Kelsey to the Rescue

by Leland M. Hawes, Jr.

Originally published in American Amateur Journalist Volume 50, Number 5, for July 1986. Winner of Prose Non-Fiction Honorable Mention Laureate Award.

Between 1966 and 1976, the American Amateur Press Association succeeded in finding a relatively solid basis for sustaining future growth and activity. The key proved to be the Kelsey Company's willingness to distribute AAPA recruiting material to its letterpress customers.

The good fortune came midway in the fourth decade, and bolstered the "hard core" of members interested in the association on a long-term basis.

The decade had started with the usual struggle to stir up interest. Even the best efforts of a "youngblood team" could do little to keep the membership above the 200-level and the bundles averaging 15 papers a month.

Ed Carter, lean young printer from the "Corn Country" of Illinois, became president in 1966, with Minnesotan Michael J. O'Connor elected official editor. The two had reversed jobs, for O'Connor had held the presidency already and Carter the editorship.

A strange sidelight to that year's election was reported by the Board of Directors: Somebody had falsely filed Briton Eric Webb's name as a candidate for editor without his knowledge.

Although membership topped 200, President Carter complained that the association was "moving at the speed of a turtle with a sore foot." Things slowed when the elected mailer resigned and Carter had to appoint a replacement, Glenn Cripe.

Editor O'Connor filled a sprightly volume with bundle criticism from Milton Grady and Alan Wheeler. Long-time member Wes Wise also commented: "Lamentable or not, AAPA has lost some of the slapdash, happy-go-lucky-ness of its earlier eras."

Incidentally, Wise hosted one Midchap (Midwestern Chapter) meeting at his home in Deerfield, Illinois, in August 1966, then moved to New York and hosted a Metchap (Metropolitan Chapter) in June 1967, at Chappaqua.

The 1967 convention went to Chicago, with Harold Smolin and John Sullivan as co-chairmen. Merlin Teed, winding up his third term as AAPA secretary, was given the title "AAPA Stalwart" by President Carter. An amendment petition circulated to raise dues to $4.

One acerbic summary of the convention asserted: "Nothing of consequence was accomplished." But Ward Schori described his miniature books at the banquet, and printer delegates took the classic tour of Al Frank's second-hand equipment palace.

The Carter-O'Connor team was reelected in the 1967 election, and the new year brought a recruiting effort that sought to give the American its most youthful segment ever.

It was announced in January, 1968, that the Superior Marking Equipment Co., manufacturers of rubber-type presses, had provided AAPA with the names of purchasers in recent years. Since Swiftsets had been the means by which many youthful hobbyists had gotten their starts, it appeared the list would provide a real bonanza of prospects.

In a later article, Les Boyer noted that Dean Rea, Rich Hopkins, Mike O'Connor, Ed Carter, Dick Branch, Roy Lindberg, Stan Buchanan and Jim Lemon all had once owned Swiftset presses.

The Superior list did bring in a number of new members, several pre-teeners and one 20-year-old who would become president of the association, Rodney Ideker. Although several of the youngsters put together rubber-type editions of their journals for the bundles, only a few advanced to metal type or long-term interest in the hobby.

A mimeographer with a special touch did join that year: Ken Davis.

But by March of 1968, membership had dipped to 180. With New York City announced as site for the Labor Day convention, Wes Wise announced a provocative topic for discussion: "Should the American disband?"

L. Verle Heljeson added to the swirl in an AAJ article entitled, "Of Corporate Conglomerates," in which he suggested (only half in jest) that the AAPA join forces with the Fossils, combining their treasuries and official organs. (The American had relative youth and few financial resources at that point, while the Fossils had age and big bucks.)

The convention at the Hotel Tudor was described as "stimulating and memorable." The Great Debate over Disbanding brought forth conflicting viewpoints on ways to survive -- but nobody seriously talked of disbanding. When Ralph Babcock spoke somewhat deprecatingly of four page "flimsies" as opposed to 24-page deluxe journals, Wes Wise took up the cause of "flimsies." And the term became more popular in the amateur vernacular.

The name Walter Brovald -- soon to become identified with The Gryphon -- appeared as a new member that year, and Merry Printer Ernie Rapa's was removed following his death Aug. 31, 1968.

