A 1983 Nevada High School graduate has found her dream job.
Kendra Dodson Breitsprecher, 52, is the owner/editor of the Dayton Leader newspaper. She also has a few part-time jobs to help pay the bills, but she wouldn’t give up the newspaper work for anything.
“I couldn’t have a cooler job,” Breitsprecher said, heavily emphasizing the word “cooler.”
“What’s not to love (about newspaper work)? It is the perfect job for someone that loves to write and loves their small community. I like to think I’m the ‘Atticus Finch of the newspaper world.’ Nothing makes me happier than hanging a sign on the door that says ‘closed for the big game.’ And, that press pass gives such access. I stood a foot away from President Obama. I sent a reporter to see Trump… I get to sit on the mat at state wrestling. I interviewed the Ankeny girl that was on American Idol a few years back.” She could go on.
Breitsprecher was a teacher for 20 years before taking on her newspaper gig. She attended Coe College right after graduating from Nevada High School. She earned a BA in 1987 and then got an MA from Iowa State University. “I took a teaching job at Central Webster Dayton High School in Burnside,” she said. She taught English.
When she and her husband, Dean, had their first child, they moved from their home in Fort Dodge to the small town of Dayton to give their kids — they ended up with three — a “country upbringing.”
The interest in reporting came about seven years ago. “A friend and I started an online newspaper as a way to give back to the community.” Breitsprecher said the existing newspaper wasn’t very good. “When Kathlynn Shepard was abducted and murdered—the local paper didn’t even cover it for two-and-a-half weeks. My friend and I were there for the first press conference and all the way through. By the end of the first week, we had 10,000 likes on Facebook and had been interviewed by everyone from Channel 8 to IPR to the Register to “Good Morning America.” The first interview the Shepards gave was in my living room.”
Two months later, her husband took a pay cut at work, and that’s when they decided to take the Leader to a print product. “Dean cashed in his retirement and we went for it.” They became the second newspaper in a town of 800. Some might consider them crazy.
“Starting a brand new newspaper—from scratch—in a town that already has a newspaper that is over 100 years old, is certainly a challenge,” Breitsprecher admitted. “However, in less than four years, we were named official newspaper of not only Dayton, but also of the school, Webster County and other small area towns.”
The first two years, she recalled, were a nightmare, however. During the early going, “how to pay the bills” was a huge consideration. “Once we hit the magic ‘two-year mark,’ things have changed. There is more money — but we are investing it back into our community, so we aren’t exactly a money-making machine.”
The Breitsprechers produce a 16-page (minimum) newspaper with at least four pages of color in it every week. Putting the paper together happens in the corner of their dining room. “We do not print articles from a ‘service’ — if they are in the paper, they are written locally, probably by me,” she said. “I write 85 percent of the paper, do the layout, take the photos and do the bookwork. I also sell ads and even print the labels. A retired neighbor delivers for us every Tuesday and does the mailing.”
Breitsprecher said in the past year she has hired a writer who works on a pay per story basis, and a salesperson who works on commission. “Other than that,” she said, “it is the kids, my husband, and me. And we love it.”
Looking back to her years of growing up in Nevada, which started when her family moved here in fifth grade, Breitsprecher has many fond memories. Those memories include, she listed, “homecoming parades (especially cheerleaders riding on the fire truck and making the float in Todd Vincent’s garage), speech contests with ‘EM,’ going to the pool all summer long… The beach at Hickory Grove, (where her kids have run cross country during high school)… The finish line is right by where we used to lay out and tan… I can’t go by the Rullestad farm without thinking of parties and the time John’s band played “Free Bird” on a hay rack. I remember when Hickory House opened and it was the greatest thing since sliced bread.”
When she thinks back to those who inflenced her most, the first person she names fits with her love of journalism. “Bill Phillips was a huge influence. I was editor of the Nevada High School ‘Echo’ newspaper. He started this great love as my teacher and journalism advisor.” Others who influenced her, she said, include Eunice Meredith, her speech coach. “We still exchange Christmas cards.” Brad Braley was her minister at Central Presbyterian, and before him Jerry Riesen, both influential to her. “And, of course, my mom and dad,” she said, of Vicki and Joe Dodson.
Growing up in Nevada, she noted, instilled in her a love of rural Iowa, the value of education, the value of a small-town church and the value of family.
She and her husband Dean married in 1989 at Central Presbyterian Church in Nevada, and she values him as the co-owner and publisher of the Leader. They’re three kids are: Cody, 24, who graduates from UNI this year with a degree in acting performance; Josie, 20, a junior at Creighton studying pre-pharmacy and Patrick, 18, a senior in high school at Southeast Valley. “We also have a whole bunch of fur babies—most named for characters from Shakespeare’s plays.”
With three kids, three part-time jobs and a newspaper to run, Breitsprecher said she doesn’t have much time for hobbies. “I love to read. I love to garden. Theatre — particularly musical theatre — is my passion.” And she’s very active in her community. “I sit on the Dayton City Council. I am a member of the Dayton Community Club and have just finished three years as an officer. I am a board member for the Dayton Museum. I’m sure I’m on more boards than that, but I can’t remember them all. I go to a lot of meetings.”
With family still in Nevada and not living too far away, she makes it back to her hometown regularly. “Nevada was a great place to grow up and I love to come back and visit. Nothing will taste better than a Starbuck’s beefburger and a bottle of pop in a glass bottle from Chub’s —ever!” She also loves attending her class’s reunions; she’s helped organize three of them.
When asked if she sees herself in the newspaper business for the long haul, she gives the following answer: “Well, I’m 52 — so ‘long haul’ has a different meaning than it had 20 years ago. My dream is for one of my three children to continue with this family business. However, I can easily see myself doing this for another 20 years, no problem. It is just so much fun.”