Saturday, March 29, 1997
River didn't stop Falmouth paper
Determined publisher turns home into office
to keep 90-year streak alive

BY ANDREA TORTORA
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FALMOUTH - Through a back door and down a flight of stairs at Debbie Dennie's home a few miles south of town is the makeshift office of Pendleton County's newspaper.

Now those who know the publisher also know her home. They freely walk in to buy ads, purchase extra copies of the special flood edition of the Falmouth Outlook, or to say hello.

The downtown Falmouth offices and much of the paper's equipment and records were destroyed when the Licking River flood struck four weeks ago, but this 90-year-old weekly didn't miss an issue.

''I could not let that record fail,'' Mrs. Dennie said, sitting at her desk, a picture of her old office blocked by flood debris taped to the wall.

''I had to make an attempt to get the paper out.''

She did. And still is.

Her basement bustles as one bookkeeper, one person handling sales and four typesetters go about their work.

When they moved in, the staff kept running into each other.

''We were in such a pattern of knowing where our rollers and waxer was that we couldn't find anything,'' Mrs. Dennie said.

Folding tables, old and borrowed desks, cardboard boxes and other equipment donated by other weekly papers in the Delphos (Ohio) Herald Inc. chain and the Grant County News have helped bring some order to the jumble of supplies.

But it was a nightmare getting the first issue after the flood printed, typesetter Patty Jenkins said.

Determined to keep the paper founded in 1907 a continuous publication, Mrs. Dennie rounded up Ms. Jenkins and another employee - stuck on both sides of the flooded town - and went to work.

She even enlisted the National Guard and one of its Humvees to try to pick up the man who develops her pictures, but the water was too high. She instead used a man in Campbell County.

Mrs. Dennie had been taking pictures and notes since the rain started March 1. She worked for the paper until 3 p.m. and then helped her daughter move valuables out of her home along the Licking River.

It wasn't until after 10 p.m. that she decided to check in at the office. There she put computers and bound copies of the newspaper on higher shelves, but it didn't matter.

''I never imagined the water could rip and turn like that. It got everything,'' she said. But the building's concrete walls saved the structure.

Later that night, the Dennie home housed 20 residents who fled their dwellings.

None of them slept. They stayed up with Mrs. Dennie and listened to the scanner.

''I knew when the water broke over (U.S.) 27, the town was gonna get it,'' she said.

For Mrs. Dennie, listening to the scanner was like being in the middle of town.

She felt it best to stay out of the way of rescues, but every time an address or name came across the radio, she knew who it was.

''I will never forget (firefighter) Marty Hart yelling and begging for a boat to rescue folks,'' she said. ''We could hear the screams.''

Born and raised in Falmouth, Mrs. Dennie never thought she'd be a journalist. She said she hated English in school and wanted to draw house plans.

But when she needed part-time work in 1981, she went to the Outlook and was hired as a typesetter.

The work was never part time and Mrs. Dennie ended up learning all facets of the business.

Now she talks to schools on career days about being a one-woman reporter, photographer, editor and publisher and the importance of sticking with an education.

Her tough task now is doing right by her newspaper.

Mrs. Dennie said she never puts her opinion in her news articles - she saves it for her editorials.

''It's hard sitting in those meetings knowing the decisions being made are affecting my friends and family,'' she said.

''I have to be very careful not to be drawn into the middle of it. But I grew up knowing these people and have made good friends.''

COMMEMORATIVE SECTION
FLOOD STORIES
FLOOD PHOTOS