By Abigail Roberts
LaRea Slater, an Upland community member is working to raise the necessary $20,000 to restart the SEGway, Upland's community paper, by March 1.
Due to lack of funds, the SEGway recently ceased publication this past December, but Slater plans to bring it back.
"I feel very strongly that we need a newspaper," Slater said. "There are so many things going on in Upland, it is definitely on the move and . . . the public needs to be informed."
The SEGway, which stands for the "South East Grant Way," was started March 2009 by Nancy Gore and Donna Bauer. Each week's issue covered news and events in the Matthews and Upland communities.
Two years ago, Cathy Kerton-Johnson, owner of the Bridge Cafe, and Douglas Rohrbach, owner of the News Herald in Marion, took up the challenge of maintaining Upland's long-running SEGway when co-owner Gore passed away.
While Gore had been unwell, the paper went two-year hiatus. During this time, Kerton-Johnson, a business owner, community member, church pastor and school parent noticed a gap in the promotion and communication of events.
"A local newspaper is an excellent way to communicate local life, rally the community in the face of challenges and gain participation in team efforts to work on specific issues," Kerton-Johnson said.
In 2016, Rohrbach bought the name of the paper and invested several thousand dollars in capital to cover the startup expenses.
Each week, Kerton-Johnson would collect the material and edit it, and Rohrbach would lay it out and get it printed. Contributors included community authors, poets, business owners and Taylor University students.
"A lot of students got the chance to write for different columns and that kind of served as an intersection between the Taylor University students and the community," Hope Bolinger ('19) said.
Considered the "neighborhood coffee shop" by Rohrbach and others, the SEGway updated the community on local sports team scores, school board meeting minutes and town building projects.
Over the last two years, Rohrbach was been amazed to see people waiting for the latest edition of the paper when he dropped them off.
"We have seen how much can be achieved by having a reliable outlet for information," Kerton-Johnson said. "Attendance at local events has blossomed in the last two years (including the Blooms 'n' Berries Festival in June and the Tree Lighting Ceremony at Christmas)."
However, during weeks where advertising numbers were low, Rohrbach was paying out-of-pocket for production costs. Kerton-Johnson felt the community needed to take more ownership of the paper for it to be sustainable. As a result, both Rohrbach and Kerton-Johnson decided it was best to step away from the paper.
In response to this announcement, Larea Slater, an active community member, met with Rohrbach and Kerton-Johnson to voice her concern over the ending of the SEGway.
Rohrbach and Kerton-Johnson shared that to restart the SEGway by mid-March, Slater would need to find 20 advertisers or sponsors to commit $84 a month to the paper by March 1. These pledges would total the necessary $20,000 to print 700 newspaper copies a week for one year.
"I'm skeptical about the funds coming in," Rohrbach said. "I don't see it happening, but Larea is very confident. . . .She really believes it is a really important thing to serve the community. I admire her passion for that and her desire to do something important for Upland."
Since January, Slater spends two to three hours a day asking local businesses and writers to sponsor ads and columns.
With newly opened businesses and the recent grants Upland has received both for renovating the downtown and for the Upland Areas Greenways Association trail expansion, Slater believes Upland is on the move and must have a paper to keep people informed.
"Every day, I work on this every day," Slater said. "It's fun if I can get some yeses out there and talk to people about the importance of the paper."
Rohrbach encourages community members to speak up and pledge funds now if they want to see the SEGway return.