Former publisher Bruce Fenske dies

50-year career at Journal included 35 years as publisher

Bruce Fenske

NEW ULM — Bruce Fenske, former publisher of The Journal, died suddenly at his home on Friday at the age of 65.

Fenske was a New Ulm native who took over as publisher of The Journal in 1980 at the age of 29. He served as publisher for 35 years in a journalism career that started when he was in high school, taking sports calls at night and shooting photos. He worked as a stringer for The Journal during his years at the University of Minnesota, covering a few legislative meetings for editor Bill Macklin. Upon graduation he started working for The Journal, selling ads and writing stories for the weekly Agribusiness section. He was later appointed as Advertising Director in 1977 and three years later, became publisher when Mickelson Media, owners of The Journal, sold its papers to Ogden Newspapers.

He was remembered by former employees as a pleasant boss, and a fair one.

Deb Dubberly, business manager for The Journal, said she worked for Fenske as long as anyone, and knew him even longer.

“I’ve known him since the first days of school,” Dubberly said.

“He was always a very nice man to work for, very pleasant, and he was always fair. He was a good delegator. When you worked for him as long as I did, you knew what he wanted you to do, and he trusted you to do it. When I would go to him with a question about something, he’d say, ‘That’s why I have you,’ and I’d have to go back and figure out what I was supposed to do, which was good for me. I really enjoyed working for him.”

Fenske’s community activities were many. He was a member over the years of a great number of organizations, including the New Ulm Chamber of Commerce, which he served as treasurer at one point and continued to serve as a member of its Business Action team. He was a board member of the New Ulm Sister Cities Commission, serving a term as president, and was a founding member of the New Ulm Farm-City Hub Club.

He was a member of the Turnverein, the Junior Pioneers, and the Masonic Lodge, and was a long-time member of the New Ulm Club, serving a term as president.

“He was one of the most generous people I’ve ever known,” said Mary Ellen Domeier, who worked with Fenske on many committees. “He gave of his time, he gave of his expertise, and he gave of his treasure.”

Domeier said she recruited him for many organizations, and Fenske always said yes.

“I asked him to be on the New Ulm Business and Retail Association, and he said yes. I asked him to be on Cenate (the group of local investors that bought the former Middle School from District 88) and he said yes. I asked him to be on the Capital Campaign for State Street Theater, and to co-chair, and he said yes. I asked him to be on the Oak Hill Memorial Foundation Board, and to be president, and he said yes.”

Fenske was someone who didn’t just attend meetings, she said.

“He was a hard worker. If there was something to be done he’d volunteer, and he would get it done. We will miss him,” said Domeier.

Fenske was born April 22, 1951, in Mankato to Harold and Betty Fenske. His father was administrator at Union Hospital in New Ulm, and later New Ulm Medical Clinic. His mother was a news editor at The Journal, and got him his first job at The Journal as a paper carrier, and later as a sports part-timer.

He graduated from New Ulm High School in 1969, and attended the University of Minnesota, studying business.

“I never expected to come back to New Ulm,” Fenske said in an interview when he retired. I had a degree in business administration, and had interviewed with a couple of insurance companies.”

While home for his last Easter break before graduation, he received a job offer from Gene Rodewald, advertising director, to work on The Journal’s agribusiness section. A year later, publisher Roger Matz offered him a choice between reporting and advertising, and he went to work selling advertising.

Fenske’s knowledge of the town and its history was invaluable to the news department. As this editor found out, Fenske knew just about everybody in town, and the background on almost every situation, from the downtown streetscape battles, to the fight between the city council and the fire department over where to build a new fire hall. He was a great storyteller, especially about some of the colorful characters that populated New Ulm.

For instance, Fenske often fondly recalled the imaginative full page Sunday ads he and the late Don Dannheim used to work on for Dannheim’s Dairy. One example, an ad pictured Dannheim, dressed in farmer overalls and straw hat, standing with his arms stretched over his head, seemingly holding up a cow, with the slogan “We Support Dairy.”

In 2006, Fenske served as president of the Minnesota Newspaper Association, and he enjoyed the friendships he made with publishers and editors across the state. He regularly attended the Governor’s Fishing Opener, not so much for the fishing but for the chance to meet and mingle with friends from the media and politicians.

Fenske married Barbara Blackstad on Jan. 18, 1975, in Worthington, and they raised two children, a son Eric who works as a structural engineer in Chicago, and a daughter, Sara who works as a nurse in Minneapolis. When Barb developed cancer, he helped her battle it for near 12 years until her death in 2011, and he continued to support the New Ulm Medical Center’s cancer treatment center after her death.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the United Church of Christ, where he was a member. A celebration of life will be held after the service at the New Ulm Country Club. His obituary is published on page 5A.

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