There have been nine people to hold the publisher title at the Grand Forks Herald. Over 140 years, just nine.

Meanwhile, working in quiet Herald offices that few outsiders visit have been numerous business managers. They’re the real brains of the outfit, and their names largely have been forgotten. But trust me, their behind-the-scenes work made each of the Herald’s publishers look much smarter than they really were. Or are.

Tuesday, one of the most essential employees ever at the Herald – and one of those brilliant minds upon whom so many have relied – retired.

Anita Geffre was at the Herald for nearly 39 years, including 25 as a department head. She worked with more than half of the Herald’s publishers. Her tenure started in late 1980 with Publisher John Lux. Then came Tom Schumaker, Mike Maidenberg and Mike Jacobs.

Geffre’s time here ends with me – No. 9.

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Tuesday was a somber day at the Herald. Fancy cake was consumed and gifts were presented, but it was difficult to say goodbye to someone who has been part of so much history, success and strife at your local daily newspaper.

Geffre was instrumental not just in doing the Herald’s books, but she also was a key player in the formation of Prairie Business, a magazine published by the Herald that today is distributed to nearly 17,000 subscribers across the Dakotas and Minnesota. She was here at the launch of Agweek, which has become the region’s premier ag-related periodical.

She has been a perpetual board member and leader for Santa Claus Girls, the Herald’s charitable arm that has provided holiday gifts to thousands of local children. She is credited by past publishers as being the glue that helped bind the Herald staff in the aftermath of the Flood of 1997.

She was here when the Herald won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1998. She was here last month, when the Herald won its first-ever North Dakota Newspaper Association Sweepstakes Award. As our staff size noticeably decreased, more duties were heaped upon her; she also ran the HR side of the business in her final years.

And on top of all that, she’s pretty darn clever.

Maidenberg, who now lives in California, says Geffre is “smart as a whip. But that only captured part of her value to the Herald.”

How so?

“Anita was not just numbers,” Maidenberg said. “She had common sense and uncommon judgment as to how the Herald was faring as a business and as a human workplace.”

Jacobs praised not only Geffre’s organizational ability, but her heart.

“My job would have been dull without her, and the Herald and all of its people would have been worse off,” Jacobs said.

As publishers ascend the chain of command, they tend to focus on their particular specialty. Newsy publishers usually micromanage the newsroom, former ad directors lean on the sales department and so it goes.

It means a strong business manager is needed to keep the business on track. Having Geffre – with her master’s of business administration degree – down the hall has been a godsend.

She did it quietly, probably without the community realizing her input to the daily miracle.

Hopefully, this column – written in today’s age of digital archives and thus eternal permanence – will etch Anita Geffre’s name forever into the history of the Grand Forks Herald, where it belongs.

Korrie Wenzel has been publisher of the Herald since 2014.