.
Tony Hayden, Bob Hayden’s son, was there for most of those changes. Born in 1939, the younger Hayden grew up at The Express, doing almost every job there was to do. He wrote stories, delivered papers and eventually became the first staff photographer.
“I didn’t sell ads,” he said. “That was the only thing.”
Under Bob Hayden, The Express was an extension of a community conversation. It carried wedding, birth and funeral announcements – all written as news stories rather than as short legal notices or paid advertisements – as well as weekly columns from neighborhood writers in Waterloo, Crowfoot and Sodaville.

CHRISTMAS CARD photo, above, with Bob, Kae and Tony Hayden, who was about 18 months at the time. Photo courtesy of Tony Hayden

The last independent owner and publisher of The Express, Hayden was practically born a newsman, his son remembered. As a boy growing up in Tacoma, Bob used a mimeograph machine to print single-sheet, tissue-thin copies of his own neighborhood “paper,” which he dubbed “The D Street News” after his home address. (“Big Fight in Neighborhood,” read one headline from May 1923, detailing an altercation between siblings that started with a squirt of water and ended with sister sitting atop brother to give him a good pummeling.)
In 1952, Bob Hayden published a special, 5-cent “extra” edition of The Express with a banner headline announcing plans by President Harry Truman to visit Lebanon and speak about the new Lebanon Community Hospital. The hospital, noted the paper, was the 1,000th project to be completed under the 1946 Hill-Burton Act, which authorized government help for public and nonprofit medical facilities.
The visit was supposed to have been kept under wraps until an official, exclusive release. However, rumors became so loud and widespread the paper chose to print the story early.
“Accordingly, this special edition is published to show The Express, although only a twice-weekly publication always makes a determined effort to bring Lebanon news to Lebanon readers first, despite generous though costly time on the part of its workers,” the article concluded.
In the end, Truman never made it to town, but Tony Hayden still likes the story. It was indicative, he agreed, of his father’s spirit and of what he felt a community paper should be.

TONY HAYDEN with a framed copy of a photo of The Lebanon Express’ location at Second and Sherman streets. Photo by Jennifer Moody

Changing Community

Pat Patterson became publisher after The Express came under Democrat-Herald ownership. When he left in 1984 to publish The Springfield News (closure year: 2006), Hal Brayton was recruited from the Lake County Examiner to take his place.
Glenn Cushman was the regional vice president in charge of Cap Cities then, overseeing the Oregon newspapers and the shopper publications known as the Nickel Ads. Cushman and Patterson had been discussing taking The Express back to a weekly from a twice weekly, something Patterson didn’t want to do. A year or so into his employment, Brayton remembered, that suggestion became a directive.
The Crown Zellerbach pulp and paper company, a 90-year-old business that once employed more than 200 people, shut down in Lebanon in 1980. Even so, in the early 1980s in Linn County, timber was still king. Lumber mills, logging companies and trucking industries combined to keep the economy strong – initially.
“You had many, many retail businesses that were locally owned, and they made local ad decisions. A newspaper only is able to operate if it has enough local advertising,” Brayton said. “It was a different world.”
That was soon to change.
A combination of factors began to draw down the power of the timber industry, including the increasing scarcity of big trees, rising costs for both men and machines, and the environmental controversy over the disappearance of habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl. In 1990, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially listed the owl as “threatened,” which led to logging restrictions on federal lands.
“I remember (President Bill) Clinton coming to Portland for a roundtable with local leaders to solve this controversy,” Brayton said.
The result, he said, was an end to logging in the Willamette National Forest, which had provided timber and forestry jobs for much of east Linn County. “That started to impact Lebanon.”
Lebanon’s plywood mill shut down in 1984 and the Lebanon hardwood plant closed two decades later. By the early 2000s,Weyerhaeuser had shut its big area mills, too. “Main Street was dominated by thrift stores and empty storefronts,” Linda Ziedrich wrote of Lebanon for the Oregon Historical Society’s “Oregon Encyclopedia.”
The growth of supercenter retail chains in the last decades of the 20th century also had an effect on local businesses. The first Walmart in northwest Oregon opened in Lebanon on March 1, 1992 (a Walmart in Klamath Falls opened Feb. 29, but Lebanon’s store recorded the first official sale).
The arrival of the supercenter in the mid-valley was a big story for The Express, Brayton remembered, and helped boost the paper to a first-place Best Newspaper award for its size category from the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association.
“We had a news editor at that time who was on top of the rumors about Walmart coming to town,” he said. “One of the papers in that month (submitted for judging), the headline was, ‘It’s Walmart’ leading the very front of the front page, because rumors had been swirling for a while that Walmart was going to come to Oregon and they were coming to Lebanon.”
By the mid-1990s, the biggest employer in Lebanon wasn’t in Lebanon at all, but in Corvallis, in the form of the technology company Hewlett-Packard. Locals referred to Lebanon as a “bedroom community,” Brayton said, a place where people sleep but don’t necessarily work or shop. He eventually joined their ranks.

