Forty Years of Fox Cities Magazine: Our Story

Marvin J. Murphy & Ruth Ann Heeter

Life is an accident waiting to happen.
The crash experience of the economy in the early 1980s sent interest rates on the inventory of our machinery company to 25%. Under capitalized, we failed. Marvin’s background in machinery and Ruth Ann’s in communications left us both talented and unemployed. We had the agonizing experience of trying to decide what to do with our lives. Ruth Ann’s close connection to the Chamber of Commerce and her first attempts to form a “gig” management company led to Don Stone, then Executive of the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce calling and saying he had a “gig.”

It appeared at first as a bridge from a business model that required high capital to one that was skills based. Serendipity.

Change was everywhere in the Fox Cities at that time, including the building of the Paper Valley Hotel, which expressed a need for community information for their guests. The Convention and Visitors Center did not exist so the Chamber stepped in and was able to produce INSIDE THE FOX CITIES, a black and white newspaper tabloid presenting information on museums, parks and general community knowledge.

We found the original attempt lacking. Articles were rewritten and attempts were being made to improve the print quality. The search led us to look at local paper companies and inspired us to feature a paper from each area mill, which was used as cover stock. A short history of the mill and its products was included in the issue. In the best of corporate spirit, mills participated.

Our first four color cover, in the fall of 1986, was printed on one of these stocks. Full color covers were guaranteed when local realtor Terry Zoesch from ERA Paper Valley Realtors contracted for the back cover. Shooting Star Photography owner Mark Wallenfang provided early photos for what we call the “landscape era of covers.” We found a growing need for quality pictures which led us to photography classes at Fox Valley Technical College and partnering with a variety of local photographers.

Early issues came out sporadically. With our first issue we needed to organize distribution. While both of us could do some writing, distribution was a total mystery so the market was tested over a long period of time. Monitoring distribution sites showed us that local readers were picking issues up. Perhaps the focus should go toward publishing a magazine rather than a visitor piece? Besides hotels, area museums and attractions, we found we could distribute into corporate and factory lunch rooms, local retailers, doctor and lawyer offices, and soon decided we should mail copies to Chamber members.

Businesses in the area seemed to agree with our new direction and advertising support grew.
So, the growing support of the magazine led to commitment to specific publication dates (eventually becoming monthly) and a growing number of added publications (Dining Guides, City Guides, Bay Cities Magazine, etc.). And, we were very proud that we were chosen to produce the original playbill for the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. We chose OVATION as the name and have been producing it ever since.

Hiring staff and continually trying to stay up to date with technology to ease the work was to follow. Our original computer—basically a typewriter with a screen—is still in our basement! (The floppy disk allowed us to deliver magazine content to an independent typesetter).

There are so many stories to share with our readers. We never have enough pages. Over the years we have added special projects and continue to be asked by area communities to consider publishing pieces to tell their stories and promote their businesses.

We have been so fortunate to be involved in a business that allows us to continually meet interesting people and learn about various businesses and our community. Ruth Ann always jokes, “I get paid for making friends!” That is truly how she feels. Every day is unique.

We have been blessed over the years with staff that have enhanced their creative skills assisting putting the issues together. And, our distribution team enjoys the excitement of business owners as they drop off the new issues. Forty years couldn’t have happened without them!

We have also been blessed with the continued support of our advertisers who, while they are absolutely promoting their businesses, are also supporting all of the area museums and nonprofit organizations by providing us the pages to present these organizations’ activities and exciting news. Please thank our advertisers. They bring us to you.

When asked “What has surprised you about being in this business?” the answer is: The Magic Carpet nature of the press pass. Peeking under rugs and in corners becomes allowed. We’ve been in the belfry and basements and seen how the Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee is heated. Being allowed a day in the retired Fox River Paper Mill building as orders for demolition were outstanding. We have many photos of the great architectural detail inside the mill including a picture of a dam on the Fox taken through the little round window at the top of the building.

Skip Barber Driving School spent the day with us teaching us how not to kill ourselves with hair-raising skids and turns before letting us on the track. Moonlit pictures of the Hadzi sculpture newly installed in Downtown Appleton led to a special insert in the magazine sponsored by the Hadzi Committee and a donation by John Bubolz of Secura. Another surprise surrounds one of the most favorite days of the year for Ruth Ann: the day of the Annual Swimsuit Issue photo shoot. The fact that local government officials and business leaders trust our presentation and many times volunteer to participate is really fun!

It’s nice to be hugged by clients. How special to be in a business where you form such close relationships.

When asked “What is so surprising about being around for forty years?” We both answer: That you can fall in love with your occupation. Or, to quote Brett Favre, “Can you believe they pay us for this?”

“A family of quality publications celebrating the place we call home.”

Bookmark this post.
The Big Idea

2 Responses to Forty Years of Fox Cities Magazine: Our Story

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.