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A good newspaperman, and a good neighbor

Posted at 10:34 AM on May 23, 2007 by Melanie Sommer (2 Comments)

I note the passing of a remarkable newspaperman, who served the western Wisconsin community of Amery for 65 years. Palmer Sondreal, the owner and publisher of the Amery Free Press weekly newspaper, died Sunday at the age of 86. The Pioneer Press ran an obituary earlier this week, which nicely summarizes his career, and points out that Palmer still wrote his weekly column, Ambling in Amery, on a typewriter.

I know Palmer and his family very well, since my husband happens to be a native of Amery, and lived across the street from the Sondreals for years. He also worked for Palmer at the Free Press when he was in high school, and has shared many a story about their wide-ranging Saturday morning conversations.

My husband and I still joke about how, before our wedding -- as an outsider and a big-city girl -- I needed to get the "approval" of all his family's neighbors, including the Sondreals. I guess I passed the test, and always enjoyed seeing Palmer when we'd visit Amery each year. He always had a twinkle in his eye and a good story to tell (make that two or three stories!).

He never really retired from the newspaper business, and he and his sons, Steve and Jerry, have always represented the ideal of what a small-town newspaper should be...a vehicle for folks to find out what everyone's doing (who's gotten married, which students are getting scholarships, what new businesses are coming to town, etc.), an information source for the doings of local government and business, and a strong, independent editorial voice on important issues facing the community and the nation.

It was the last point that sometimes got Palmer in trouble in his own town... his "liberal" viewpoint clashed at times with some of his neighbors. It probably would have been much easier to simply forego the editorials, or to write about things that nobody could disagree with. But Palmer believed it was his responsibility as the paper's publisher to speak out on issues he felt strongly about, no matter what kinds of comments he might hear on Main Street.

In my household, we still look forward to getting the Free Press in the mail each week. It just won't be quite the same anymore.


Comments (2)


It's very touching to see Palmer (Grandpa, as we called him) remembered so thoughtfully. It's really hard for some of us to come to terms with the fact that we've read his final "Ambling in Amery" columns.

As you note here, he was hardly your typical small town newspaper editor. He carried his outspoken opinions into his role as a father and grandfather, too. As a result, he encouraged us all to develop our own beliefs and the ability to articulate them. I think it pleased him that most of us ended up falling left of center – I tend to imagine this was the result of sharing the holiday table with him.

Posted by Chris Sondreal | May 24, 2007 1:47 PM


I'll always remeber Palmer as someone who instilled in me a sense of responsibility and a good work ethic. Sometimes when at work, I wonder what he would have to say about some of my fellow co-workers!

Posted by Mark Erickson | May 30, 2007 5:57 PM