TONY HAYDEN as a teenager works the press in the old Express building on Second and Sherman, “probably adjusting the type so it wouldn’t tear the copy.” Photo courtesy of Tony Hayden

Express Delivery

Debbie Hedger of Virginia grew up in Lebanon and well remembers the town of the 1980s. Born in 1971, she was eager to turn 13 and have her first paper route.
At the time, Lebanon, like many papers of the era, had a press deadline and a circulation department that made it possible for children with bicycles to deliver the product as easily – perhaps even more so – as adults with cars.
The Express was still being published twice a week when Hedger first started deliveries. Paper trucks would drop off stacks at her house at barely dawn.
“They had to be delivered quite early. I think you had to have them there no later than 7 o’clock in the morning,” Hedger said. “You’re getting up at 5:30 in the morning, sitting there, rolling them, rubberbanding them, putting them in plastic bags and loading them into nifty little sacks that hung over you in the front and back … then you got on your little bike, and off you went.”
Hedger rode a blue 10-speed, a gift from her sister who had bought it while in the Marine Corps. She sent it home with a fellow soldier who was traveling to Washington so it would make it in time for her little sister’s birthday.
Paper carriers had to buy their papers from The Express and then collect from the people on their route. The papers cost customers 25 cents each, so the route might bring the carrier a few dollars a month per customer – more if they tipped, less if they dodged collection day, Hedger recalled. She delivered in the Sherman and Grant street neighborhoods near Green Acres Elementary School and usually made about $20.
“Pretty much the whole reason I wanted to have my paper route was to support my Barbie habit,” Hedger recalled, laughing.
She also liked to patronize businesses now long since vanished: Odyssey Books; the town roller rink; the drive-in movie theater; and Rainbow Rags, a specialty stationery store that stocked pens, paper and stickers in neon Lisa Frank and Hello Kitty designs.
It took about an hour for Hedger to complete one route. If you were good enough, she said, The Express would allow you to get a second one, which she was able to do.
Some people purchased a box especially for the paper, but those who didn’t expected to find it tossed to their front porch. “I got pretty good at it,” Hedger said. “You put a little bit of a swing on it, you can most of the time hit the front door.”
If it was raining, she said, she’d go up and hang them on the door instead. That was important. “If the paper got wet, they usually called The Lebanon Express directly to complain, and the Lebanon Express called you, and you got the joy of redelivering them another paper that was dry, and you had to do it by 9.”
Hedger’s own home on Grant Street wasn’t one of the places on her route, but her grandmother took the paper and would often share what she read. Hedger herself remembers being in the paper as a youngster as part of the Strawberry Festival parade. She still has a scrapbook in a trunk with Express clippings: birth announcements, engagements, weddings, marching band pictures, all the elements of hometown coverage.
Hedger’s family signed up to have the paper mailed to them for a few years even after moving to Virginia in the summer of 1988, “so that I could keep up with things,” she said.
She learned of the shutdown from Cate’s Facebook post.
“It was very disappointing,” she said. “Now there’s not even a paper? Lebanon has been around since 18-something. I guess it’s just going to the wayside with papers in general.
“It’s a shame because that’s home. And even though I moved here when I was 16, Oregon was still home.”

THE LEBANON EXPRESS’ 2012 Strawberry Festival Parade float, which celebrated the newspaper’s 125th anniversary. It won a Mayor’s Choice award that year. Photo courtesy of Emily Mentzer

