Marileen Tilberg

By Sheila Ring

Onida Watchman managing editor Marileen Tilberg this week put together the last issue she will have day to day involvement in creating. The community, Watchman staff, and extended Olson family celebrated Marileen’s tenure with the newspaper with a retirement party today, Thursday, February 20.

The date of her retirement party coincides with the 70th anniversary of her birth. Marileen was born into a newspaper family, and many of her childhood recollections revolve around activity at the newspaper: stopping at the office to turn on the lead pot ‘pig’ in preparation for creating the linotype on press day; setting a piece of paper on fire when she was helping her father operate the press; and after acquiring her driver’s license, delivering the set type of public notices to neighboring newspapers so that each paper didn’t have to set the type.

In high school, Marileen served as recording secretary of all the clubs she belonged to, and was editor of her school newspaper and high school annual. She worked on South Dakota State University’s Collegian student newspaper while she attended college, and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Home Economics and Journalism.

The publishers of the Lemmon Leader traveled to the SDSU campus, and after interviewing her, offered her the editor position, a title she held for eleven years. “When I drove out there, I thought it was to the end of the earth,” said Marileen about the ranch country with wide open spaces..

“I interviewed the young Game Warden shortly after arriving in Lemmon,” said Marileen about Darell Tilberg, the man who became her husband. In 1982, Darell was transferred to Sully County, and they relocated to Onida with their two children, Eric and Lindsey.

The community was getting ready to celebrate its centennial when the Tilbergs arrived, and Marileen approached then publisher Parker Knox about helping create the special edition. “The Lemmon Leader had just put out a special issue in celebration of Lemmon’s 75th anniversary,” said Marileen.

After the activity surrounding the centennial issue of the Watchman was over, Parker found he had too many employees, so Marileen spent a year working as a bartender at the Fireside before becoming a secretary at the school. “I worked there eleven years, too,” said Marileen.

In 1995, Marileen began a job in Pierre, but “after two years of commuting during some of the worst weather we had” and while US Highway 83 was under construction, Marileen “decided I didn’t want to drive anymore, and [Watchman Publisher] Alice Olson offered me a part-time job.”

Marileen’s position was in ad sales and design, and typing copy that came in. “Even if something came in typed, it had to be retyped into columns,” said Marileen. The Watchman acquired an iMac computer, and Marileen was “able to format things more efficiently.” The columns of text were run through a waxer and pasted onto layout pages.

When Alice went on vacation, Marileen ran the paper while Alice was on a few weeks’ vacation, and wrote columns in the Watchman for the first time. “As the editor of the Lemmon Leader, I wrote a column called ‘Lemmon Aide,” said Marileen.

Watchman readers enjoyed her column, and so she continued the weekly column writing after Alice returned. “We both had a weekly column.”

Under the heading ‘Random Reflections,’ Marileen wrote snippets about the various activities in the community. When she submitted her column to the South Dakota Newspaper Association’s (SDNA) Better Newspapers Contest, judges didn’t like the randomness of her column, and encouraged her to write on a single topic. “A lot of people in town told me they liked it better when it was ‘random,’” said Marileen.

After Alice’s death in 2005, Marileen took over as managing editor of the paper. During her leadership, the Watchman computerized, going from laying out the pages by hand to assembling them in a computer pagination program.

She has had a hand in each of the forty-six awards the Onida Watchman has earned in the SDNA’s Better Newspapers Contest, including winning the sweepstakes award in 2012. “The year 2000 was the first time we entered,” said Marileen. She won for best use of local photography in advertising. “That’s what I got awards in because that’s what I did. Alice wrote most of the stories.” After she took over as editor, Marileen won awards for column writing and for news stories, and “more advertising awards.”

Her first missed deadline was for the June 9, 2005 issue of the Watchman, following a storm that ‘plowed through Sully County Tuesday night, entering the southwest corner and exiting the northeast corner, leaving a path of debris,’ and knocking out power in Onida, and delaying the printing by a day. ‘The extra day also gave the editor time to take pictures in the daylight and report on the damage,’ a story about the storm states. “Then I had all those radio and TV stations calling the office when I was trying to get the paper put together,” said Marileen. Her coverage of the storm and its aftermath proved to be award winning in the Better Newspapers Contest.

“We did some special sections that took extra work,” said Marileen relating some of the supplements that have appeared in the paper since she became managing editor: guide to Social Security; commemoration of the Titanic; breast cancer information; magazines celebrating Sully Buttes graduates; the annual hunting magazine; and three magazines celebrating the 125th anniversaries of the communities of Onida and Blunt and the centennial of Agar.

Marileen covered the trial of Herman Kleinsasser for the murder of his wife Sharon. “That happened when we were in Florida,” said Marileen of the 2009 vacation, her first lasting more than three or four days since she had become managing editor in 2005. “I considered retiring five years ago so we could travel more, and Sheila stepped up to cover for me so I could go on longer vacations.”

“Sheila Ring will be the new editor, and she has been training for the job for a while. When I have gone on vacation over the past five years, she has been in charge - and has done a great job.” Marileen has offered to do the same for Sheila.

“Sheila will continue to write the articles that you all have grown to love and expect. She will also decide what goes where on the pages plus have my general office duties, assisting Curt with billing, etc.”

“Kallie Murphy has taken on the job of pagination. The two of them will lay out the pages now, instead of me. Kallie is also in charge of circulation, so she updates the subscription renewals with the Interlink program, prints labels and helps with mailing.”

“I’m not going to miss trying to come up with column ideas when there’s nothing going on,” said Marileen. “It’s difficult to fill pages sometimes, but usually in this town, there is plenty to report on. It’s also been difficult in recent years to sell advertising, and that means we can’t have someone on staff to call on businesses regularly.”

Marileen says she is going to miss “the connection with the community, talking to people, and meeting and knowing so many people in the community.”