The idea of a monthly newspaper for seniors in the area came out of a committee of The Thurston County Council on Aging (TCCOA) in the mid 1970’s. Some people were getting many newsletters in the mail and it was felt combining them all into one newspaper, sent to all seniors, would be very helpful and much more efficient. They applied for a small grant to hire a part time person to investigate the possibilities in the summer of 1976. Rick Crawford was hired in August and the project was housed with the Senior Nutrition Program, then a part of the Thurston County Parks & Recreation Department. An experimental edition called ‘The Bird Cage Liner’ was produced in September of that year, giving those interested and potential advertisers an idea of where we were heading. Over the fall mailing lists were collected from all the cooperating senior organizations and Thurston County allowed us to copy all the names & addresses off the voters registration files of people born before 1916 (making them 60 in ’76). There was no operating money, but the organizations involved gave money they had been spending producing their own newsletters, advertising was being developed and some creative financing was done to cover printing and postage. A large print typewriter and a non-profit postal permit were acquired and the first edition of ‘The Thurston County Senior News’ hit the streets at the end of January 1977. (Mason County was added a few years later)
After a while the grant for the staff person was ending, the Nutrition Grant was being transferred to another agency and the project needed more room than a little desk in the corner. Rick was transferred from one grant source to the next, WIN, WEX, CETA … before TCCOA and the Senior News could afford to hire him full time, always answering to the Council board with daily oversight from County Parks. Volunteers were added to do the typing, proofreading and putting the labels on the 12,000 monthly papers. The News eventually was allowed to move into a storage room in the attic of the Thurston County Health Department Building, building a darkroom & layout facility, and stayed for the next 25 years. (until the earthquake and the Health Dept. move to a new facility by St. Peter Hospital)
Before desktop publishing, this layout facility became very important to the non-profit community. Many, many newsletters, flyers, brochures, photos etc were produced. Typesetting equipment was added to improve the quality of our products. (our first computer was over $10,000 and filled a whole room)
Somewhere along the line the operation of The Medical Equipment Bank joined the family. This volunteer run project is overseen by the council and aided by its non-profit status. The Council also produced a television show for a few years on local access TV called “About a Half Hour”. During the microbrewery beer craze, a large annual tasting event was put on for 9 years called ‘NW Microfest’, which raised tens of thousands of dollars to support the projects of TCCOA.
Years later, technology took over production, agencies could produce their own flyers, e-mail, spell check and a mailing firm replaced most of the volunteers. (It was actually cheaper, because of the sorting discounts at the Post Office, to hire a list management firm than to put labels on by hand with volunteers.) The paper is now mostly a one person production housed in a small office in downtown Olympia.