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Former Laconia mayor and community journalist Edward Engler 'gave the city a beating heart'

Former Laconia Mayor Edward Engler, founder of the Laconia Daily Sun.
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Former Laconia Mayor Edward Engler, founder of the Laconia Daily Sun.

New Hampshire lost a longtime public official and community journalist over the weekend. Former Laconia mayor and founder of the Laconia Daily Sun, Edward Engler, died at the age of 74 on Nov. 5 following a battle with cancer.

After starting the newspaper in the year 2000, Engler served three terms as the city's mayor.

All Things Considered host Peter Biello spoke with Michael Kitch, a retired journalist who worked with Engler for 14 years at the Laconia Daily Sun, for this remembrance.

Below is a transcript of their conversation.

Peter Biello: Michael, thank you very much for speaking with me.

Michael Kitch: Thank you for having me.

Peter Biello: You've said that Edward Engler is the "most impressive person" you've ever worked for. What made him stand out in that way?

Michael Kitch: He was an extremely intelligent man. He knew the newspaper business from top to bottom, and he had a very good mind for business. He also had a vision, a wide vision about issues like economic development, demographic change. But above all, I think what impressed me most was that he had a vision of a community newspaper at a time when the industry was struggling to maintain print journalism at the local level. And he had a very clear vision that the way to survive in the newspaper business was to serve the community, the local community.

Peter Biello: He had an unusual resume, serving simultaneously for several years as Laconia's mayor and also the publisher of the local paper. You don't often see that. Did those two roles ever come into conflict with each other? And if so, how did he navigate that?

Michael Kitch: Well, there was precedent. The prior editor and publisher of the Laconia Citizen, which went out of business, I think in 2016, had also at one time been mayor. So there was precedent. It created a kind of awkward situation, but especially at election time. And we just built a hard and fast wall and treated him as we treated any other candidate.

Peter Biello: Was it difficult to ask him the tough questions as a journalist?

Michael Kitch: No. He was very open about everything. He didn't in any way try to tailor what appeared in the paper to serve a particular political goal.

Peter Biello: I want to ask you about something else that Edward Engler has done. He's probably best known for restoring the Colonial Theater in Laconia. You said he was probably the only person who could have done it. Why? What made him uniquely qualified to do that?

Michael Kitch: I think the main reason was that the city had been struggling with this issue for many years. The theater sat right in the middle of Main Street. And if you know Laconia, that Main Street is the downtown. And the building was abandoned and it was deteriorating, and there had, I think, been at least, I think four attempts to deal with it. Ed looked at the project in a particular way. He saw it not as a for-profit entertainment venue. He saw it, from the beginning, as a public auditorium, a place where, yes, there could be shows with tickets that would make some money, but it would also be the place where the high school class would graduate.

It would be a place where the public could hold forums on major public issues. It could be the place for amateur local theater companies to perform and that it would be owned and operated by the City of Laconia. That was what he did in partnership with the Belknap Economic Development Corporation. They purchased and renovated the venue as a civic auditorium. As one person put it: "He gave the city a beating heart" with the Colonial Theater.

Peter Biello: Michael Kitch, longtime colleague of former Laconia Mayor Edward Engler, thank you very much for speaking with me.

Michael Kitch: Thank you.