The Greeley area’s consistent growth over the past 150-plus years is expected to continue well into the future, as officials project the population will more than double by 2060.
As the city and its surrounding areas grow, more than population numbers change. New businesses have come and gone. Where there were once cornfields, there are now shopping malls and supermarkets. An event once dedicated to local potato farmers has grown into an internationally acclaimed rodeo festival that attracts crowds 10 times the size it did in its inaugural year. As the people of an area experience changes of this scale, so too come cultural and ideological changes.
To maintain a cohesive identity through all that change, Greeley area residents are fortunate to have many of those changes recorded in the Greeley Tribune, the city’s oldest continuous business.
In October 1869, The New-York Tribune’s agricultural editor, Nathan Meeker, visited Colorado Territory, returning to New York City with a vision for a utopian agricultural colony. He penned a column laying out his plans to establish the Union Colony, inviting those interested to apply. He envisioned a community based on principles of temperance, religion, education, agriculture, irrigation, cooperation and family values.
The colony was established in April 1870 and grew to a population of almost 1,000 by fall of that year. That’s when Meeker requested a loan from Horace Greeley, editor of The New-York Tribune, to start a newspaper modeled after The New-York Tribune.
The Greeley Tribune’s first edition was published Nov. 16, 1870. The first printed work was a religious column, “An Honest and Good Heart,” by the Rev. Robert Collyer, a Unitarian clergyman.
To this day, the column’s opening words carry the weight of Meeker’s original utopian vision.
“The possession of a good and honest heart appears to me to be so grand a thing that I think, sometimes, when our Maker has once made sure of that … He must feel but small anxiety about the rest, for that must come right in time, if honesty abide as the ruler and governor, whatever befall,” Collyer wrote. “In those times it is a thing we talk about, read about with a keen and constant interest — now and then of its virgin purity, as it appears to us in some dream of what might be if men were good enough.”
For many, the Tribune’s historical roots make it an unquestionable part of the area’s identity. Bobby Fernandez, who covers prep sports for the Tribune, remembers growing up reading the Tribune after his father was finished with it.
“As somebody who was born and raised here in Greeley, the Tribune has always been a part of my life,” Fernandez said. “If you’re somebody who was born and raised here, especially in the years before digital media, I think you become accustomed to the newspaper being a part of your daily life.”
Fernandez, who started working at the Tribune in 2005, grew up in a household with three newspapers: the Greeley Tribune, The Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News. He said reading the paper was an important part of his father’s daily routine.
“I could always remember every Sunday, my dad reading each newspaper from cover to cover and then passing them along to his kids,” Fernandez said. “One of the things I took the biggest pride in was knowing my dad could open the newspaper and see my byline.”
Sharon McComb, a subscriber and nearly lifelong resident of Greeley, said the local coverage provided by the Tribune has always been important to her.
“I didn’t start reading the Tribune until I was older, but at that time, Greeley was about the size of 20,000 people, and so … you know almost everybody that is talked about in the Tribune,” she said. “I always wanted to know what the city council was doing, what the Weld County commissioners were doing. Just keeping up with the local identity of Greeley.”
The Tribune hasn’t been without changes of its own. The paper has operated under nine different owners, most recently changing hands from Swift Communications to MediaNews Group in March 2020. More than a dozen publishers have headed the Tribune, including E.J. Carver, C.H. Wolfe, Mildred Hansen, Richard Larson, Dave Trussell, Bart Smith, Bryce Jacobson and, currently, Al Manzi.
Different leaders’ visions for the newspaper, as well as changes to the industry, have brought a number of changes over the years. McComb lamented the removal of Horace Greeley’s handwritten name of the Greeley Tribune from the paper’s masthead, the switch from evening to morning deliveries and the reduction from daily publication to four days per week.
But even through those changes, McComb said, “Greeley was really a local, homegrown paper,” somewhere she could turn for a connection to the community.
The Tribune’s historical roots are perhaps most familiar to the public through 100 Years Ago, a weekly column by longtime Tribune reporter Mike Peters, who retired in 2011. Peters summarizes 100-year-old Tribune reports for the column. Even then, recognizing the paper’s history was a regular occurrence, as captured in 50 Years Ago columns that ran at the time.
“Among the numerous arrivals last week were two swarms of bees from the vicinity of New York, belonging to the editor of this paper,” reads one entry from the files of the Tribune in March 1871. “It is not generally thought a good plan to move bees as if they were a barrel of apples. It has been considered doubtful whether bees can get a living in Colorado.”
For Fernandez, working alongside longtime Tribune fixtures including Peters, Bill Jackson, Jim Rydbom, Samuel G. Mustari and Randy Bangert has always meant a lot to him.
“These guys were some of the best journalists you will ever find, locally, regionally and nationally, and for me, growing up in Greeley when the city had barely more than half as many people as it does now, these guys were true local celebrities,” he said. “The Tribune has always had a reputation for producing some of the finest journalists in this state and region.”
While the Tribune has endured many challenges and changes over the years — particularly in the years leading up to its 2020 sale — the current staff hasn’t lost the drive to continue to tell Weld County’s stories and keep its citizens informed. According to current editor Jerry Martin, that commitment was something instilled in staff members for many years by the late Randy Bangert, a longtime Tribune editor and reporter who was inducted into the Colorado Press Association Hall of Fame in April 2018, just a month before he died after battling pancreatic cancer.
“Randy used to talk a lot about how lucky we are to work in a place where people still think of the local newspaper as being theirs, the community’s,” Martin said. “That’s something I think about a lot. As many challenges as we’ve been through, there are still so many people here who are invested in our success, and we are so fortunate for that.”
As they look to the future, and under the guidance of new ownership, that connection with the community will continue to play a vital role for Tribune staff.
“It’s hard to say how things will reopen after the pandemic, but MediaNews Group is committed to helping us grow along with the community,” Martin said. “I’m confident they will help us traverse whatever challenges await us in the post-COVID world.”
As the Tribune continues to weathers countless changes — and as it helps local communities weather countless others — its deep historical tradition weighs heavily on today’s staff.
“To have a newspaper that was so instrumental in developing the identity of a region 150 years ago still in operation today, still thriving today — for me, it’s been such an honor to be part of that rich tradition and history,” Fernandez said, “even for the small part of it that I have been for the past 15 years.”
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