by Susan Mikula Campbell
Sometimes it takes a bit of vision to get a good idea off the ground.
In 1978, Sony introduced the Walkman, the first portable stereo; balloon angioplasty was developed to treat coronary heart disease; and few people thought selling bottled water could be successful.
On the local scene that year, Skip Mazenauer purchased the Grand Island Dispatch, believing he could make the publication a success and wanting to make sure his hometown wasn't left without local news from its own newspaper.
This year, both Mazenauer and the Dispatch are celebrating 70th birthdays.
Today, the Niagara Frontier Publications publisher oversees not just the Grand Island Dispatch and the Grand Island PennySaver, but the Niagara-Wheatfield Tribune, the Lewiston-Porter Sentinel, plus the NFP website. And, he still firmly believes in the value of local news.
Mazenauer was honored Jan. 29 by the Niagara University Family Business Center, which presented him its Vision Award.
Criteria for the award asks that the person be successful, lead a family or privately owned Western New York business, be committed to benefitting the community, and to have created something when others did not foresee an opportunity.
His business has been a labor of love for Mazenauer. Growing up, he planned to become a veterinarian. Instead, he ended up taking over the Grand Island PennySaver, which had been launched by his parents in 1950.
By 1978, the Island Dispatch, which had been founded by Islander Ollie Howard in 1944 - coincidentally, the year Mazenauer was born - had been through six owners in 12 years and was on the verge of closing.
"I felt very comfortable with the idea I could make it a success, and I felt the community needed a strong local newspaper," Mazenauer said. However, he added, "Both my accountant and my attorney told me not to do it."
His wife, Judy, pointed out, "People really close to Skip know he's a real optimist. He's always saying, 'We can make this work.' "
Make it work, he did, and in 1985, he moved into Niagara County, founding the Niagara-Wheatfield Tribune, followed by the Lewiston-Porter Sentinel in 1987. All four papers are published weekly, and the Dispatch, Tribune and Sentinel emphasize local news with coverage of their towns' governments, school districts, churches, businesses, organizations and people. The website, www.wnypapers.com, was added in 2010, and provides not only local news from the individual NFP papers, but arts and entertainment, regional news, contests, a photo gallery and videos.
One of Mazenauer's secrets of success has been personal involvement in the communities his papers serve. He's been a member, a board member, an officer and in some cases, even helped found numerous community groups. Just a small sampling would include Grand Island's Neighbors Foundation, GI Rotary Club, Artpark in Lewiston, Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown and the Aquarium of Niagara in Niagara Falls.
On weekends, he and his wife often can be found at special events, ranging from Grand Island's Paddles Up to Lewiston's War of 1812 historical re-enactments.
"I keep telling him that, with his knowledge, he would be a wonderful tour guide or ambassador for the area," Judy commented.
When a crisis hits, the Mazenauers are not above getting down to the very basics of the business. They have been seen dropping off bundles for carriers and even delivering paper routes themselves. As with most small businesses, no task is too small. They believe all aspects are important for success.
Newspapers, especially local weekly newspapers, are not becoming dinosaurs; there's still important work to be done, according to Mazenauer. They're the ones who cover stories the larger daily papers mostly ignore, such as the tales of people in the community who don't get credit for their hard work, and stories of interest to senior citizens and parents.
NFP, in recent years, has collected three New York Press Association awards (a first in feature writing and a third in spot news for the Tribune, and a first in photography for the Dispatch).
Mazenauer also finds satisfaction in helping small local businesses find a way to grow by aiding in the development of successful marketing plans.
His own business approach is simple: "If we consistently serve the individuals in the community and their corresponding governments, school districts, service organizations, and so forth, we can be the medium they choose to disseminate their news and information," he said.
Shown from left at the recent Niagara University Family Business Center awards night are: Vincent Agnello, Family Business Center director; Jill Papke, vice president for finance and human resources at HR Bison Bag Co.; Scott Zgoda, president Bison Bag Co.; Tim Palisano, CEO of Lincoln Moving & Storage Inc.; Judy and Skip Mazenauer of Niagara Frontier Publications; and Gerry Catalano, assistant director of the Family Business Center. Mazenauer received the Vision Award. Bison Bag Co. received the Leadership Award. Lincoln Moving and Storage of Buffalo was recognized for being in business for 100 years. For more information on the NU Family Business Center, contact Agnello at 716-286-8172 or [email protected].