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Genesis: The Good News Paper

Thirty-eight years into the life the Shepherdstown’s Good News Paper, co-founders Randall Tremba and Ed Zahniser looked back on the paper’s beginnings. The original article appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of GNP.

Ed Zahniser, Steve Altman, Randy Tremba
L to R: Ed Zahniser, Steve Altman, Randall Tremba

Randall Tremba

On a dark and stormy night (or was it a bright and peaceful morning?), someone pounded on my door (or was it a gentle rap?). In any case, I opened the door and there stood Ed Zahniser. I barely knew him. And I didn’t know that we were about to conceive a thing to become known as the GOOD SHEPHERDS GOOD TOWN GOOD NEWS PAPER. It was January 1979.

Ed proudly showed me a paste-up of those words over a blank page. Pretty good name for a local paper, he said. I agreed. Quite clever. And what would be in that paper, I asked. I have no idea, he replied. Just got a title. That’s all.

I, too, was recent to town. I arrived in 1975. I was the youngest of the clergy in town and just getting acquainted with the Shepherdstown Ministerial Association. Long before I arrived, the SMA had been established as a fellowship for town clergy. To me they were not only elder mentors but legends: Quinn Bane, John Grissinger, Charles Cathcart, Paul Moser, Bronson Staley, Zacarias Cardosa, and Cyril Draina.

We had just begun discussions on publishing an interchurch newsletter as a way of connecting our respective congregations and symbolizing a newfound unity. Could I offer Ed’s title to the SMA for its inter- church newsletter? Sure, said Ed.

In May 1979 the first issue was printed, and one thousand copies were distributed at all town churches on Sunday morning.
Back then some people in this town did not go to church. Not even once. Never. Imagine that! But one of those folks somehow got a copy of the paper anyway and offered this suggestion: Include some town news and you got yourself a town paper not a church paper. And lo and behold, that’s what we did in the very next issue.

Soon we were printing 13,000 copies and mailing to everybody within five miles of Shepherdstown whether they wanted it or not. Some did not and told me so. Don’t send that commie liberal rag to my house ever again!

I would call or write back to explain that it was bulk mailed, so postal delivery could not skip any particular mailbox. I’m sorry, I told them. Unless you move more than five miles away, you’re getting it. To which one patron replied: Well, actually, it does make a good lining for my cat’s litter box.

So there’s that part of “good” Ed and I never anticipated.

Our readership has expanded. Our format has evolved. Technology has changed. But the founding purpose proclaimed by the Shepherdstown Ministerial Association 38 years ago remains the same: We aim to publish the best little good news paper in the known world and give it away free with the hope and a prayer that it will help cultivate a community of love and goodwill among those who fall under its good spell.

With this issue, I transfer the reins of the GNP to Stephen Altman as the next executive editor, with the full approval of its co-founder Ed Zahniser and the Shepherdstown Ministerial Association, its publisher. It wasn’t easy. It’s like entrusting your baby to somebody else.

With my best wishes I happily and confidently entrust this vision to Steve and the awesome team of writers, editors, proofreaders, photographers, and designers that graciously give their time and talent to produce this amazing free, but not cheap gift to our beloved community.

Ed Zahniser

Christine Duewel and I moved to Shepherdstown in December 1977. Earlier that year, while renting in the county, we saw a listing for a house on East New Street. We looked at it, but the occupant had a contract. “If anything happens,” we told her, “please call us.”

In Shepherdstown, things always happen. We bought the house and quickly realized that many interesting folk we met attended Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church, pastored by Rev. Randall Tremba. Christine and I joined.

During Christmas 1978, I devised a newspaper logo— Shepherdstown had no newspaper—but knew not to quit my day job!

I showed the logo to Tremba: It might have religious overtones. In 1979, a town physician, Richard Yates, cajoled the Shepherdstown Ministerial Association about the need for community healing prayer. The SMA was unusually dynamic then. For public human needs beyond water, sewers, and trash collection, the town was a virtual theocracy. To make good things happen, pitch the SMA not town government.

Not all town churches could worship together, but no tenets forbade praying together. The SMA scheduled a community healing prayer service. How to advertise it? Tremba remembered my dormant logo. How about a newsletter?

The premier issue of what would become Shepherdstown’s Good News Paper was a black-and-white, four-page, 11-by-17-inch format newsletter. Typewriter body copy was provided by Mary Ann Kave. I did the logo with pressure-transfer headline type. Our New Street neighbor Bruce Geyman drew St. Peter’s Lutheran Church—in 20 minutes by streetlight after10 p.m.—for page one artwork. Using hot wax and my T-square, I pasted up the pages on Christine’s and my oversized breadboard. The camera-ready copy was off to Ace Printing in nearby Martinsburg the next morning.


