After three decades in newspapers,
ECM Sales Consultant Mary Eslinger calls it a career
In 1983, as a 35-year-old woman with a husband and two young children, Mary Eslinger had heard people talk about how quickly time passes — months turn into years and years into decades in seemingly the blink of an eye.
“People used to say ‘time flies by,’ and I used to not know what it meant,” Eslinger, a sales consultant with ECM Publishers and Sell Publishing for the past 30 years said. “But, boy, is it true. It doesn’t seem like I’ve been here for 30 years.”
With three decades on the books — or in the papers, in this case — Eslinger is deciding to call it a career. Her last day is Friday, Aug. 30.
Before starting with Sell Publishing in the early 1980s — the company that owned the Post Review, Forest Lake Times and St. Croix Valley Peach before ECM Publishers bought Sell in 1993 — Mary Eslinger and her husband Mark Eslinger lived in Ostrander, a small city just south of Spring Valley near the Iowa border.
Mark Eslinger worked for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Mary Eslinger worked for Rochester Lapidary Supply Company, where she cut and polished stones that were made into jewelry. She also worked for Kirckof Plumbing and Heating, which was owned by the same person who owned Rochester Lapidary Supply Company.
In the summer of 1981, the couple and their two children, Chet and Kati, went on a monthlong vacation, and when they returned home, they found they were both out of work.
“They had discontinued Mark’s position and they didn’t bother to tell him that before we left,” Mary Eslinger said.
Mary Eslinger’s jobs had been given to the wife of the owner of Rochester Lapidary Supply Company and Kirckof Plumbing and Heating while the Eslingers were on vacation, as well.
“They had six kids and their last one just graduated high school,” Eslinger said. “She decided she wanted to go back to work and she decided she wanted my job.”
So Mary and Mark Eslinger started applying for jobs all over the state, and Mark Eslinger landed a position at Carlos Avery Game Farm in Chisago County.
Subsequently, the Eslingers moved to North Branch and Mary Eslinger began looking for work in the area.
In 1982, Mary Eslinger called on an advertisement she saw in the Post Review looking for someone to do “phone calling from home.”
Corinne Kruse answered that call and forwarded her to Jim French, Sell Publishing’s former sales consultant, who hired her to do part-time, primarily over-the-phone sales for sponsor pages.
“They called me ‘The Voice,’” Mary Eslinger said with a laugh.
A year later, Jim French retired and Mary Eslinger got a call from Howard Lestrud, the former publisher of the Post Review.
“He called me up at home and asked me if I’d be interested in the job and I said, “Sure,’” Mary Eslinger recalled. “Jim only had one week left before he was leaving. I just followed Jim around like a little puppy dog and he introduced me to as many people as he could, and then I was on my own.”
She remembered those first few months on the job being nerve-wracking — she’d never done full-time sales — but the employees in Sell Publishing’s production department and Sales Manager Ken Jarvis were of great help to her.
“I don’t know what I would have done without them,” she said.
As the years progressed, Mary Eslinger honed her sales skills by a combination of on-the-street learning and tips she picked up from industry professionals at Minnesota Newspaper Association conventions and sales seminars hosted by both Sell and ECM.
‘Like a family’
Mary Eslinger has worked with four editors during her tenure at Sell and ECM and many more reporters and production employees.
The staff has usually been a small one, and that has lead to a tight-knit relationship with many of her coworkers.
“We’re like a family,” Mary Eslinger said.
There have been plenty of good times with Mary Eslinger’s newspaper family, and they’ve helped her through some of the toughest times in her life.
At the age of 40, Mark Eslinger died, and her coworkers were there for her during every step of the grieving process.
“I went back to work very soon after Mark died,” she said. “I don’t like being alone, for one thing. Just having the support of my coworkers really meant a lot.”
The community embraced her, as well.
“I was thinking about just having the funeral at the funeral home, but thank God I didn’t,” she said. “We had it at Trinity Lutheran Church (in North Branch) and half the business people in North Branch and half the people at the state were there, since Mark worked at the DNR.”
