Joan Meyer, Longtime Editor of a Besieged Newspaper, Dies at 98

Joan Meyer, who spent nearly 60 years as a reporter, columnist, editor and associate publisher at The Marion County Record in Kansas, died on Saturday at her home, a day after the police searched the newspaper’s offices. She was 98.

Her son, Eric Meyer, the newspaper’s publisher, confirmed the death. He said that the cause had not been determined, but that the coroner had concluded that the stress of the searches — at her home, which she shared with him, as well as at the paper’s offices — was a contributing factor.

The raids came after a local businesswoman accused the newspaper of illegally acquiring a letter from the Kansas Department of Revenue explaining how she could reinstate her driver’s license after it had been suspended following a citation for drunken driving in 2008.

The newspaper, which said it had received the document from an anonymous source, verified the information, but Mr. Meyer decided not to publish an article about it. Nevertheless, on Friday morning a judge issued a warrant permitting the police to search the Meyer residence and the newspaper’s offices for evidence of identity theft and the “illegal use of a computer.”

An hour later, members of the town’s police department showed up at the Meyers’ house, which Mrs. Meyer and her husband had moved into in 1953, the day before Eric was born. They took computers, cellphones, documents and even Mrs. Meyer’s Alexa smart speaker.

Mr. Meyer said that his mother was in shock after the raid, and that she had trouble sleeping. On Saturday, he went to wake her after noon, and to bring her breakfast, which she refused to eat.

“She said over and over again, ‘Where are all the good people to put a stop to this?’” he said. “She felt like, how can you go through your entire life and then have something that you spent 50 years of your life doing just kind of trampled on like it’s meaningless?”

She died in midsentence, he said, at around 1:30 p.m.

Marion’s chief of police, Gideon Cody, has refused to go into detail about the case, but he has insisted that more information will be forthcoming.

Marion is a town of about 2,000 people, located amid the vast flat corn and wheat fields of central Kansas, roughly 50 miles north of Wichita.

As at most small-town papers, job titles at The Record are nominal; everyone does everything. Editors might write articles, reporters might sweep the floors. Mrs. Meyer worked as a copy editor and the social news editor, and for decades she wrote a column about local history called Memories.

“She was a walking encyclopedia of local history,” Rowena Plett, a features reporter for The Record, said in a phone interview.

The Record is a Meyer family affair. Mrs. Meyer’s husband, Bill, began working there in 1948, and she joined him in the early 1960s, once Eric was old enough to stay with her parents for a few hours.

“My father wrote and my mother read,” said Eric Meyer, who also wrote for the newspaper in high school. “They spent 24 hours a day together.”

The newspaper had a reputation for aggressive reporting alongside the sort of lighter fare often found in small-town publications. Recent coverage included an article about a thresher exhibition and an exposé of a scam involving supposedly free Covid tests.

In 1998, when the longtime owners of The Record, the Hoch family, decided to sell it, the Meyers stepped in as buyers to prevent it from going to a corporate chain. They also bought two nearby papers, The Hillsboro Star-Journal and The Peabody Gazette-Bulletin.

Joan (pronounced “Joe-Anne”) Wight was born on May 23, 1925, in Marion and rarely ventured beyond its limits. Her father, Ollie Wight, was a town marshal and later ran a funeral home with her mother, Mercil (Thompson) Wight.

Before joining the staff of The Record, she worked in a grocery store, a hospital and an alfalfa mill.

She married William Meyer in 1949; he died in 2006. Along with her son, she is survived by a grandson and three great-grandchildren.

Mrs. Meyer set the tone for the newspaper as a punctilious editor — though she refused to let anyone, even her husband or son, touch her copy.

After her husband’s death, Mrs. Meyer stepped back from many of her daily duties at the paper. Eric, who had spent his career as a journalist in Milwaukee and later as a journalism professor at the University of Illinois, returned home to help. He eventually took over as editor and publisher.

She continued to write her column every week until last year, when a medical procedure damaged her vision. But she would still write an occasional article, with the help of her son.

Since the raids, the newspaper’s staff has struggled to put out the next issue, because of both the lack of equipment — the police took most of the computers — and the sudden worldwide attention being cast on their small town.

In addition to constant calls from the news media, Mr. Meyer said, they have been contacted by numerous well-wishers and subscribers eager to help out.

“She would feel very good about all this,” he said.

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