During the Depression years, jobs were hard to come by. Newly opening businesses were few in number, and when they did open, they were besieged by people desperately looking for work.
In 1932, Brookfield’s business climate was at best stagnant and, in many cases, downright regressive. It was not an ideal time for dusting off the old entrepreneurial spirit. One man took a long, hard look around the community and decided that what it needed was an advertising newspaper, dedicated to championing the cause of local businesses. That man was Brookfield’s own Porter E. Rubendall and the paper he started was the Brookfield Enterprise, which was published under the Enterprise banner and, later, as The Times until the 1980s.
Rubendall started out as a Linotype press operator and, in the 1920s and up till 1932, also published The Melrose Parker newspaper for the village of Melrose Park. It was in this year that he realized that he had been devoting most of his time to that paper, and had been neglecting the small, printing business he had established in Brookfield.
Once he sold the Melrose Parker, Rubendall concentrated on his Brookfield printing business. He knew it was going to have to be expanded, so he began to plan things out.
“While turning things over in my mind, it occurred to me that perhaps I should start an advertising sheet to be operated in connection with my printing,” he stated in the June 9, 1954 issue of the Brookfield Enterprise.
“There were already two newspapers in town [the Suburban Magnet and the Brookfield Star], the Depression was at its height, and there was not too much incentive to any businessman to advertise [when so many citizens had no money].
“The idea, however, persisted. I felt impressed that if I could offer something entirely different in the way of an advertising medium, it might be acceptable [to business owners]. I conceived the idea that such a medium, that would [be distributed] to all the homes in Brookfield, Hollywood and Congress Park, might ‘click.'”
Rubendall was envisioning a small paper, exclusively advertising businesses and reporting on the local business climate. It would be distributed free of charge.
However, there were plenty of problems to be faced in starting up such a venture. For one thing, he owned only a small job press, so he was restricted from the start to publishing a four-page edition. Another problem was one of space.
“My little shop was located in the basement of my home, not too good a location from which to serve the public with a paper.”
He had already been hit by two bank failures in Melrose Park.
“In the first bank failure, I [only] had left all my income above the cost of running the Melrose Parker. I opened an account in the remaining bank in Melrose Park, which soon closed its doors as the other had done. Again I lost all. Subsequently the Brookfield State Bank failed, and again”I lost all. In fact, I had only some small change in my pocket when this last catastrophe overtook me.
“I was, of course, very much discouraged, but I did not consider giving up the thought of my project. I still had credit, and I felt that if I could make back expenses for a while, and keep going, eventually I would be all right. I figured I couldn’t lose much if the Enterprise [advertising paper] did not prove a success, so I was determined to give it a try.”
So Rubendall began to call on local retailers and proposed his new idea of a business-boosting medium.
“I received advertising from all but one merchant who were [still] advertising [in papers]. The assurance that their advertising was to reach every home in Brookfield, Hollywood and Congress Park was compelling.” He also gave his advertisers free “plugs” in the paper.
On the printing press that could only print sheets of 12-by-15 inch newsprint, the first issue of the Brookfield Enterprise, dated Friday, Dec. 9, 1932, was produced in the small basement at 9125 Sheridan Ave.
There were still a few problems to deal with, among them the problem of distribution. The local work relief office sent over a small army of men to do that work. It was no easy task, either, to map out the delivery territories.
“We finally worked it down to a system where a small group of boys handled the job,” Rubendall remembered.
The paper became a noteworthy success, so much so that the Suburban Magnet even temporarily adopted some of the Enterprise’s format, including reducing its page size.
Don’t get the idea that it was Rubendall doing most of the work.
“From the first, the venture was a family affair, [with] Mama, the children and the in-laws [helping out],” Rubendall said.
The first issue was all about businesses and totally advertising-oriented, but soon Rubendall began receiving little news stories, and he debated whether or not to print those, too. He decided they would be a plus, and then also became interested in writing about Brookfield government affairs.
Four years later, in 1936, he moved the operation to 3724 Prairie Ave. At the time he was printing 3,000 copies of the Enterprise, and it took quite a while with the old small press. Feeling “financially safe,” he bought a larger, faster Babcock press.
This feeling of relative prosperity lasted into the war years, when the draft began to whittle down his male workforce.
“It became necessary for me to work every evening, and it became quite a burden,” he said.
He decided he just had to sell the paper, and did so on January 1945, to Robert Hladik and Lawrence Morrell Gross. Without Rubendall at the helm, the paper began to falter and fade.
In September 1945, Elmer C. Johnson was given the job of managing editor of the Enterprise. Johnson, who had first learned the Linotype press at Chicago’s Tilden High School, had been working at the Chicago Daily News as a printer’s apprentice and filing copy. He knew there was more he could do.
