Ann Katzenbach and Donna Reibslager hard at work on the PRT some time in 2014. Photo by Lee Katzenbach

On its tenth anniversary, Donna Reibslager and Ann Katzenbach look back at their time working on this paper. Here’s what they had to say:

Donna:

It all began with Walter. Walter Andrew was a retired attorney, with a curious mind and a droll sense of humor, who liked to keep tabs on Patagonia’s news and gossip. He could often be seen in town, talking to people at one of the three conversational hubs, Gathering Grounds, the Post Office, and Charlie’s Gas Station – or points in between.

Walter decided that Patagonia needed a newspaper. He began to cajole people he thought might contribute to such a venture. He was my next-door neighbor, and one day he popped his head over our wall and asked me if I would be interested. I told him I would love to do the design and graphics.

Soon we began meeting, often with David Budd, who also had an interest. There was lively discussion as we tried to agree upon things like a mission statement and staffing and policy guidelines. Walter drew in Gail and Bill Eifrig, Kathi Noaker, Hal Slotnick, Susan Belt, Martin Levowitz, Janie Trafton, and some whose names I can’t remember. Once we finally cranked out a few issues, it became apparent that we were going to need reporters – and an editor.

Many people wanted to write for the paper, but only as opinion or on a specific subject. David Budd fell into this group, which left Walter and me. Walter did more of the reporting than I did, and I became the editor. Slowly, we fumbled our way forward, getting more staff, a board, a delivery system, advertisers, and readers. Hal Slotnick was our business manager, and was invaluable, helping us to become credible, handling a myriad of paperwork, and providing a dose of reality at our meetings.

At some point, Libby Irwin began a column, and contributed some reporting. Later, she would sometimes host editorial board meetings, and I have a lasting impression of us, sitting at a table by the window with a view of the mountains, indulging ourselves with her wine and delicious goodies. I have always had a low tolerance for meetings, but the setting she provided made them so much more manageable!

It was a thrill for me to be able to assemble text and images to help draw attention to important issues in town; to offer a paper that was interesting to look at as well as read.

However, after three and a half years, Walter and I were struggling to make it all happen.

And then, in 2013, Walter found Ann. She was just what we needed! She and I fell into sync from the beginning, and she put on her hipwaders and began to clear the swamp.

Ann:

In 2013 as I was driving from Washington to my new home in Arizona, my phone rang and I heard the voice of Walter Andrew for the first time. Through one of his grapevines he had heard that I was on my way. He welcomed me and warned me that upon arrival I would get asked to volunteer for many worthy causes. He said he wanted to get to me first and made me promise not to say “yes” to anything until we’d met. I did promise although I was a bit surprised by the assertiveness of this small-town newspaper publisher. I soon discovered that this charismatic lawyer from New York could talk most anyone into anything.

He took me to the Gathering Ground and gave me a paper along with a swarm of charm. But above and beyond Walter’s insistence, was the quality of the newspaper itself. It was, in its own way, better than the weekly paper I’d worked for in a town of 20,000. I signed up to write a column and several days later I found myself on the board of directors.

Walter moved fast.

His partner in publishing was Donna Reibslager. Walter kept up with town gossip and news and Donna edited and designed the paper. There were a few reporters, but never enough. I found this out quickly as I was assigned more and more articles each month. For me, a newcomer, interviewing people, going to meetings, discovering who was who in Sonoita and Patagonia was an instant immersion in my new home.

My only complaint with the paper was its lack of color. By 2013, most U.S. papers were switching to color print. When I suggested this change, the board was dismayed, but when we discovered that it wouldn’t cost much more to go to color, the board agreed somewhat reluctantly to move ahead. There was never a word of regret after the first color issue came out.

As part of my editing work I came to know our columnists, Cassina Farley and Martin Levowitz, both of whom entertain the community each in her/his own way. I have always loved Cassina’s concise, funny stories and insights. Martin’s opinions got people fired up and that’s always good for a paper but working with him as an editor was challenging. Donna and I would often despair about his language and point of view. We would try to subdue him, but his wrath when crossed was noteworthy. Happily, when the paper was delivered, we were all friends again – until the next time.

The PRT was always in transition. The board of directors was fluid as people resigned or moved away. Susan Belt was always a steady presence. Her knowledge of the town and her ability to see both sides of any issue were an inspiration.

Then came the immense sadness of Walter’s quick decline and his death to brain cancer. Donna and I felt the loss of his humor, wisdom and energy. There was a hole in the heart of the paper after that.

With welcome help from Lynn Davison and then Bob Brandt, we carried on, but the two of us weren’t interested in changing our habits and the world of publishing software was passing us by. The long hours sitting at a computer, editing, writing, keeping track of the stories and the constant editorial changes started to wear.

With few exceptions no one wanted the PRT to disappear, so the board of directors found the funds to hire Marion Vendituoli and the paper has continued in her capable hands.

Donna and I are delighted that the Patagonia Regional Times is still going strong. Over the years it has weathered criticism, threats, loss of life, and lack of staff, but today it continues to inform and uplift the community and the best thing is that most people have come to value and support it.