In June, Marik covered a tense town meeting about the proposed improvements that drew more than 40 people, including some who derided what they view as an exorbitant price tag— upwards of $9 million. Others argued that the enhancements would draw more tourists and jobs to Washington Island. “A lot of people who have grown up here want to keep the island as it always has been,” says Rich Walker, a retired Chicago banker and Observer investor. “I think change is inevitable no matter what community you live in, and change ought to be managed.”
The next step in the Detroit Harbor plan is for the town to seek state and federal funding. Marik intends to keep covering the story, and she resigned from the Parks Committee, which required her to voice an opinion on the harbor plan. After settling into the role of reporter, she no longer was comfortable working for the government. “I feel more free to cover stories on the island,” Marik says.
The families that bought the paper do not expect a return on their investment; they agreed to donate all profits to island community groups. After losing money in its first year, the paper is on track to be self-sustaining, according to Lucia and Pete Petrie, who are pleased with the evolution of their dinner-table idea. “It’s changed the way islanders look at us,” Lucia says. “There’s a suspicion that off-island people are too big for their britches, but we’ve had a very warm response.”
A new question on the owners’ agenda is whether to publish editorials about delicate but pressing island issues. The fear, obviously, is that opinion pieces could stir up new pots of trouble. The editorial board has had to wrestle with the decision without its thoughtful chairman. Rich Shereikis was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a year ago and died five months later at 75. His wife, Judy, wrote an obituary for the May 9 edition of the Observer, highlighting the great pleasure he drew from the newspaper project, and his love of Washington Island. “Rich had, in his years on the island, biked every road many times over,” she wrote. “And during these past difficult months he often said that he found solace in retracing his rides on these beautiful roads in his mind’s eye.”
When Shereikis biked to School House Beach, he passed the town cemetery, with its hodgepodge of tributes surrounding the graves of beloved islanders. Birdhouses and lighthouses decorate headstones engraved with fishing poles and vintage cars. Clusters of daisies and daylilies crowd the headstones.
Island native Sherry Young visits the cemetery often to tend her family’s graves. She worked with Lorel Gordon on the original Observer in the 1980s, when they ran off copies in the office of the Bethel Church.
Watering a pot of marigolds, Young reflects on the new Observer. She says the stories are important again because of the new owners. “It took us awhile to get used to them,” she admits. “Most of the people are well educated. They perhaps have a different lifestyle from what I do. But they care about the island. I think they really do.”
Listen to an audio report of Jane Hampden talking with year-round residents and summer people of Washington Island about the power of local journalism.