MANVEL, N.D. - Mike Maidenberg and Mike Jacobs, like thousands of other Grand Forks and East Grand Forks residents, couldn't predict when the Red River would crest during the devastating 1997 flood.

But the Grand Forks Herald publisher and editor accurately predicted one thing after the rising, unforgiving Red River of the North forced them from their homes.

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"Come Hell and High Water," the Grand Forks Herald wouldn't miss a day of publication during the newspaper's most trying time in its 138-year history.

The Herald didn't miss a day, time after time outmaneuvering the raging Red River to continually find ways to publish and inform its scattered readers of what was happening during what was described as a 500-year flood.

Under the leadership of Publisher Maidenberg and Editor Jacobs, the Herald won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. The nomadic Herald chronicled the historic flood from its downtown location, the UND Memorial Union's computer lab, the Manvel Public School and the former Best building on Columbia Road.

Recently, Jacobs and Maidenberg revisited the Manvel school, where former Superintendent Richard Ray greeted them and took them on a tour of the building where the majority of their Pulitzer Prize-winning work took place.

There, they browsed papers from April 18, April 19 and April 20, the first days of the Herald's journey to the Pulitzer.

The April 21 Grand Forks Herald, with the dominating headline "Come Hell and High Water," remains an iconic edition. It showed the devastation in Grand Forks, illustrated by the burned-out Security Building on Third Street.

"When that paper came out, it astounded people," Maidenberg said. "In most people's minds, the newspaper had burned. The city had flooded and everyone had left. Yet, that same day, for many people, a newspaper was delivered to their door. How could that have happened?

"With that photo and headline, it was electrifying. That's what caught everybody's attention. It was so clearly expressed what had happened in the city. At the same time, the newspaper was produced and recorded what had happened. We heard, by virtue of the fact that the newspaper was around, the community was still around. That was remarkable."

The journey

On April 18, the last edition of the Herald began to print at the paper's downtown location. Pressmen scrambled from the building about 2:20 a.m. April 19 as floodwaters raced toward the Herald.

Jacobs, who lived in the Riverside Park area, and Maidenberg, who lived on Terrace Drive, already had evacuated to Thompson, N.D., where they forged a plan to continue publishing the Herald.

"When Mike and I met in Thompson, we didn't quite know how it was all going to fit together," Maidenberg said. "But we made a pact, that even if we had to go out together with a gong and tell the news like they did in Colonial times, we were going to do it."

On Saturday, April 19, the decision was made to produce the next day's newspaper out of the computer lab at the Memorial Union on the UND campus. A handful of staffers was dispatched to St. Paul, Minn., where the Herald was scheduled to be printed.

Still, Jacobs and Maidenberg didn't know what kind of staff the Herald would have, considering many staffers' homes were inundated as well. But Jacobs went on the radio earlier in the day saying the Herald would be published at UND, adding that any staffers who could make it should show up at the Union.

"I remember walking up the stairs to the computer lab," Maidenberg said. "There were students fleeing because university classes had been suspended for the remainder of the year. As I walked into the room, I saw about two dozen Herald people. That's when I said to myself, 'This is going to happen.'"

Former Herald publishers Mike Maidenberg, left, and Mike Jacobs, right, and managing editor Jim Durkin, look over bulletin boards in the hallway of the Manvel Elementary school during a recent visit at the school twenty years after the 1997 flood. 
photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Former Herald publishers Mike Maidenberg, left, and Mike Jacobs, right, and managing editor Jim Durkin, look over bulletin boards in the hallway of the Manvel Elementary school during a recent visit at the school twenty years after the 1997 flood. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

On to Manvel

But the stay at the Union lasted only one day. The fire that devastated the downtown hit in the afternoon and Herald staffers were told they needed to evacuate the UND area.

Maidenberg and Jacobs then set their sights on the tiny school in Manvel.

The Manvel superintendent, Ray, opened the doors of the school for the Herald in the spirit of community service, Jacobs said.

Jacobs said Ray's impact extended beyond the school. When Herald staff spent what turned into about two months there, taking up the building's west end while out-of-town students filled up classes, he was "absolutely steady," Jacobs said.

"He understood that this was an important community service, and he saw how he and his school could do it," he said.

Jacobs said Herald staffers had to follow two important rules established by Ray: "No running in the halls and smoke behind the building."

The Herald business offices overtook the school's library. The photographers set up in the band room; advertising and circulation were in another classroom; and the newsroom was located in the computer lab.

Four construction trailers later were set up behind the school, housing such items as a mainframe computer. More than 20 phone lines were installed immediately at a school that had only three lines before the Herald arrived.

The Herald's parent company at the time, Knight-Ridder, sent dozens of reporters and photographers to help the Herald. A cook was hired by the Herald as well and, at the height of the newspaper's stay in Manvel, roughly 200 meals were served each day at the Manvel Community Center.

Newspapers were produced in Manvel and flown back to Grand Forks. At the height of the flood, about 90,000 copies of the Herald were printed and distributed for free in Grand Forks and numerous area communities, where Grand Forks and East Grand Forks residents had relocated.

"People were running to the bowling alley in Williston to get a paper," Maidenberg said. "People were banging on the windows on the trucks that went through towns with the Herald."

Through it all, the Herald and the Manvel school worked in harmony. The paper was produced each day, and the school wasn't greatly disrupted.

The Herald remained in Manvel until June 2, 1997. On June 3, 1997, the paper produced its first paper since April 19 in Grand Forks - at the former Best store. In July 1998, construction on the Herald's new building was completed, ending a 15-month journey that resulted in the paper winning the Pulitzer.

Ray, who was instrumental in the Herald relocating to Manvel, kept everything in perspective during the newspaper's stay.

"The experience of the Herald being here was great," he said. "It taught our kids about community; it taught them about involvement and working under stress.

"It showed what can get done when people work together."