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Observer Editor and Publisher Mel Bleich stands in front of The Romeo Observer building that was enlarged in 1972 and renovated in 1978. Below top a special envelope and stamp created by the Romeo Post Office in honor of Bleich, who has owned the newspaper for 50 years as of May 1, 2009. The pictoral cancellation envelope was introduced at the Victorian Festival on May 16, 2009. Below bottom, photo of Bleich and his family taken in 1959 that ran on the front page of the Observer prior to him owning the paper. From left with Bleich are Thomas, Joan, Dianne and Robert.
(Above photo by Dennis A. Setter)
(Family photo from Observer archives)
Mel Bleich celebrates 50 years as owner, operator of The Romeo Observer
by DENNIS A. SETTERMay 1st marked a milestone in Mel Bleich's life, and one for Michigan's newspaper industry.
Observer Managing Editor
The 88-year-old publisher of The Romeo Observer celebrated his 50th anniversary of owning and operating a newspaper.
"I have talked to a number of reputable, long-standing Michigan newspaper publishers who have a clear sense of history and between them and research that we have done at our offices, we are not aware of anybody that could lay claim to what Mel Bleich can claim", said Mike MacLaren, executive director of the Michigan Press Association.
In some ways, life hasn't changed for Bleich. He shows up at the office daily, wearing his trademark bow tie, and dives into the daily business of running a newspaper. What has changed is the technology he uses to accomplish that task.
Bleich has had the unique opportunity of watching the newspaper industry evolve from the days of letterpress to the digital technology used today. He's still nostalgic about those earlier days.
"I would like to go back and be a letterpress publisher. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed handling the type. I enjoyed making up pages with metal but you can't go back," he said. "The challenge is to make whatever the future development work for you, try to stay ahead of the parade, which is not easy."
Before purchasing the Observer in 1959, Bleich had been preparing himself for most aspects of running a newspaper. He took printing classes at Royal Oak High School and journalism courses at Wayne State University (WSU), where he was also on the staff of the college newspaper.
After serving in the infantry during WWII, where he was injured and earned the Purple Heart, he worked for 10 years in advertising at Federal Department Stores. His job was placing ads in Michigan newspapers, where he got to know many Michigan publishers.
"I admired their lifestyle and what they did with the paper and what they did for themselves � vacations and adventures in travel," said Bleich.
From 1956 to 1959, Bleich and his wife, Joan, would take long weekends and search many of the towns in Michigan for a newspaper to buy. He decided his purchase would be a weekly newspaper and not a daily.
"I ended up settling on the paper in Romeo. The paper was kind of limping a little bit but had great potential," said Bleich. "Of course, you don't buy a paper on potential but I did and it worked out."
When he and Joan first started running the newspaper they had three children. Robert was 8 years old, Thomas was 6 years old and Dianne was 14 years old. Both Robert and Thomas later took an interest in the paper and helped publish it for several years. Robert is now the Observer's circulation director.
Joan was columnist, editorial writer and business manager at the paper for many years. The two met while at WSU and both shared a love for traveling, which they did to many countries for many years. Joan died in 2005.
Bleich learned quickly what a unique role a newspaper publisher played in the local community. Through the years he has been a member of many organizations and still is an active member of the Romeo Rotary.
"The newspaper is a pretty central institution in any community so you have not only the opportunity to do a lot of things, you have an obligation to do a lot of things," he said.
He was also active in the Michigan Press Association and was president in 1976. He is credited with finding MPA's current office location.
Before his first decade of owning the Observer was over, Bleich would take on a project that would help define who he would become in the community � the go-to guy for the history of practically everything in the area.
The Observer's centennial celebration took place in 1966. Bleich decided rather than put out one large publication for the centennial edition, he would publish 52 consecutive issues of area information collected from people throughout the community.
"I was always interested in history as a general subject," said Bleich. "I was a history major in the university, among other things. But the personal history of people around you and the community around you was a kind of different experience than reading the history of the U.S., Europe or whatever."
Another thing that defined his first decade was his love for the letterpress. While newspapers in Michigan began their love affair with the newest technology � offset printing � Bleich collected discarded, some of it practically new, letterpress equipment.
As newspaper publishers rushed to put in place the new technology of the day, Bleich decided to let the industry work the bugs out of the new system.
"I can particularly remember my friend in Armada who routinely made three and four plates per page to get a good one," said Bleich. "It would take him all day and all night to print a paper. I looked at that and said, 'boy, I don't want to go that route.'"
"A lot of printers went offset simply because their letterpress equipment just gave out," he added. "So they were kind of stuck with what was available and what was available was pretty bad."
Through it all, Bleich has remained at the helm of the Observer doing just about every job there is to do. These days he's placing a lot of his attention on the business side due to the economy.
But good times or bad times, ask Bleich why he still wants to run his own newspaper and the answer is always the same.
"I'm not a golfer. I'm not a fisherman. I don't know what I would do to amuse myself.
And it's not because he hasn't had any offers. There have been numerous opportunities for him to sell over the past 30 years", he said.
Initially I was not interested because I was not retirement age, but even after what you might call retirement age, I was not ready for retirement. And I'm still not ready for retirement.
(586) 752-3524 FAX NUMBER
(586) 752-0548 ADDRESS
124 West St. Clair
P.O. Box 96
EDITOR & PUBLISHER:
Melvin E. Bleich
Dennis A. Setter