Veteran member James Lamanna became president in the 1968 election, with James Richard Branch elected official editor. Lamanna appointed one-person committees to investigate membership, laureates and "what we may contribute to society at large."

The official editor started out printing American Amateur Journalist with hand-set type, but soon found himself hard-pressed for copy. He complained he was the last to know of association developments, hearing only indirectly that a convention site had been chosen.

With illness in his family that caused several late issues, Branch resigned after publishing the May, 1969, number. That issue announced that members would meet in Minneapolis over Labor Day weekend. For the first time, a counting committee would tally election ballots during the convention.

Les Boyer raised the question in an AAJ article whether AAPA needed an efficiency expert to sharpen the association's performance. "Inefficiency and inactivity are not unique to AAPA," he wrote. "Check most any volunteer or non-profit organization... A couple of suckers do all the work, while gripes of non-participation and inactivity are legion."

In another vein, President Lamanna voiced a theme he sounded increasingly as the year went by: That the American failed to emphasize writing sufficiently in its efforts to court printers.

Lee Hawes filled in and edited the last two issues of Dick Branch's volume. The July 1969 issue carried background on two new members: Stephen Michael Boerner, a 14-year-old Nebraska printer who learned of AAPA through a Boy's Life article; and Frederick J. Liddle, a 44-year-old New York photoengraver who heard of the association after earlier joining the Amalgamated.

The September issue reported that the Minneapolis convention attracted only eight delegates, the lowest number since the association's first, informal get-together in 1938.

Outgoing President Lamanna had addressed a message to "the convention in Mulwaukee," (sic) and he again blasted "printer domination" of the association.

Even the ballot-counting -- for the first time performed by a three-person committee at the convention -- failed to follow proper procedures. But nobody was of a mood to challenge the election outcome at that point.

A new team, headed by Pamela Wesson, 15-year-old daughter of Helen and Sheldon Wesson, as the new president, and veteran Elliott Ruben, as official editor, gave hopes for fresh vitality.

In the laureate awards (judged solely by Dean Rea after another judge resigned and the third slot remained unfilled), Ken Davis' Stylus won the journal of overall excellence category. It was a first for a mimeographed journal -- but an honor he was to repeat for three successive years.

A new tone of youthful vigor was keynoted by the attractive young president whose paper, Peko's Pages, was beautifully printed by her father. The bundle count for the year shot up to 250 papers, after the previous year's 184.

Other teens, several with rubber-type presses, helped swell the total. Lenora Sobota and Paul Hill, both 15, published regularly, and Greg Dowd won an award for the best Swiftset paper.

Bulk mailing was introduced that year by Mailer Rodney Ideker, and an amendment resulted in changing the mailer's term to the calendar year because of bulk-permit timing.

Most importantly, though, Les Boyer succeeded in launching the first Kelsey campaign, the mass mailing of AAPA literature along with the Kelsey Company's publication, Printer's Helper. Several hundred inquiries eventually brought in 61 new members and one reinstatement.

That 1970 breakthrough brought names that were to become familiar in the years ahead: Guy Botterill, Phil Cade, Bob Clausen, Dwight Cross, Arthur Hallock, Charles Pasternack, Arthur Pelletier, Howard Radcliffe, Vince Rogers, Leonard Schira, Guy Storer, the Sullivans and a Florida teenager, David M. Tribby.

Founder George Kay rejoined, also, and soon filled the first vice presidency after Pam Wesson had to remove the incumbent, Tony Hall, for inactivity.

The young president didn't run for re-election, filing for a directorship. But there was no other official candidate for the presidency, and she won the write-in vote for a new term.

Since the By-Laws required her to fill the position for which she filed, the election hit a momentary impasse. When the situation became known at the Philadelphia convention, preparations were made for a re-ballot to fill the presidency.

L. Verle Heljeson, a former president of both the National and the Fossils who had increased his activity in the American over the years as a writer, officer and convention-goer, agreed to have his name on the new ballot. So did Grady Graham, the colorful South Carolinian and Harvy Turner, a Floridian.

