- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 1, 2003

ROBINSON, Ill. — The push of a switch starts the homemade conveyor with a squeak and rumble. Sam Scarpone grabs sheets of paper from three shelves and places them together on the chains that move toward the old folding machine.

Finished and folded, another weekly issue of the Robinson Argus falls into a cardboard box.

“Just a little, folksy newspaper” is how Mr. Scarpone describes the Argus, which he and his wife, Carol, have published since taking over from her parents in 1986.

The Argus has recorded Robinson’s history back to the Civil War. Founded by George W. Harper in 1863, it has reported events from Abraham Lincoln’s assassination to the discovery of oil in southern Illinois to construction of a new high school in Robinson. Along the way, it chronicled thousands of proms, weddings and funerals.

It also became a hometown link for many who have moved away from Robinson. In recent times more than half the 1,000 copies printed each week have been sent out of town.

But that all ended Thursday, when the final edition was published.

“It gave a good written history of our community,” said Mayor Wallace Dean. “That newspaper has seen the whole history of the city. You just can’t replace that.”

Mr. Scarpone, who is 73, is looking forward to retirement and more-frequent visits with the couple’s three sons, in suburban Chicago, Oregon and Indiana.

“Sam’s worn out, and … I feel more worn out,” said Mrs. Scarpone, who doesn’t discuss her age.

Efforts to sell the newspaper and its sister commercial printing business found no buyer. The equipment and mountains of memorabilia will be sold at an auction.

Stepping into the 96-year-old home of the Argus a block off Robinson’s town square is like stepping into a history book.

Photographs of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, colorful Illinois Republican Sen. Everett Dirksen and others line the walls. Another room holds cabinets filled with old metal newspaper type. The old offset press, which still prints the newspaper, sits on an ink-stained floor.

The floor is littered with brittle pieces of worn newspaper pages. Bound volumes of the paper are stashed everywhere in the office.

“You stop to think,” Mr. Scarpone said. “[Harper] started this in 1863. … And since that time this paper has reported everything that’s ever happened — first paved streets, first telephone, first electricity, first gas, first everything.”

Mr. Harper started a daily newspaper to go with his weekly in December 1908, but stopped the following March because there wasn’t enough advertising to support both papers.

A decade later, the Robinson Daily News was founded by F. Wood Lewis, publisher of the rival weekly Constitution. The Daily News still publishes six days a week. The Constitution still exists too, operated by the Daily News.

Mr. Scarpone discussed the Argus’ history with visitors while he leaned over a lighted table to work on pages for one of the final issues.

“See, I’ve got holes here,” he said, looking down at his page. “This is going to jump [to another page] so that’ll help.”

Before long, the holes are filled and Mr. Scarpone takes the finished pages to the Robinson Daily News to be photographed. The negatives are made into plates, which are attached to the old offset press.

An employee from the daily paper moonlights Wednesday evenings to print the eight pages of each week’s edition on white paper, not newsprint.

“I guess it’d be a mom-and-pop operation,” Mr. Scarpone said.

The Scarpones do most of the work, including most of the writing, but they do have some help. Sue Jones, who operates the outdated Macintosh computer used to print the articles, has worked at the Argus for 18 years, longer than the Scarpones have owned the paper.

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