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Ink's in their blood

SAM BENSHOOF,, great grandson of Louis "Lou" Benshoof, is currently the editor of the East Otter Tail Focus in Perham.1 / 3
JACK BENSHOOF in his office at the Becker County Record, where he served as editor from 1947, when he purchased the newspaper from his father Louis, until he sold it in 1961.2 / 3
LOUIS "LOU" BENSHOOF (third from left) and other staff members of The Detroit Record, as it was known when the newspaper office was located on Holmes Street in the early 1920s.3 / 3

Ink seems to run in the bloodline of the Benshoof family.

Lou Benshoof came to work for the Becker County Record in 1907 as a reporter, buying the newspaper in 1911 and owning it for the next 36 years.

His son, Jack, went to work for Lou, eventually purchasing the newspaper from his father and owning it from 1947-61. And while his son, Paul, didn't go into journalism, he was an English major in college who enjoys writing.

Coming full circle, Paul's son, Sam, is now the editor of the East Otter Tail Focus, the Becker County Record's sister paper.

"Writing, if not journalism, has been a very constant thread in my family," Sam Benshoof said.

Many people in the Detroit Lakes area know the Benshoof name, whether it be from the newspaper or from Lowell Benshoof, who served as a lawyer and county attorney for Becker County. Lowell was also Lou's son.

"Lowell was the Becker County attorney for many years and also had his own firm," Paul said. "Many of the best attorneys in town were in Lowell's firm, including Lynn Hummel, Jim Sinclair, Jack Pearson, Dennis Schurman, Joe Evans and Linda Hunt. Jack Pearson was the county attorney when I clerked with the firm after my second year of law school in 1977, and he later became a judge, as did Joe Evans."

For the newspaper Benshoofs though, it all started with Lou, who came from Iowa to work for the Barnesville newspaper. While in Iowa, Lou had worked in mining and written "gossip notes" for the local newspaper.

"What we don't see much in newspapers today," Sam said of the news of who came to whose house for lunch and such.

With no formal training in journalism, Lou worked as the editor of the Barnesville Record Review, and eventually moved to Detroit Lakes -- Detroit back in those days -- and went to work for Becker County Record founder George Hamilton in 1907.

Sam said they moved to their house at 210 Park Street, which stayed in the family until 2008, when it was sold to Essentia Health St. Mary's for the hospital's expansion project.

In 1911, Lou and A.T. Thompson purchased the Record together and ran it until 1947, when Lou sold it to his son Jack and Roger Hamilton.

"Clearly he was an ambitious man," Sam said of Lou, who didn't have any journalism background and ended up running and owning newspapers.

Before his uncle, Ward, researched the family history, Sam said he didn't know much about his grandfather or great grandfather. But it's been interesting getting to know them.

"Ward echoed (that they were) ambitious and motivated men, but, more than that, Ward thinks they wanted to be in a position in the community where they could have an influence," Sam said of Lou and Jack. "Both had powerful voices, and both were very opinionated -- Lou about conservation and Jack about peace issues after World War II."

Lou ran for Congress at one point. He had written many editorials and articles surrounding conservation, but didn't make it past the primaries.

"He was ahead of his time in that sense," Sam said of his great grandfather and his advocacy for conservation.

In 1937, Lou served as the president of the Minnesota Newspaper Association as well. And in 1926, he hosted Teddy Roosevelt Jr. on a fishing trip to Toad Lake while Roosevelt was in Detroit Lakes.

After Lou, Jack worked at and owned the newspaper for several years, but it wasn't his only passion.

Paul said at age 51, his dad decided to make a mid-career change: to sell the paper and become a teacher.

"And so came to a close more than a half century of a Benshoof being the owner and editor of the Becker County Record."

Before getting into the newspaper business, Jack had attended law school but had to drop out after getting TB. It took him two years to recover and rather than going back to law school, he stayed at the newspaper and continued down that path.

"After discussions with Ward and my dad," Sam said, "I understand now that Jack decided to sell the newspaper in 1961 because it wasn't profitable for him at that point, and he didn't enjoy selling ads as much as he did writing editorials, or expressing himself in that way."

But in 1961, he sold the Record to Willard Robbins, who two years later sold the Record -- and the Detroit Lakes Tribune was as sold -- to John R. Meyer.

"It might seem strange now, with Moorhead seeming so close and people commuting back and forth every day," Paul said via e-mail, "but that was not possible back then, in part because we only had one car and because Mom went to work as a public health nurse when Dad went to MSU.

"So Dad got an apartment in Moorhead and lived there about a year and a summer while he got his teaching licensure."

After graduating from the university, Jack started teaching English at the Detroit Lakes High School. Paul said his father was offered a couple other jobs before he was offered the Detroit Lakes position, but luckily the superintendent at the time, Grant Johnson, "managed to get Dad a job there. He was forever grateful to Johnson after that for giving his family the chance to stay in Detroit Lakes, a town Dad loved."

During his time at the Record, Paul said, his father hired Ralph Anderson, who went on to be a well-known sports writer for years at the paper.

After his death, Anderson wrote a column about Jack, saying, "He and Roger were extremely patient with a rookie newspaperman, and I will be eternally grateful for the opportunity they provided me. Jack was a man who loved life and absorbed it to the hilt and is going to be missed in many circles."

The next generation in the Benshoof family would be Paul, who skipped journalism, got a degree in English and went to law school. He worked for two decades as a lawyer in Bemidji before being appointed judge in 1997, where he still serves.

And finally, Sam attended Carlton College (Northfield, Minn.), majoring in American studies, "sort of a vague major," he said.

While in college, he worked for the student newspaper and found that he really enjoyed journalism, as those before him had. But, the family history didn't necessarily drive him to journalism either.

"It's a good connection. It's fun to know this was something my great grandfather and grandfather did," he said.

Looking at the pictures of his grandfather sitting at a typewriter in his office, Sam said it's interesting to see the differences but also the similarities from then to now.

"In a way, a lot has changed since then, but a lot has also stayed the same. Community newspapers and community journalism, I think, are still as important to places like Detroit Lakes or Perham as they used to be.

"They're different, of course, but the underlying pride in the community is still pretty similar."

And like his great grandfather and grandfather, newspaper is a place to express himself and voice his ideas, while using his creative side as well.

"I don't think I'm quite as opinionated as Lou or Jack were, but I think I do share their belief in the importance that newspapers have for small communities as well as in the importance of newspapers in general to society, especially as they face economic hardships," he said.