Into the Digital Age

In 1994, Brayton needed a part-timer to fill in for a reporter who was going out on medical leave. He chose A.K. Dugan, who had been a staffer for Sharon Little, formerly a candidate for state representative.
Brayton lost his job when Cap Cities brought in a new publisher, but Dugan stayed, moving up to the position of editor in 2001.
“At The Express, it was often the next-man-up kind of thing,” she said. “The previous editor left. I had worked with him. He had been a sports reporter when I was kind of an everything reporter. I did some news and some features, and when he left, I was the next person up. I applied and got the job.”
Dugan wasn’t yet in charge when The Express took its first steps into the digital world: connecting to the internet, building a website and beginning to receive communication via email.
Her stronger memories are of the stories The Express tackled: Lebanon’s hospital becoming part of the Samaritan health system, passage of a bond measure for the school district, and the widening of Highway 34 to two lanes each direction; a development in 2000 that was the key to Lowe’s decision to bring a regional distribution center to town in 2005.
(With 650 employees, Lowe’s eventually would surpass Hewlett-Packard to become Lebanon’s biggest employer, according to a city fact sheet from 2012. Runners up that year: Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital with 604, the Lebanon Community School District with 484 and Walmart with 350.)
Dugan covered the Lebanon Planning Commission for some of her years at The Express and remembers the various building developments – and the arguments that came with them, particularly when a land use watchdog group called 1000 Friends of Oregon was involved.
In 2003, one of the group’s efforts targeted a Walmart expansion plan by supporting a ballot measure requiring voter approval for annexations. The ballot measure failed by an almost 2-to-1 ratio and the expansion went forward.
Dugan remembered what it was like to cover planning and development at that time: “Long meetings, 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. meetings, followed by City Council meetings on the same subject at the same length.”
In 2000, the $49.85 million bond measure to renovate and expand six Lebanon schools also carried some controversy. The year before, the district had closed three schools – Sand Ridge, Sodaville and Tennessee – and five more were slated to be shuttered following the bond measure.

A BANNER HEADLINE in a special 1952 edition of The Express announces Pres. Truman’s planned visit while.

One of the five, Lebanon Middle School, already had been the subject of much argument. Closed in 1996 because of safety concerns, the building sat empty while classes instead were held in modular buildings beneath the property’s giant oak trees. Then the district decided to fell the trees, too, to make the modulars more safe. Parents picketed outside the superintendent’s office and led a board recall effort that ultimately proved unsuccessful.
Three years later, the middle school’s property was the subject of a three-way land swap between the school district, the City of Lebanon and the hospital, a deal that allowed the city room for a new library and justice center and gave the school district land for what became Pioneer Middle School. All three projects went through, but residents who questioned the deal prompted more late-night meetings.
In 2008, Dugan covered what would be perhaps the biggest story to hit the Lebanon community of the early 21st century: the announcement that a medical school was coming to town. More than 250 people turned out for the groundbreaking ceremony on June 23, 2009, of what would become the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific Northwest.
“The medical school was probably the most exciting for me because it meant such a huge change,” Dugan recalled.
Dugan stepped down as editor in 2009 and retired in 2012. Both the city and the paper still were undergoing changes, however.
Michelle Steinhebel, who succeeded Dugan as editor, remembers establishing the paper’s first Facebook page. But one of the biggest changes in coverage was the ability to use smartphones. Then-reporter Emily Mentzer, who became editor after Steinhebel, used hers to tweet out trial coverage of former Oregon National Guard recruiter Tim Fox, who was convicted of sex abuse and coercion.
“You really saw breaking-news kind of change,” Steinhebel said.
Mentzer, who was at The Express from 2009 to 2013, remembers the push to serve more to digital subscribers.
“I remember biting back when the publisher came in and wanted us to put MORE online, more stories, breaking news, videos, blogs – you know the tune, do MORE for less,” she wrote in a message response. “And I had done the research through the FCC and realized that actually, even the papers who did it the best, only got 10% of their revenue from online platforms. The money was NOT online. So why were we being asked to add so much value to a product that did not produce?”
Steinhebel said that lack of revenue was a failure on most newspapers’ part not to charge more for its online content. Younger readers soon came to expect no-cost coverage, yet another problem for the industry’s bottom line.
“Millennials got news for free. Now it’s, ‘You want me to pay how much for this?’” Steinhebel said. “We were trained for getting it for free for so long, (paying) required a real shift in thinking. Rolling it back now is a real tough thing for journalism.”

A.K. DUGAN’S retirement party in 2012 is celebrated with her coworkers. From left are Taylor Hanslovan, Matt DeBow, Debby Bowles, Emily Mentzer, A.K. Dugan, Audrey (Gomez) Caro and Jake Rosenberg. Photo by Jennifer Moody

