Willroth answering a different call

Willroth answering a different call Bill Willroth, long-time Vermillion newspaper publisher and civic booster, receives sweet greetings on the cake at May 4's farewell open house. Willroth has worked nearly 30 years at local publications. By Randy Dockendorf A passionate hunter, Bill Willroth uses goose decoys while pursuing one of his favorite hobbies.

Now, the long-time Vermillion newspaper publisher and civic booster will build a new career on �Big Foot� decoys. Starting May 16, he becomes national sales director for the Clinton Decoy company based in southeast Iowa.

Willroth will travel to sports shows around the nation, selling only to dealers. �I am excited about it. It�s a total change for me,� he said.

His career switch after nearly 30 years will also mean a change for Vermillion. Willroth has owned the Broadcaster shopper and Plain Talk and Wakonda Times weekly newspapers since 1984 and the Missouri Valley Shopper since 1986. He and business partner Steve Michels sold the publications in 1996 to Morris Communications, which owns the Press & Dakotan.

Willroth has remained general manager of the Broadcaster, Plain Talk, Times and Shopper since the sale to Morris. He has worked his entire adult life for the publications, but he said the time has come for a change.

�My first love is duck and goose hunting. I am a member of Ducks Unlimited and was chairman of the Vermillion chapter for 10 years,� he said. �I got to know the guys who own this (decoy) company. We became hunting partners. They have wanted me to work for this company for quite a few years. The timing seemed right, and it was a good opportunity for me.�

As a high school junior, Willroth worked part-time for his father at the Broadcaster in 1976. The younger Willroth began working full-time in 1978 and eventually purchased the publications from his father.

�My dad sent me through the ?Broadcaster University�,� Willroth said with a laugh. �I did everything in the pressroom. I moved into the camera and stripping room. Then he put me into ad sales and eventually into basically a management position.�

Learning all facets of the job was a necessity, Willroth said.

�I was hands-on. You have to be in small shops,� he said. �I knew every aspect of the business. I could step in anywhere to help out. I have done it all for years.�

Willroth said he will miss numerous aspects of Vermillion, including the Missouri River, hunting, golfing and University of South Dakota athletics. He has won golfing tournaments, including two club tournaments at Hillcrest Country Club in Yankton.

As he departs his lifelong home, Willroth said he is glad to see the community on the rise.

�It was stagnant for a long time. Vermillion lost a lot of retail business. They had no clothing or shoe stores. It was tough on Vermillion economically,� he said.

�Now, it seems they are going through a positive growth. New homes are being built. There are new industries. And the bridge (over the Missouri River) was a definite plus. It made us a four-sided community rather than a three-sided one.�

Willroth said he feels like he is leaving family, not just co-workers.

�You know everything about them, their kids and what they are doing. You become tight (with each other),� he said. �I am leaving the Broadcaster in very good hands. The staff there is excellent and pretty much runs itself. It goes back to having good people in each position.�

A number of long-term employees said they were surprised at Willroth�s resignation. They said they consider him a friend, not just an employer.

Diane Savoie, supervisor of the production and graphics department, has worked her entire 38-year career with the Willroth family. Fighting back emotion, she noted her decades of work with Willroth.

�Bill and I made a pact. I was going to leave before him, and we would walk hand-in-hand out the door. But he bailed on me,� she said jokingly. �He has a good sense of humor and has been a great person to work for.�

Penny Tucker, also in the production and graphics department, has worked with Willroth since 1980. She said she always felt comfortable pointing out a different approach or opinion than Willroth.

�He�s like a brother to me. We grew up together,� she said. �I hate to see him go, but this is a great opportunity.�

Tucker commended his hands-on approach to everything around the plant. �If there was a problem, Bill could fix it. He had an unbelievable ability for fixing presses and computers. And he was always willing to do it.�

Tucker said she also marveled at his ability to handle complaints and satisfy customers.

�He was good with people. They were willing to talk with him,� Tucker said. �He would calm down people so there were no hard feelings. They would work things out.�

M. Jill Karolevitz has worked for Willroth twice, first as Plain Talk editor from 1988-90. She then returned in 1998, first as a Plain Talk reporter and now with the Broadcaster production and graphics department.

�Not only did Bill first hire me as an editor, but when my second position as reporter was eliminated (for budget reasons), he gave me a chance to expand my horizons in a new part of the business,� she said of her graphics position. �I wouldn�t have been able to stay in the (publishing) business if Bill had not let me try this.�

Willroth has made the Broadcaster and Plain Talk a great place to work, Karolevitz said. The employees, in turn, are loyal and productive, she said.

�People recognize they have to work hard to get the job done, and we do,� she said. �Bill is a great friend to work for. He is easy-going and very skilled in his knowledge of this place.�

Wednesday�s farewell open house drew a large crowd, Karolevitz said. �It was wonderful to see business people and friends come by and wish him well. I expect tears will be shed (when he leaves Vermillion).�

Willroth will be missed by his staff, Karolevitz predicted. �With the people we still have here, there is a sense of family. Bill�s leaving is a part of the family leaving the nest,� she said.

Pressmen Gerald Pedersen and Pete Peterson have both worked about 20 years for Willroth. Both pressmen said they will miss the respect he shows toward employees.

�It�s easy to work for Bill,� Pedersen said. �He�s trusting and never gives us much grief. We are left to do what is needed to get things done.�

Willroth pitched in where needed, printing jobs for employees who were sick or on vacation, Peterson said. And Willroth didn�t degrade an employee who made a mistake, he added.

�If you screwed up, Bill wouldn�t jump down your throat, scream at you and throw a fit. He wouldn�t go into a tizzy,� Peterson said.

It�s all a part of mutual respect, Willroth said. �(Workers) hate to make mistakes, so you don�t rub their noses in it. They feel bad enough when they mess up.�

Peterson said he has been friends with Willroth since they were both 5 years old. �Our dads went to the river together. More than once, we went down to the river ourselves.�

But work didn�t slide because of their friendship, Peterson said. �Bill would shoot you that look of familiarity if you did something wrong,� he said.

Living and working among many of the same people his entire life has created strong bonds, Willroth said.

�Vermillion has been very good to me and my family. It�s a great community,� he said. �It�s going to be hard to leave it behind. It�s the only life I have known.�

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