A couple of formats and editors and real graphic designers later, Tremba got up the nerve to switch to a folded tabloid format—the present “magateen” format. It was to be printed on commercial, high-speed web printing presses by the Waynesboro Record Herald in Pennsylvania. Nan Doss, then working for Specialty Printing Company on South Princess Street, set the type. The driving force from the get-go, Tremba became executive editor and made it look easy.

By the mid-1980s we had a good grasp of the editorial approach. We wanted to tell our stories through the lives of those dreaming, creating, or living them. Think: a People Magazine with photographs of people who could be—and mostly are—your neighbors. Good gossip, in other words. The good news you got from neighbors across the fence, back before air conditioning and clothes dryers.

2017: Introducing a New Executive Editor

In the June 2017, Good News Paper co-founders Randall Tremba and Ed Zahniser put a few questions to the paper’s incoming executive editor, Stephen Altman. The original interview appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of GNP.

GNP: What brought you to Shepherdstown?

ALTMAN: Good luck, mostly. I’d been retired a few years, starting fresh, living in a log cabin near Harpers Ferry. I’d spent most of my adult years in the D.C. suburbs, where my ex and I had raised three daughters. By the fall of 2014, I was living in the woods above the Shenandoah River, all by myself, talking mostly to squirrels. So I went out looking for people to meet and things to do and found myself in Shepherdstown.

ALTMAN: This was the small town most people dream about.

GNP: What convinced you to settle here?

ALTMAN: The charm of the place, I guess. Charm is like music or love; you don’t want to analyze it too much. Of course, there’s the charm you feel when you first drive up German Street, and then there’s this whole collection of things that charm you into never wanting to leave. Things like the river and the towpath, and Town Run threading its way under and through and around things. And what it’s like here after a 38-inch snowfall, and how they know what wine you like at Grapes & Grains Gourmet and how you can’t walk into Four Seasons Books without running into someone. The Bloody Marys at Bistro 112, the live music at places like the Meck or on the Shepherd campus almost every night. It’s the multiple old graveyards, all the churches, the sense of rootedness, the fact that some of the soldiers buried in Elmwood Cemetery likely died in your house after the Battle of Antietam. It’s all the remarkable people who live here.

GNP: How is living in Shepherdstown different from living where you lived previously?

ALTMAN: For one thing, I spent enough of time in city traffic not to miss it much. And enough time with big city stress and living near people who might technically be my neighbors but whom I hardly ever knew. These days it’s entirely different. When I walk through Shepherdstown on an ordinary day and run into my neighbors, I know them. They know me. I’m at home. That’s the biggest difference.

GNP: Did that influence your agreeing to be executive editor?

ALTMAN: Very much so. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t count my blessings. Don’t laugh—it’s true. And it occurred to me that the Good News Paper does the same thing—it counts Shepherdstown’s blessings. The people, the surroundings, the everyday events, the parades, the businesses, all the clubs and organizations that contribute to the health and character of the place. The paper celebrates these things. When I was invited to be a part of this, I couldn’t say no.

GNP: How has the Good News Paper been “good” for the community?

ALTMAN: When I mention the paper to people who live here, it’s obvious to me how much pride they take in it. How many small towns have a paper like this one—created and staffed by volunteers who have no other motive than to add to the richness of life here? This paper is like that flowering crabapple tree in front of the library—it’s iconic. You see it and you know you could only be in Shepherdstown.

GNP: You got involved with the paper as soon as you moved here, right?

ALTMAN: Even before, really. I was writing for it before I even found a place to live. Writing feature stories gave me a good excuse to introduce myself to strangers. I wrote about things like the kids who work at the Sweet Shop, people who raise chickens in their backyards, people who get tattoos, the young theatricals who put on Hamlet at the Folly. These days I’ve got all kinds of friends I might not have if I hadn’t had assignments to write about them.

GNP: So we can assume you like to write.

ALTMAN: It’s an urge, that’s for sure. It’s how I made my living, or at the least it was always a part of why people employed me. I worked in several federal agencies over 34 years, did a lot of writing for them, working on magazines, running publications programs. And of course if you’ve got that writing bug, it nags you in your off-hours as well. Over time I’ve written fiction, published a Western novel called Bowhunter, blogged for a few years, taught short story writing to adults. These days, I write sonnets.

GNP: One last question. What does our motto, “Free but not cheap” mean to you?

ALTMAN: Here’s how I think about it. You don’t have to pay for the Good News Paper, so in that sense it’s free. But the more you read it, the more it makes you feel that you owe something in return, not so much for the paper itself but for everything Shepherdstown provides. We’re blessed here. The least we can do is try to deserve it. Be kind, be useful, give thanks. This probably goes double for new executive editors.

