In 1962, Doug and Audrey Lyke moved to Ripon from Northbrook, Ill. after purchasing a small, weekly newspaper, The Ripon Commonwealth Press.

   During the intervening 57 years, the Lyke family has built on the newspaper’s 155-year-old legacy of serving the Ripon community. They turned that small, community weekly into a printing company with sales in excess of $50 million annually while continuing to publish the Commonwealth, making it a perennial powerhouse among the state’s 150 community newspapers.

   But when a new decade arrives Jan. 1, the Lyke family will own neither of those enterprises.

   Ripon Printers is being acquired by Walsworth, an 82-year-old, family-owned commercial printer and major publisher of yearbooks based in Marceline, Mo.

   Walsworth is the 27th-largest printing company in the United States and one of the top-five book printers in North America.

   Under its ownership, the Ripon location will become known as “Walsworth-Ripon.”

   Meanwhile, the The Ripon Commonwealth Press and affiliated publications are being purchased separately by Delta Media Group, which owns a digital marketing agency and several newspapers that are run out of Kiel, Wis.: Tri-County News and the Tempo shopping guide.

   Delta Media Group is an affiliate of the O’Rourke Media Group, a family-owned, Chicago-based company that currently owns and operates community newspapers, associated digital products and a marketing agency in northwestern Vermont.

   Terms of both sales have not been disclosed.

   Between the two acquisitions, nearly all existing employees are expected to be retained.

   “In entertaining any offers to acquire Ripon Printers, Lyke family members always held as their first non-negotiable that local jobs be retained in Ripon,” Tim Lyke said. “Walsworth has indicated, through a promise and past performance, that when it buys a company it keeps its plants in their communities.”

   Ripon Printers will continue to operate at 656 S. Douglas St., while the Commonwealth and its companion shopping guide, The Express, will remain at its location there for a short time as well, with plans to relocate elsewhere in the community in the near future.

   Most employees are expected to continue with the Commonwealth, though Tim Lyke is expected to step down from his full-time publisher position as part of the transition.
“I’m leaving knowing the papers will be twice blessed: resting in the capable, talented hands of our staff, while overseen by a new, visionary owner with integrity, a commitment to community journalism and a reputation for serving readers and advertisers on multiple platforms stemming from the core, print publications,” Lyke said. “The

   Ripon-areawill be well served by Delta’s belief in quality journalism, as evidenced by its stellar publications and cutting-edge approach to digital strategy and media solutions.” 

NOT AN EASY DECISION

   Walsworth saw Ripon Printers as a company that aligned well in philosophy and product.

   “Walsworth and Ripon Printers share a similar history and culture. Like us, they have been a family-owned company focused on supporting their customers, employees and community. They also have a robust customer base that will add value immediately,” Walsworth President Don Walsworth said. “In this transaction, Walsworth is also acquiring coldset presses, which creates new product opportunities for us. Walsworth also was impressed by Ripon’s healthy financial position credited to a talented group of production, office and sales staff who are responsible for Ripon’s versatile product mix and ongoing effort to delight customers.”

   Andy Lyke offered similar praise of Walsworth.

   “Over the last several years, we’ve received several offers to sell our business, but the companies interested in acquiring Ripon Printers weren’t the right fit for us,” he said. “Walsworth, on the other hand, shares a similar history and culture. They are a family-owned printer with manufacturing facilities located in small towns in Missouri and Michigan.”

   Was it a difficult decision to sell, given the Lyke family’s heritage in the printing business in Ripon?

   Yes and no, Tim Lyke explained.

   “Yes, because it has been our privilege for 57 years to continue the legacy our parents left the Ripon community, and now, that will be someone else’s opportunity,” Tim Lyke said. “But no, because we believe Walsworth offers a similar culture of a decades-old, family-owned business that is committed to production excellence, to keeping jobs in Ripon and to serving our community. So the sale is bitter-sweet, but much more sweet.”

   Ripon Printers currently specializes in the production and distribution of catalogs, direct mail, publications and digital communications for marketers and publishers.

   It will continue to do so, with opportunities for growth for the whole company, according to Don Walsworth.

   “The acquisition of Ripon Printers is consistent with our company’s strategy for growth. It will augment our catalog manufacturing capabilities, which will result in increasing Walsworth’s market share in that space,” he said.

   He added that the Ripon plant will remain open with its regular production schedules continuing.

   “Walsworth has previously made two other acquisitions whose facilities continue to operate,” Don Walsworth said, referring to a 2010 acquisition in St. Joseph, Mich., and a 2012 purchase in Fulton, Mo. “Both facilities are key operations, as Walsworth expects Ripon to be. The company has made significant investments in people, capital and technology and its goal is to continue to grow across all locations.”

   The biggest difference simply will be the fact that the company no longer will be owned by the Lyke family — which, they explained, was a needed change given they didn’t have a natural successor within the family.

   “We have no third-generation family members interested in commercial printing, so we wanted to sell the company while we are healthy and while we could be selective about which suitor — and there were several — made the most sense for our customers and employees,” said Andy Lyke, 58, who will continue on as Walsworth-Ripon’s chief financial officer.

   He added that he feels confident in Ripon Printers’ future under Walsworth’s management.

   “Walworth’s values — fun, integrity, respect, safety and teamwork — mirror our own,” Andy Lyke said. “Those values, as well as its record of strong, stable growth and commitment to its customers, employees and communities, made it a company we felt would be able to move Ripon Printers further forward assuring its future success.”

COMMONWEALTH ALSO SELLING

   As Ripon Printers moves toward a sale, so does The Ripon Commonwealth Press.

   In recent years, the Commonwealth has earned multiple “Newspaper of the Year” trophies and countless journalism and advertising awards while continuing to provide local news over both print and digital media. It also publishes The Express shopper, the Ripon Guide and the summer publication The Green Laker.

   All of these publications are expected to continue following the transition to a media group whose owner explained that he’s excited to be coming to Ripon.

   “This is an award-winning weekly newspaper in Wisconsin, ranked No. 1 for many years, with a strong presence and wonderful reputation in the community,” Jim O’Rourke said, describing the paper as offering “excellent, local content” created by “local talent in each functional area of the business.”

   While much of the existing staff will stay with the Commonwealth, one notable member will not remain in his current position.

   Tim Lyke, 60, will relinquish his publisher title to O’Rourke and his weekly responsibilities to staff. He has offered to help O’Rourke with the transition in any way that will assure the publications’ vitality and profitability.

   Both O’Rourke Media Group and Walsworth will take over ownership of their respective divisions Wednesday, Jan. 1.