Farewell to our ‘wizard’

News is often about “firsts,” but this month Access Press notes a “last” as the December 2016 issue is the final partnership between the newspaper and Ellen Houghton and her desktop publishing firm, Presentation Images. Every mont since Access Press was founded 26 years ago, Houghton has helped staff and contributors bring the news to Minnesota’s disability community. Houghton and her husband Skip are off to enjoy a well-deserved retirement.

Houghton and Presentation Images will be replaced by St. Paul desktop publisher and designer In-Fin Tuan.

Access Press is appreciative for many years of service. “We can’t say enough about Ellen’s contributions to the paper,” said Executive Director Tim Benjamin. “She’s been a wonderful colleague and partner with us, in getting the paper out every month.”

Smith Realty Co“It seems like Access Press has just always been a part of my life,” said Houghton. “I can still remember my initial meeting at the Access Press/Smith Real Estate office, of being ushered into Bill Smith’s office by his wife, Renee, and seeing Charlie roll in just a few minutes later. We hit it off right away.”

Houghton’s tenure wasn’t expected to be long. The Smiths were initially looking for someone to create camera-ready artwork to be sent to the newspaper printer, so they could assemble the paper. “I guess they gave up on the idea of taking it in-house because it never came up again. And for that I am grateful. Access Press quickly became and has continued to be one of my favorite clients, and has truly enriched my life.”

Recently while looking back at the early papers, Houghton admits to tears as she reread the obituaries for the Smiths. She said that looking at the papers brought out how much she will miss Access Press. But she also noted that as some things changed, others stayed the same. The paper continues to publish cartoons by Scott Adams, and many of the same issues, same politics and same problems still exist today.

Access Press began in 1990, long before electronic communications. The newspaper office was in St. Paul’s Midway area and Houghton worked in Minnetrista. “We put a lot of miles on cars, employed a number of couriers and became quite creative in get copy, cartoons, photos and diskettes back and forth.” In the early days of fax machines, faxing of proofs was done at night, so as not to tie up the phone lines.

“There were many times I had to track down Bill or Charlie during the evening because their fax was out of paper or had jammed,” Houghton said. Converting tabloid-sized pages to letter size faxes was also an adventure, with one issue showing up at the Access Press office with only corners of pages available for proofreading. Other times computer glitches would resend the entire newspaper, over and over. The Smiths would arrive at the office in the morning to find pages all over the floor and an entire roll of thermal fax paper used up.

“Charlie enjoyed trying out new technologies and was often one the first to employ them,” said Houghton. The early program, Qmodem, had the Access Press crew feeling as if they had jumped light years ahead in the publishing world. The early modems were slow, but the copy could be sent without a courier, paper jams or wasted paper. Sending art and photos via modem was the next big leap, and Houghton was pleased that Smith was able to see that
happen before he died.

“We used to laugh at our computers. Or at least that’s what people thought when they would walk into our respective offices and see us typing away and laughing at our screens,” said Houghton. “Back in those days we’d be connected via computer modems and would type little quips and hellos backs and forth to each other as we sent and received
files, often sharing little happenings of the day and causing each other to laugh out loud. One of us would type and the other would sit there waiting as, one letter at a time, words would miraculously appear on our screens. We felt sooo high tech!”

Houghton has worked with Smith and his successor, Tim Benjamin, and all of the editors, office managers and ad salespeople over the years. After Smith’s death and with every staff change, she admits to worrying about change and how it would affect her long working relationship with Access Press. “Gratefully, each time my worries were proven to be unfounded,” she said. While nothing can replace the early days with the Smiths, “It is wonderful to see how Access Press seems to continue to attract great people.”

“And each month is like starting a new adventure,” she said. While there are sometimes challenges of late copy and photos, or other glitches, “it all comes together.” In fact one of Houghton’s fondest memories involves a title Charlie Smith bestowed upon her. He was quoted as having said, “Ellen Houghton, also known as the Wizard of Spatial Relations, makes sure everything fit and looks great, [and often] does it in a small window of time.”

Now as Houghton moves into this next phase of her life, she has plans to get a puppy this spring. Her plan is to get it certified as a therapy dog and bring some happiness to those in hospitals and nursing homes. She is again grateful to Access Press as it was her inspiration for this. Over the years of being with Access, she has seen how dogs have played a very healing part in people’s lives, and this seems to bring her full circle, combining her love of animals, naturopathic ways and her joy in having been part of Access Press for so many wonderful years!