Forty Years: The Good News Paper’s Shepherdstown’s Co-Founders Tell All

On June 22, 2019, Ed Zahniser and Randall Tremba welcomed over 100 guests to the 40th Anniversary celebration of the Good News Paper at Town Run Tap House. The paper’s two co-founders made brief remarks, excerpted here. The original story appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of GNP.

Ed Zahniser and Randall Tremba

Ed Zahniser

The genesis of the Good News Paper occurred in the suburban Indianapolis home of my wife Christine Duewel’s parents over Christmas holiday 1978. In my notebook I devised the stacked logo (GOOD SHEPHERDS GOOD TOWN GOOD NEWS PAPER) that tops the front cover.

Shepherdstown was recently newspaperless, despite historically having two newspapers. I knew too much about newspapering to quit my day job. But back in Shepherdstown, I showed the masthead to Pastor Randall Tremba. He liked it too but didn’t see a newspa- per in his future.

In spring 1979, Shepherdstown’s Richard Yates, MD, challenged the Shepherdstown Ministerial Association to conduct healing prayer services rotating among the town’s churches. Doctrinal differences meant that some churches couldn’t worship with other churches, but no rule prevented congregations praying together.

Tremba thought to use the logo I’d devised for an interchurch newsletter announcing the prayer services. We produced a four-page, 11-by-17-inch first issue.

Mary Anne Kave typed up the articles. I pasted them up on Christine’s and my big breadboard, using my T-square. Artist and designer Bruce Geyman, our East New Street neighbor, did a broad-nib pen drawing of St. Peters Lutheran Church for the front cover. Ace Printing Company in Martinsburg produced it.

From Church Newsletter to Quarterly Tabloid

Later we published a letter-size format, printing 1,000 copies. Before long, Tremba decided to expand coverage and format with today’s folded tabloid. He also adopted our “Free but not Cheap” motto from theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The Good News Paper was launched. Our Summer 2019 issue would be Number 480.

As former Maryland Congressman Gilbert Gude documented in the late 1980s, the late 1970s and early 1980s in Shepherdstown saw an unusually ecumenical era among the town churches. The overall Church of Shepherdstown was then led by a combination of young pastors and some beloved old pastors open to working closely and innovatively together. This was the closest Shepherdstown has ever come to being a theocracy, a very benevolent theocracy. If you wanted good things to happen, you would as likely approach the Shepherdstown Ministerial Association with your idea as go to the mayor and town council.

The Good News Paper fed on that ecumenical outlook and was a cohesive influence as the town experienced significant change. It also fostered cultural and literary happenings, documenting them between its covers. The organizing force behind 40 years of volunteer journalism was Randall Tremba.

Randall Tremba

I arrived in Shepherdstown in January 1975, thinking I was passing through like a rolling stone with no direction home. Church no longer felt like home. But a devilish simple twist of fate put me into a temporary, placeholder role for the Presbyterian Church while they sought a real minister. A year later fate struck again. I became that minister.

Soon most town churches had new ministers, mostly young, eager to cultivate a beloved community, “one church, eight congregations,” in a quirky village of a town. Even the Catholic priest, Fr. Steve Staley, went with our rather radical notion.

We agreed to publish one newsletter by and for our congregations to express unity. We had no name for it, but Ed Zahniser had shown me his playful, funky masthead. Can the ministerial association use this, I asked? Sure, Ed said.

The first issue appeared in May 1979—1,000 copies from Ace Printing distributed in each church that Sunday. Someone in town waved a copy at me—“Don’t you know not everybody in town goes to church? Why don’t you put something in here besides church news, and then you’ll really have something?” So we did.

The next issue began what Ed calls “the People Magazine of Shepherdstown,” sent bulk mail to 10,000 mailboxes.

Not all were happy. I got complaints and criticisms. One man wrote that, if this heretical commie liberal rag showed up in his mailbox again, he’d sue me and the ministerial association. Thinking myself a bridge builder, I explained that with bulk mail the post office could not skip mailboxes. If he didn’t want this rag, he’d have to move far away. Soon he replied: “You can keep the damn thing coming. I found a good use for it. Liner for my cat’s litter box.”

Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize?

Few know that in 1982, Shepherdstown’s Quinnith Jansen, who wrote for The National Enquirer, nominated the Good News Paper for a Pulitzer Prize. A month later, a letter from the Pulitzer Prize Board chair- man commended the paper but denied its nomination.

To be eligible, publications must be at least monthly. Ours was quarterly. I considered that a tech-nicality, so I framed the chairman’s letter. I’m pretty sure the Martinsburg Journal, Hagerstown Herald, Shepherdstown Chronicle, Spirit of Jefferson, and Observer don’t have Pulitzer Prize Board rejection letters.

We announced the GNP mission statement nearly 40 years ago: We aim to publish the best little good news paper in the known world and give it away free with the hope and a prayer that it will help cultivate a community of love and goodwill among those who fall under its good spell. As far as I can tell, it has not changed.