“I saw young fellas coming in with pictures, and [the news room] would pay for them. I bought a camera and set up a darkroom [in my bungalow attic]. They didn’t pay you much for pictures at the time; maybe $3,” Johnson later recalled.
A year later, Johnson quit the paper. In January 1947, Gross sold out his interest in the paper to Hladik, and Johnson resumed his editorship in March of that year, and also purchased a half interest in the paper. In 1949, Johnson and his wife, Genevieve, bought out Hladik’s remaining half interest and became the new owners and publishers of the Brookfield Enterprise.
It was perhaps inevitable that the paper, owned by a photographer, now became billed by the 1950s as “Brookfield’s Picture Newspaper” and “A Picture News-Weekly.” Even in the 1970s the paper was billed as having “more photos and local news.”
Besides the Roliflex camera that he took everywhere with him, Johnson also owned and wrote using a second-hand typewriter, which he bought at a shop in Oak Park. According to Johnson’s own recollection, “the proprietor claimed that Ernest Hemingway, author of ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls,’ was the former owner.” Whether this was true or not, it made for a good story.
By 1951, Johnson had acquired more papers: the Lyons Times, the Summit Valley Times and then the Clear Ridge Times. Thus, the Enterprise was becoming a publishing empire. Twenty-five-odd years later, between 1975 and 1979, the four editions reaching 50,000 homes were reduced to two, covering Lyons Township and Garfield Ridge.
The Enterprise name was no longer the paper’s name, it was all The Times. Contests appeared in the papers, and one of them involved people’s cars being spotted with the bumper stickers on them that read “In our town it’s the Times”An Enterprise publication.”
In 1958, the Enterprise moved out of its old 3724 Prairie Ave. office to one at 9034 Brookfield Ave. Then, in 1960, it moved to a much roomier location in Lyons, at 8694 W. 47th St. In 1980, the Times Enterprise Publishing Company had again moved to the Old Willow Office Center at Archer Avenue and Willow Springs Road in Willow Springs.
On Thursday, Dec. 21, 1961, Porter Rubendall died at the age of 86, in Mountain View, Calif., at the home of his daughter Valliere Onstad. But his influence on the paper was never to be forgotten. The Enterprise edition of Wednesday, July 31, 1968, commemorating Brookfield’s Diamond Jubilee, published some of Rubendall’s philosophy from the early days:
“There is such a fellow in our town who is such a knocker and crabber that every time I meet him, I ask him what the bad news is. He always knows.” (Dec. 30, 1932)
“Don’t expect your home town to go upward, if you are constantly talking it down.” (Jan. 30., 1933)
“People can’t pull a town like Brookfield up the path of progress by sitting on the fence offering advice and criticism.” (March 31, 1933)
“The people who are always pointing out their home town’s faults, do nothing to create the enterprise and initiative that make a community go ahead.”(June 30, 1933)
In 1979, Johnson’s son and the paper’s managing editor, Denny, campaigned to have the paper change from its historically free distribution style to a paid subscription base, and succeeded. As of 1983, the paper also had 500 weekly newsstand sales.
On Oct. 8, 1985, subscribers and advertisers received a letter that hinted that the paper’s days were coming to an end.
“No Times this week! Sorry, but after more than 52 years of service to the community, Enterprise Publishing Co., is temporarily suspending publication of The Times’ Lyons Township edition, so we can reorganize our operations.
“Due to the increased costs of printing, mailing, labor and other expenses, we [are] forced to take this action. Paid subscriptions will be honored and dated up when we resume publication. Please bear with us during this period. Sincerely, The Times, Enterprise Publishing Co.”
It looked as if the letter had been typed on that Hemingway typewriter, and must’ve been the hardest thing Johnson ever had to write. The paper never started up again, and so, gone at last, was the Enterprise that Porter Rubendall had begun so humbly. It left a void, especially in Brookfield, which had enjoyed its presence for so many decades.
Elmer Johnson, however, was not the sort of man to just sit back and retire. Heck, he was only 72 years old. So he looked into real estate work, did some writing and continued to enjoy his nearly life-long passion for taking photographs. He also tried his hand at drawing cartoons, hoping to be published in the New Yorker magazine. But he never quite made that goal.
Denny Johnson went to work for the USA Today newspaper, and then left to take on a job as a Chicago correspondent for the National Enquirer.
Elmer Johnson passed away on Nov. 26, 2003, at age 90, at his home in Orland Park. On Dec. 1, at his father’s funeral service, Denny eulogized that there were “two things [my father] lived by and was respected for. The first was, ‘There are at least two sides to every story.’ And the second: ‘If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.'”
Sadly, his son Denny joined him in the hereafter some six-and-a-half months later, on June 14, 2004.
For so many years, the Enterprise and Times touched so many peoples’ lives. This is, of course, even today, the wonderful legacy of any successful local newspaper.