Final Downsizing

No matter where the revenue came from, in the last few years of The Express, it wasn’t enough.
Dugan, Steinhebel, Ment-zer and her successor, Audrey (Gomez) Caro, all oversaw newsrooms of four to six people, their duties divided among news, sports, photography, clerking and office coverage.
By 2013, however, budget cuts forced The Express to reduce hours. The next year, it cut staff to three people and closed the office to the public. In 2016, editor Matt DeBow became a staff of one, usually working six days a week. When he took a new job two years later, the office at Grant and Park closed for good.
“When I was down to the only editor – the only person there, really – I did everything,” DeBow said. “I’d come in Monday, finish up the paper, and I’d often be at a sporting event that night. It was just kind of crazy.”
Pretty much the only thing DeBow didn’t do toward the end was design pages, something that – along with ad sales, circulation and the printing itself – had long since been sent elsewhere.
A regional design center in the Midwest did the job. It was helpful, but also annoying, he added. “That pushed up the deadline to Monday at 10 a.m. for a Wednesday publication.”
Les Gehrett, former sports editor for The Albany Democrat-Herald, was named editor of The Express. But by 2021, Gehrett was back on Albany’s staff and Albany’s current editor in chief, Penny Rosenberg, was the only editor of record for The Express.
The weekly continued publishing, at least in name, but stories no longer were generated by locally-based reporters.
Readers and former staffers both said it’s that local base makes all the difference.
“The local newspaper ties the community together in so many ways,” Mentzer said. “It’s a reasonably-priced space for local advertisers to get their ads more directly to local readers, because there’s no local TV station, so you’re getting it right to your local shoppers right down the street.”
Also, she said, “You don’t have a local newspaper watching your local government? You don’t know what they’re doing. And they know when you’re not watching. You’ve got to be paying attention. You’ve got to see how the money’s spent.”
The hometown paper tells the stories nobody else does, Steinhebel said. “You can see how the JV basketball players did on their road trip to Sprague. You can read about a longtime resident’s 100th birthday. They’re really a reflection of the community.
“When you remove that, yeah, the daily’s going to pick up the big stories. Things are still going to happen, but it’s just not the same without the weekly.”

AUDREY (GOMEZ) CARO, left, Matt DeBow and Emily Mentzer pose with props in 2013. “Nancy Kirks from Happy Hours Photobooth stopped by the Lebanon Express office today so we could take a photo of her for an upcoming story. We couldn’t resist digging into her prop boxes and posing for a shot,” Caro said. Photo courtesy of Emily Mentzer

Hope for the Future?

Laurie Hieb, executive director of the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association, said she is “optimistic” for continued news coverage of Lebanon.
All but one of Oregon’s 36 counties has its own newspaper, she noted, and new ones do start up – including an effort to place a new paper in Medford, with a starting staff of 34.
“When we have had a newspaper close, we always have had another one open,” Hieb said. “I think it’s telling that these communities are wanting local news and will support newspapers.”
The news delivery likely won’t look like it used to, she acknowledged.
“I think people are getting their paper in multiple ways now: digital, print and digital, or if you are a paper reader you might just want print. There’s all different ways and subscription types out there that you can be a part of.”
That said, demand for the hometown news that Steinhebel described will continue to drive coverage, Hieb said.
“I’m not discouraged because I don’t think that there is another place that you can get what’s happening in your local town. You’re not going to get your high school sports, the business opening in your town,” Hieb said. “I’m not discouraged because that need and want for that local news is not going away. And newspapers are responding through the platforms that they have.”
A front-page notice in the last edition of The Express promised continued city coverage by The Albany Democrat-Herald. Not mentioned was the layoff of two Albany newsroom staffers that same day, continuing a series of Lee Enterprises personnel reductions throughout the last two decades.
Mentzer said she took a new job in 2013 because of those ongoing cuts. “I left because it had gotten to the point where a couple times a week I started thinking, I wonder if today’s the day I get laid off?”
No Lee or Democrat-Herald officials would comment on whether it will remain, but for now, readers who want to see archived copies of stories can get access through The Lebanon Express website, which was still online as of early February.
If and when that changes, Lebanon Public Library Director Kendra Antila said readers can use the library’s free subscription to Newspapers.com to look up stories from 1887 through 2021.
It’s those archived stories, Dugan said, that point to what The Express was. Those are the memories she prefers to hold.
When she heard of the closure, “Initially, I was sad,” Dugan said. “But it didn’t take long – minutes to a few hours – to realize The Express hasn’t been what it used to be for quite a while.”
Brayton was among those surprised to know the newspaper hadn’t already closed: “I’ve been sorry for a long time that The Lebanon Express has not been really an independent newspaper for Lebanon,” he said.
Steinhebel found herself thinking about the Lebanon Strawberry Festival, founded in 1909.
“In some ways, that newspaper is a yearbook of it. You have the entirety of those festivals within The Lebanon Express. It was there for the beginning of it, and it won’t be there for the last.”
Lebanon readers still have a place to go, Steinhebel added. The Lebanon Local covers the area in addition to Albany.
“It isn’t going to be a news desert by any means,” she said. “But to lose a paper that’s been in print for 135 years is a gut punch.”