Heljeson won handily, but said he viewed his election "not as one of confidence but of challenge. What can I, as president, do for the American?" He had the advantage of other strong officers: Elliott Ruben, reelected official editor, kept AAJ full of good material; Fred Liddle, elected second vice president, welcomed all the new Kelsey newcomers and printed a new AAPA Handbook; and Les Boyer as first vice president continued the Kelsey followups.

Membership had risen over the 200 mark by November, 1970. In February, 1971, June Prance recruited her entire commercial art class at Tampa Bay Vocational Tech High School. The board of directors ruled that since the art class had joined as one membership, it could vote only once in elections.

Member Mike Silberman designed a contemporary version of the AAPA seal, which President Heljeson admired personally. He asked for reactions of other members, but those who preferred the status quo seemed to predominate.

Retired and living in Washington, Heljeson visited several regional get-togethers and presided over the convention in Tampa, which proved to be the last one held on a Labor Day weekend. He mentioned the problems of continuing to meet on that date because of earlier school starts, and eventually an amendment passed providing more flexibility.

Fifty-two attended the Tampa convention, which substituted a poolside luau for the usual banquet. The program featured a debate between Pam Wesson and Dave Tribby on the question of mailing fees -- should they be paid by the association or by the publishers? Delegates voted 12-8 in an informal poll against charging publishers a set fee.

One unusual sidelight delayed a dues increase from $4 to $5: A national wage-price freeze, instituted by President Richard Nixon as an anti-inflationary measure. Implementation of the increase was held up for several months.

In the 1971 election, 24-year-old teacher Rodney Ideker became president, with Michael Silberman taking over as official editor.

Activity slacked off somewhat after the first burst of Kelsey newcomers began to settle into more relaxed publishing paces. The 1971-72 year produced 215 papers.

Ideker announced he would be working on ways to solve the association's financial problems. Silberman's volume of AAJ was distinguished by his own linoleum block illustrations, all well executed.

Among the new members that year: Ed Parker, Charles Phillips, Pratt Poff, Regis Racke, Gene Remignanti, Harrison Church, Robert Weigel and Jon Peters. Membership stood at 220.

AAPA went west for the first time at its Reno convention in August, 1972, with headquarters at a hotel/casino. Host Ted Conover arranged typesetting and writing contests at the University of Nevada Reno campus.

Outgoing President Ideker, unable to attend, sent a box marked "Do not open until..." It contained dozens of AAPA insignia buttons, which he suggested be used as a fund-raiser through donations.

Arthur Hobart Robinson showed up in Reno, wearing a Santa Claus suit at the banquet and offering a 40-acre tract to AAPA in the Northern California mountains. After Les Boyer looked into the tax implications, the association declined his offer.

Fred Liddle's Rhatt Race and Robert Weigel's Occam's Razor divided honors as best overall journals of the year.

The 1972-73 year became known as "The Year of the Gopher" with Minnesotans Roger Ralphe and Michael O'Connor serving as president and official editor, respectively, and three other Minnesotans in official capacities.

O'Connor broke through the offset barrier with AAJ, after campaigning on the theme, "If you don't like it, do it yourself!" It was a typographically attractive volume, too.

President Ralphe appointed Dave Tribby to head an Action Committee, with Charles Pasternack and Richard Ulrich as members. They started a writing contest on what's right/wrong with AAPA, a printing contest, a chain-story and a postcard-of-the-month project for members to send with bundle comments.

Of most importance, though, was the beginning of Ink Cahoots, a yearly cooperative which Tribby himself coordinated. Every summer since then, printers have joined in the effort to produce a chunky volume with individualistic pages.

Ralphe also named an Ad Hoc Committee on Constitutional Revision, which considered several changes including a quarterly publication schedule for AAJ. Committee members decided against a special youth award honoring ex-President Heljeson, who died in July, 1972, on the basis that other notables -- including ex-President Milton Grady -- had died subsequently. Although the Ad Hoc committee backed off from submitting amendments, several members pushed measures to formalize flexibility of convention dates and ballot-counting. These changes gained approval in the 1973 election.

In July, 1973, it was announced that a second Kelsey campaign would soon get underway, with Les Boyer again handling the hundreds of requests for information that followed the mailing of AAPA information. Members were told this was a "momentous period" which could shape the association's future.

