Death is something as a society, especially those over 40, we would rather not talk about. It makes it even more difficult when that someone is close and had such a profound effect on her family, work family and chosen community.
Terri Lescelius was an integral part of the EagleHerald family for four decades. She started her time with us in 1975, becoming the managing editor of the Marinette Eagle-Star in 1982, and was promoted to editor and general manager of the Menominee Herald-Leader in 1987. She, along with Larry Ebsch, ushered in the 1995 merger of two local rival newspapers, despite both being owned by Bliss Communications for years, that needed to be a team under the EagleHerald name.
Ebsch retired shortly after that in the same year as the merger in 1995, leaving Terri at the helm until 2012. She weathered the newspaper through the storm of the changing technology, which affected the industry in a blink of an eye during her tenure, including printing technology and online services such as websites and social media. Other major changes included a change from an afternoon to a morning edition.
Dennis Colling, Publisher from 1980-2009, said, “During my 29 years in Marinette, I had four editors working for me: Pat Kehoe, Grant Vander Velden, Larry Ebsch and Terri Lescelius. Terri was the one who brought two newsrooms together, the Marinette Eagle-Star and the Menominee Herald-Leader, to form the EagleHerald news department. She had the foresight to recognize the talent in both staffs and allow them to contribute to a great award-winning community newspaper.”
“She was not only a talented editor, she was a good person. They don’t come any better.”
EagleHerald editor Dan Kitkowski, who replaced Lescelius in 2012, said he first met Terri when she hired him as sports editor at the Menominee Herald-Leader in 1987.
“What I will remember most about Terri is her quick wit and her way with words,” Kitkowski said. “We may have disagreed from time-to-time, but I certainly respect the job she did in her long journalism career.”
The facts and dates she was with the newspaper pale in comparison to her personality and the vast effect she had on the people she worked with, especially her newsroom family. She led a group of journalists, some fresh out of high school to trained veterans of the industry, with ferocity and wit through the ups and especially the downs.
She was a living contradiction.
A staunch reader of anything and everything as well as a prolific and brutally honest writer, she would insist to call both people, as well as inanimate objects, by the name she chose because that person “looked like a” fill in the blank for whatever name she thought you looked like. Despite having the will to fight the good fight daily and being equally honest in person as her writing, she cared deeply about the people surrounding her.
“Terri always cared for her staff like family,” said Melissa Kowalczyk, EagleHerald News Manager. “She didn’t see an employee. She saw a single woman trying to make her way as a young adult. Or, she saw a man with a young family trying to make ends meet. We really were a, albeit slightly dysfunctional, family. When it came to wage freezes and furloughs, she brought us together to break the bad news and I remember her saying, ‘I wish I had never hired you,’ as she teared up. Those who knew Terri know that was her way of saying she was torn up we had to go through the financial problems.
“Despite the financial setbacks, we continued to follow her and worked just as hard every day because she was truly a leader and we believed in what we were doing together.”
There were many times Terri was referenced as “mom,” in the newsroom. Like a mother, she was protective of her “kids.” She would take the brunt of verbal attacks from outside the building for any one of her staff who was in pursuit of the stories that needed to be told. In that way, the staff could confidently go out and only have to worry about their job—covering the news.
A clear and accurate story was top priority, with timeliness right behind it.
Her staff wasn’t flawless. But more times than not, a mistake was a learning experience for the individual, and occasionally the whole team. Lunches were often shared during news meetings, making them informal and a way to keep up with each other. Talk of family, events and even dreams were covered in addition to what stories would be published throughout the week.
Fostering the young minds at the newspaper was a huge part of her job as editor. She talked through scenarios with people, often playing Devil’s Advocate to make sure topics or changes in policy were looked at from various perspectives. Those young people grew, and continue to grow, into seasoned journalists, photographers, designers and editors, as well as an assortment of other professions involving wordsmiths and those with critical thinking skills. Several of them, regardless of where they lived, would keep up with her; sometimes just stopping by to talk when they were passing through town.
“Terri hired a person who had enthusiasm and writing skills, and turned me into a journalist,” said Penny Mullins, former EH news editor/digital director. “As my editor and my mentor, she pushed me to not just write a story, but to dig into the deeper story and tell both sides of it the right way. There was never a single investigative news story I ever let hit the pages unless she read it first. She was tough, and honest, and simply the best editor I ever knew.
“I learned so much about being a reporter and, later, a boss from her; she demanded much from her staff, but she was willing to help them get there. She also was calm in a crisis—she directed the staff to get the stories, get the photos, publish the edition … and only then did you see any sign of concern.
“It was a privilege and just so much fun to work with her. She made me feel like we could change the world.”