In three decades in the newspaper business, Mary Eslinger has made more memories than she can remember, but a pair stands out to her.
The Post Review office moved five times in North Branch during her tenure, and during one of those instances, it moved a short distance from a building off Main Street that’s now In The Woods Taxidermy to the large, blue building that was formerly dubbed the “612 Main Mall.”
It was winter when the staff made the move, and Mary Eslinger still has people who remember how she chose to move her work supplies.
“We were taking chairs and we were putting computers on the chairs and pushing them down the street to the mall,” she remembered, laughing.
Another memory relates to her tougher-than-nails coworker, Kruse.
Kruse worked in the front office, developed all of the Post Review’s photos and could “fix any machine in the office,” Mary Eslinger said.
“If I was gone, she could take care of my advertising, too,” she said.
While on vacation one year, Kruse broke her neck in a car accident, but that didn’t keep her out of work for long.
She resumed her duties shortly after the accident, wearing a neck brace that substantially decreased the mobility of her head.
The Post Review staff raised her computer so she could see what she was typing, and anytime a customer would come in the door, she’d have to turn her entire body to look at them.
“It’s pretty hard to knock Corinne down, let me tell ya,” Mary Eslinger said.
Memories of Mary
Coworkers and business owners in North Branch have come to know Mary Eslinger over the many years she has been in the community, and she’s forged relationships with them that go beyond that of acquaintances.
“We had a tiny staff, but a dedicated bunch,” Twyla Ring, former editor of the Post Review, said. “Without Mary’s dedication to marketing, all other efforts would be for naught. Without ads, newspaper pages aren’t printed. No ads; no ink. It’s a good thing Mary made sure we had plenty of ink, ‘cause I never ran out of words.
“I always considered each person’s work to be a crucial piece of our Post-Review pie. Early in my ‘editorship,’ the crew presented me with a Happy Bosses Day card. Were they kidding me? There was no boss, I protested. I’m just a coach for a great team. That was the last of Hallmark for us.
“We bonded in a lifelong friendship,” Ring said. “The Post-Review will miss Mary, but not me. Now we just have more time for each other!”
Jeff Andres, ECM’s regional general manger for the past 15 years, recalled how he met Mary Eslinger for the first time.
“During my first year of work with ECM many years ago, I was told I was going to help out Mary with sales in North Branch,” he said. “I walked into the tiny office and asked for Mary. ‘Over here’ was what I heard and turned to see Mary looking at me from the hole she had specially constructed in the middle of the back of her desk so she could see people coming into the office. After that, I spent most of the rest of the day answering the question, ‘Where’s Mary?’ It was my first true understanding of the relationships that salespeople can form with their customers. And Mary had a lot of longtime relationships with her customers. We want to thank Mary for a great 30 years.”
Arlys Walberg, the promotions coordinator for the North Branch Area Chamber of Commerce, is thankful to Mary Eslinger for the help she has offered to her and other chamber members over the years.
“When I started with the chamber, Mary was on our board of directors,” she said. “We were planning the very first Winter Fest and she had so many great ideas. Mary very patiently walked me through advertising deadlines and helped me stay on track. To this day, when she should have had my poster/ event information, I get a good-humored reminder that my time is up. We will sure miss working with her, especially at event time.”
Even though Mary Eslinger is retiring from her sales position at ECM, she’ll still be plenty busy with her other jobs. She’s been a sales consultant with Avon for longer than she’s worked for newspapers, she works at a group home and four times a year she drives to housing developments in Chisago and Isanti counties to survey areas for a company that puts together plat maps.
But by leaving ECM, she’ll have more time to partake in a pastime she’s neglected for many years — sleeping in.
“All these years I’ve had to get up and now I don’t have to,” she said, noting that she’s always loved the “The Price is Right,” and now she’ll have time to watch it.
She’ll also take more time to visit family and friends, and she plans to stay connected to the North Branch business community by continuing to attend meetings as a representative for Avon.
She admitted that stepping away from her job after 30 years will be tough.
“I’ll miss the people — the coworkers and the customers,” she said. “I like people.”