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Ness Press, based in Fordville, N.D., to celebrate 100th anniversary with open house Saturday

The first edition of the Tri-County Sun, a weekly newspaper, was published May 12, 1922, by G.K. Ness.

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From left, Truman Ness, Ken and Mavis Ness, and Dawn Madson take a break during a recent production day at the Ness Press in Fordville, N.D.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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FORDVILLE, N.D. – It’s rather quiet on a sunny morning in this town of about 200 residents, but inside a small building just off Main Street, four workers are busily labeling, sorting and packaging about 2,000 newspapers to mail to subscribers in this area and beyond.

Truman Ness, 87, publisher and owner of the Ness Press, is aided by his brother and sister-in-law, Ken and Mavis Ness, and Dawn Madson on Thursday, May 5.

The atmosphere is calm and cordial but the team is focused on meeting the deadline, set by the post office, to ensure subscribers will receive their newspapers in their mailboxes the next day.

This has been a weekly ritual for 100 years. The first edition of the Tri-County Sun rolled off the presses May 12, 1922. The publisher was Gabriel Knutson Ness – or “G.K.” as he was known – Truman and Ken Ness’ father.

An open house is planned to mark the 100th anniversary of that historic event for 2-5 p.m. Saturday, May 14, at the American Legion in Fordville. Everyone is welcome. A small history book will be sold, for $15 each – “or $20, if I have to mail it,” Mavis Ness said.

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Each week, the Ness Press publishes eight newspapers: the Hatton Free Press, Pembina New Era, Aneta Star, Edmore-Adams Herald, McVille Messenger, Nelson County Arena, Larimore Leader/Tribune and the Tri-County Sun.

The tabloid-size newspapers are printed by Morgan Printing, Inc., in Grafton, N.D., and have been for about 20 years, said Ken Ness, of Grand Forks. Each of the Ness newspapers usually consists of two, eight-page sections.

A number of subscribers reside outside of the area. They are, for the most part, former longtime residents who have retired and moved to be closer to their adult children, but still want to keep up-to-date with local people and events, said Ken Ness, who with his wife, Mavis, are faithful volunteer workers at the paper.

Extraordinary longevity

While other newspapers around the country have decreased staffing, consolidated with other newspapers, or discontinued operations altogether, the Tri-County Sun has continued to inform and entertain readers for 100 years.

Why?

“People that lived here, and did live here, like to stay up-to-date with what’s going on here,” Truman Ness said.

He also attributes the paper’s longevity to “local support,” he said, noting that the business relies about equally on subscriptions and advertising.

While newspaper content can sometimes irritate or even anger readers, a Grand Forks Herald reporter wondered if Truman Ness ever heard from unhappy readers.

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“Once in a while it happened, but not very much,” he said.

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Truman Ness takes a bag of newspapers out to his car for a trip to the Post Office for mailing recently.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

What he enjoys most about this work is connecting with others, he said. “Meeting people is probably one of the nicest things.”

Truman does most of the writing and Dawn Madson, production manager and assistant to the publisher, gathers information from emails sent to the office. With microfiche equipment at home, she scans old newspaper editions for “this day in history” anecdotes for the “Yesteryears” column, which she and the Ness family members have found to be the most popular item. She scans all the Ness papers, she said. “It takes hours, but everybody likes them.”

“It’s what people talk about most,” Truman said.

Founder was Norwegian immigrant

At age 19, G.K. Ness emigrated from Norway to Pierpont, S.D., to the home of an uncle. He worked for various farmers before getting into the newspaper and printing business.

He had newspapers in different communities, said Ken Ness. “It wasn’t farming he was interested in.”

G.K. Ness was publishing the Petersburg (N.D.) Record in spring 1922 when Fordville business leaders persuaded him to reopen a print shop in their town. The Tri-County Sun was so-named because it is circulated mainly in Walsh, Nelson and Grand Forks counties.

G.K. Ness established the Sun newspaper “on his own merits, without any heavy financial backing, and while still attempting to refine his English grammar to fit into the Midwestern North Dakota culture,” Marvin Ness, of Fargo, wrote about his father in a column, “GeeKay’s Legacy,” in a special supplement to the May 5 edition.

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“To our knowledge, there was never a deadline missed, but of course, there may have been some severe emergency along the way that could have altered that fact,” Marvin wrote.

“Our mother was an influence too,” said Ken Ness, of Grand Forks.

Tina (Dale) Ness, who grew up on a farm near Fordville, would call people in area communities and gather social news, such as who had hosted coffee get-togethers or parties in their homes, said Mavis Ness.

Family business

G.K. and Tina Ness had eight children, six sons and two daughters. Their first child, a son, died as a toddler.

All their sons worked for the Ness Press newspaper operation, Truman Ness said.

Truman began working as a high school student, folding about 400 copies of the tabloid-size newspaper and preparing the newspapers for mailing.

“Everybody in the family had a turn at that,” he remembered.

His sisters, Maridell and Marlys, were often recruited at the last minute to help out with folding newspapers or other bindery work, according to the Tri-County Sun’s May 5 supplement.

Truman, who earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from UND in 1957, served two years in the U.S. Army, stationed in Oklahoma.

Truman and his oldest brother, Gunnard, became partners in the Ness Press, taking over from their father, who was publisher until May 1, 1960. Gunnard died in 2020.

Other brothers were also involved in the printing or newspaper industry: George had a career with a newspaper company, with holdings in several states; Marvin owned a New England, N.D., newspaper and worked at other newspapers; and Ken worked for 40 years as a photolithographer at the University Press at UND, retiring in December 2000.

Dramatic changes

In the last 60 years or so, the most dramatic change Truman has seen in the newspaper operation is “the way it’s printed,” he said. He recalls the transition, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, from the use of Linotype equipment to the computer, which was a significant improvement over the previous practice of setting type manually – by one letter, punctuation mark and space at a time.

After each weekly edition was printed, Ken Ness said his father would return the individual pieces to their spot in the case.

“He did that for the first four years” in producing the Tri-County Sun, he said.

Mavis Ness recalled that her father-in-law, G.K. Ness, “did almost everything.”

“He was at work, putzing about the print shop until the day he went to the hospital, (where) he just slept away – so he worked nearly ‘til he died,” she said.

G.K. died Feb. 5, 1980, in Grafton.

And what would he think of the newspaper operation that still bears his name 100 years after its founding?

“I think he’d be very proud,” Truman said.

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Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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