J. Hill Hamon hosted the 1973 convention in Lexington, Kentucky, and it was reported that "despite the severe national meat shortage," a non-vegetarian banquet was served. Member Lee Pennington talked about books and sang folksongs at one convention session, and delegates watched the University of Kentucky Press in operation at another.

An essay contest on the subject, "Advice to a New Member of AAPA," brought material for AAJ of a timely nature for the latest Kelsey recruits.

And AAPA's first convention auction, frankly patterned after the Amalgamated's, elicited $60 for the official organ fund. Fred Liddle acted as auctioneer.

By September the new Kelsey crowd included Charles Bush, Lewis Hildreth, Charles E. (Ned) Kemp, Stan Kroeger, L.W. Lawson and Robert Rugh. The membership shot up from 213 to 262.

Mike O'Connor was elected to another term as president, and his official editor was Fred Liddle, who decided to restore criticism to AAJ with an anonymously written column. Although the unnamed writer was generally mild in his/her comments, the shield of a nom de plume stirred adverse reaction in the year ahead.

Secretary Art Hallock attracted comment that year, favorable though, by imprinting each member's name individually on membership cards.

By March of'1974, the effects of the latest Kelsey influx were felt with a 40-paper bundle. April and May mailings followed with 30-page totals. Among the new members added were George Stallings and Jerod Story.

By April 1, 1974, membership stood at 308, of which 114 were attributed to the two Kelsey campaigns. Les Boyer stressed the importance of follow-up letters in coaxing the newcomers into active roles in the association.

AAPA returned to Minneapolis that August, and this time 31 members and guests showed up. Walter Brovald led a panel on Freedom of the Press. And Fred Liddle warded off attacks on AAJ's anonymous critic.

When bundles were tallied for 1973-74, it was learned that 334 papers had set a new record for one year. And many were lively, frequent appearances.

And Fred Liddle's first volume of AAJ totaled 116 pages, an all-time record, achieved with the aid of inserts printed by himself and several other members.

In the 1974 election, three top officers were reelected: O'Connor as president, Boyer as first vice president and Liddle as official editor. Charles Bush, who had returned to the hobby after a lapse of almost 40 years, became mailer.

Founder George Henry Kay died Nov. 20, 1974, at the age of 68. His activity had dwindled in his later years.

A short-short story contest held in 1975 produced a number of entries, with the winning entries published in AAJ. Don Murray was commended for "reviving interest in an area that had almost died" in the hobby.

The 1975 convention, chaired by Charles Pasternack, took place at New York's Hotel Tudor. One-time Hempstead, Long Island, activists Bill and Norman Levine took part in the sessions, as did John Kriebel, who had been active in the 1940s.

A side-trip was made to New York University, where the Library of Amateur Journalism was then housed. Members learned that virtually all materials relating to writer and one-time hobbyist H.P. Lovecraft had been stolen from the collection.

Lewis Hildreth's Kaleidoscope, printed on a 3x5 press, won accolades from the laureate judges as journal of overall excellence.

Activity in 1974-75 had dropped somewhat, to 269 papers in the bundles, but several journals -- Lauren Geringer's People Watcher and Harlan Burbank's Our Special -- were appearing monthly. Lenore Hughes and Charles Bush managed 11 issues of their papers. Membership slipped to 305, but newcomers included Victor Ables, Sr., Bob Grunbock and Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Hyers. In addition to Ink Cahoots, which picked up more pages under the tutorship of David Tribby, another cooperative appeared -- The Gobboon, edited by Dick Ulrich.

In the 1975 election, Lee Hawes became president for a new term, and Fred Liddle went into his third year as official editor, as did Les Boyer as first vice president.

Treasurer Matt Kelsey circulated an amendment combining the offices of secretary and treasurer. Another amendment called for hiking dues from $5 to $7.50.

As the association approached its 40th anniversary, the 1976 convention was held in Palm Beach, with Sheldon Wesson and Roy Lindberg as co-chairmen. Founder Karl X. Williams, the honorary chairman, attended and related again the events of early 1937 when the first issue of AAJ survived an Ohio River flood in the attic of his home.

In a presidential message in September, 1976, Lee Hawes expressed the opinion that AAPA was in "reasonably good shape" to face the future, with membership holding in the vicinity of 300.


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