Despite cancer fight, Marion publisher keeps working with community’s support

Dan Brandenburg is feeling pretty good these days.

The longtime owner and publisher of The Marion Advertiser said blood tests are improving as he continues to battle stomach cancer and he’s optimistic he’ll find a new owner for his family business by the end of the year.

Brandenburg has spent more than 50 years at the Advertiser and has owned the newspaper since 1985, which he runs with his wife, Patsy, and daughter, Angie. The Brandenburgs have built a legacy in the community, which has been evident from the outpouring of support they have received since it was discovered in February that Dan Brandenburg had cancer.

Dan Brandenburg has owned The Marion Advertiser since 1985. As he fights stomach cancer, he’s looking for a new owner to continue his family’s legacy.

“We’ve always been positive about this whole thing,” Brandenburg said. “I never sat there and said, ‘Why me?’ I said, ‘OK, game on.’ We’ve got God as our primary physician and he’s guiding us and our oncologist.”

The cards, letters and Facebook messages continue to flood Brandenburg’s desktop whenever he posts an update or writes a column about the latest on his health.

“The chemo has had some side effects, but the newspaper is my motivation,” he said. “Even if I’m tired and falling asleep or whatever, I know I’ve got to get the paper out for my customers and my readers. Of course, my family is my motivation, too. When I feel sorry for myself, they kick me right in the rear end and say to stay positive.”

On June 11, more than 2,000 came to a benefit event for Brandenburg. The benefit, held by the Marion Lions Club and other local service organizations, featured bake sales, raffles, auctions and live music. They raised “a lot of money,” Brandenburg said, which will be used to help pay for his health care.

“I guess when you’re in business for as long as we’ve been … it’s really humbling to know you made that many friends,” Brandenburg said. “As anybody in the newspaper business would know, you can get a lot of enemies, too, but our enemies are very few and our friends are a multitude of people that’s from all walks of life.”

Brandenburg began working for The Marion Advertiser when he was in high school. The owner at the time, Francis “Brownie” Byers, who later became a Wisconsin Assemblyman, asked Brandenburg if he’d be interested in coming down on production night to “wrap singles,” which involved rolling up newspapers that were being mailed out of the state in pre-addressed wrappers. Brandenburg said he didn’t care for the work and didn’t plan to come back for a second week, but Byers convinced him to give it another try.

Brandenburg became a printer’s devil and helped melt lead, run the linotype and run the sheet-fed press. His mentor, pressman John Draeger, was killed in a car accident months later, and Brandenburg suddenly was thrust into the pressman role.

The paper was sold around the time Brandenburg graduated from high school and he began working for the Advertiser full time.

“I had offers to go elsewhere and make more money, but I just loved it here in Marion and I liked the small-town atmosphere,” he said.

Over the years, Brandenburg worked through the transition to offset printing and spent more time in the darkroom than he cares to remember. Today, he marvels at the ease of designing pages and editing photos digitally in a matter of moments.

“I’ve lived through three eras of printing,” Brandenburg said. “I can appreciate what we have now.”

Brandenburg is looking forward to finding the next generation to lead the Advertiser as he looks toward retirement.

“We created a legacy here putting out this newspaper our way and with our identity, and now somebody else is going to come in and obviously they’re going to make a few changes,” Brandenburg said. “… Whoever we sell it to, I hope they’re as community-minded or close as we are, and I’m sure they will be.”