High Country News has always been fortunate in the people it attracts, whether they are readers, writers, staff or board members. Never has it been more fortunate than the day in 1984 when Herman Warsh agreed to join our board.
Herman knew he was signing on for a tough
voyage. Circulation was about 3,500, the subscriber renewal rate
was a low 55 percent, and the paper’s bottom line lurched
from red to black and then back to red, with total income never
getting above a starvation level of $120,000 per year. Morale was
even worse. Day to day, we were distracted: There was always
another story to write and another paper to get out.
Still, every four months, staff and board met in some Western town
to take HCN’s various pulses. This is
where Herman shone. While some of us were interpreting setbacks as
catastrophes, he was steadying us and helping us to see
possibilities. With a few words, he could turn a heated argument
into a civilized debate.
We saw Herman’s character
most clearly when staff visited him and his wife, Maryanne Mott, at
their ranch near Emigrant, Mont. It happened to be near the ranch
owned by the Church Universal and Triumphant, which most people in
Montana saw as a dangerous cult. But when Herman took us over to
visit the ranch and tour its facilities, we got a warm welcome.
That was because to Herman, the members of the church were just
neighbors, and he judged them as such. If they kept up their
fences, took care of the land, and were polite, that was enough for
him. In turn, they treated him the same way.
the opposite of a fair-weather friend. When High Country
News finally did hit fair weather, he figured it was time
for him to move on; he stepped down from the board in 1992. Not
coincidentally, the "Dear Friends" column announcing his departure
also announced that the paper had added an extraordinary 5,000 new
subscribers in 1991, to reach 11,000. Its 1991 renewal rate had
climbed to 70 percent. Finally, the paper had generated a surplus
(by definition, nonprofits do not make profits) of $50,000 on
revenues of $500,000.
Even after leaving the board,
Herman and Maryanne remained staunch financial supporters of
HCN, especially its intern program.
Herman died on April 18. The staff and board of
HCN send their condolences to Maryanne, family