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Janis Weinberger: COURIER owner, graphic designer, senior advocate

COURIER owner, graphic designer, senior advocate

Janis Weinberger, owner of the Claremont COURIER newspaper and longtime advocate for senior services in Claremont, died peacefully in her sleep at Pilgrim Place Health Services Center on February 2, 2017. She was 90.

She was born on September 4, 1926 in Fort Wayne, Indiana to Francis “Frank” McMaken, who worked for the railroad in management, and Loretta McMaken, a homemaker. Her two older siblings, Dorothy and Raymond, were 11 and 9 when she was born. 

Hear from Janis herself in a just produced video

Janis spent her early years in Fort Wayne, but by grade school had moved with her family to Chicago where she bonded with her niece Judy Schieck, who was nine years younger. The girls sang together as they helped clean up after family meals, everything from popular tunes of the day to Christmas carols. “We had a marvelous time—I never minded doing the dishes,” Judy said.

After graduating from high school in 1945, Janis attended Beloit College in Wisconsin. Each year, beginning when Judy was 9, her parents would drive her up to Beloit to spend a long weekend with her aunt. “I had so much fun. We did things, she showed me the college—it was just wonderful,” Judy recalled. “What made it so special is that, right from the get-go, I knew I was going to go to college.”

After earning a degree in social work in 1949, Janis worked for the YWCA and then joined the Department of the Army during the Korean War. In 1951, she was stationed in Germany helping the service clubs provide entertainment and educational opportunities for the soldiers when she met Martin Weinberger, an information and education officer for the US Army. The couple married on September 11, 1953 in Los Angeles and moved to Barstow, where Mr. Weinberger served as editor/reporter for a local newspaper and Mrs. Weinberger engaged in social work.

Pioneering publishers

They discovered a shared love for newspapers and undertook a statewide search for a suitable publication to buy. “We settled on [the COURIER] because it brought together a wonderful place to live and a person who wanted to sell the paper and regarded Marty as a potential editor,” Ms. Weinberger recalled in an oral interview with Claremont Heritage.

Martin launched into a six-month probation, working under then-owner Stan Larson before the sale became final in 1956. That was a big year for the Weinbergers as they welcomed a son, Peter, a few months later. In the weeks leading up to the handover, the couple planned a complete redesign. They would bring the paper from broadsheet to the smaller, more reader-friendly tabloid format and, taking a cue from popular news magazines of the day, bring photography and graphics to the fore. They decided to move from hot metal typesetting to the more flexible offset lithography. As no southern California newspapers were using this new printing technology, the pioneering publishers headed to Arizona to kibbutz with a newspaper owner who had embraced the process.

For their first edition of the newspaper, they introduced the new format via a four-page insert on the local citrus industry. After the Weinbergers took photos at the Packing House, Janis sequestered herself in a closet-turned-darkroom in their house on Harrison Avenue. “It was terrible. The oranges wouldn’t come up—I kept having to reprint the oranges,” she told Claremont Heritage.

Readers liked the insert, but many were dismayed when they learned it was a harbinger of the paper’s new look. “Some people couldn’t believe Stan would give up the New York Times format. “Then they became entranced with the fact that it was going to be a different, graphic way of presenting the history of Claremont,” Ms. Weinberger said. 

The Weinbergers also brought liberal politics to the COURIER, which shook up the then largely Republican city a bit. Before long, however, readers discovered Janis and Martin were determined not just to keep the paper’s tight focus on Claremont, but to throw themselves into the community.

In a 2008 COURIER article on Ms. Weinberger’s receipt of Rotary Club’s Bradley Award, local real estate broker Paul Steffen praised the couple for their devotion to their adopted hometown. “She and her husband weren’t just about publishing a newspaper, but they got right into the heart of Claremont,” he said. 

While in the newsroom, Ms. Weinberger did everything from photography to selling, but her heart was placed firmly in the realm of graphics. She laid out the legal and classified sections and came up with playful type effects and whimsical design elements that graced the COURIER from the front page to the last.

“I love graphics and all of a sudden it was like this marvelous, empty plate that I could put my own meal on. And that was very exciting to have that part of you satisfied,” Ms. Weinberger shared.

Balancing act

She also managed to satisfy her family obligations. Peter was toted to the office in a bassinet during nights the couple worked late. As he grew older, she took on more of a part-time role at the COURIER, unless she was filling in for someone at the front desk, layout or in classifieds.

“I remember her at home waiting for me after school most of the time. She had a great balance of work, family and being an active Claremont resident,” Peter noted. “Mom was the one who helped with homework or making sure dinner was ready.”

Of course, their offspring occasionally got some press. In the August 27, 1957 issue of the COURIER, Peter can be seen in a photo essay, receiving a birthday present of his first haircut. When he was in grade school and expressed an interest in photography, Ms. Weinberger gifted her son with a Retina 2A camera, the same one she’d carried in Germany. Peter set up a darkroom and some of his early photographs appeared in the pages of the COURIER.

The Weinbergers were busy but sociable. Janis enjoyed lunching regularly with her friends Muriel Farritor and Kay Moore, both of whom were active in the Democratic Club and with senior programs. The Weinbergers often gathered at the park with friends like Kay and Colin Moore, Leonard and Helen Jean Munter, Steve and Connie Zetterberg and Clare and Lee McDonald and their families for softball games. The Weinbergers religiously celebrated their friends’ birthdays at Central Basco in Ontario, a favorite restaurant of Marty and Janis, and traveled widely with the Moores and the Munters, from Yosemite to Eastern Europe, including Russia, to South America.

Ms. Weinberger had a remarkable sense of balance, according to Peter. “She was a calming influence for Marty, who had a temper. This helped him make better decisions about people, business and life,” he said.

Advocate for seniors

Janis’ mother Loretta had moved to Claremont in 1963. After her mother’s death in 1972, Ms. Weinberger turned her interest to senior issues in the community, with key concerns including providing affordable housing, adequate nutrition and comprehensive services for the city’s older residents. 

Ms. Weinberger was a founding member and inaugural chair of the Claremont Committee on Aging and worked with the Claremont Coordinating Council and Claremont Community Senior Services, serving as chair of the board of directors for the latter.

Pet projects included establishing senior services like Get About transportation and hiring the architect and raising money for the creation of the Joslyn Senior Center. Ms. Weinberger spearheaded an effort in which $35,000 worth of bricks were sold to fund construction of a patio for the center. Janis later worked to grow Joslyn into a complete service center for seniors and established a reminiscing program for Claremont’s seniors. 

In September of 2003 the city dedicated a 2,100-square-foot multi-use facility—an addition to the Joslyn Center—in her honor, naming it the Janis McMaken Weinberger Wing. “I am really overwhelmed,” Ms. Weinberger told the COURIER for an article written—assuredly quite objectively—by her husband. “I didn’t get into this to be recognized. The real joy is in the giving.” 

During all her years of volunteer work for seniors in Claremont, Ms. Weinberger always kept her hand in the goings-on at the newspaper. Editor Kathryn Dunn remembers her first years with the COURIER in the early-1990s, when Ms. Weinberger would run into the production area at the old brick building on College Avenue, focused on producing a flyer or newsletter for a city senior program.

“She loved shapes and typography so much,” Ms. Dunn shared. “I’d sit at my computer doing page design on our new Macs and there would be Janis saying, ‘Oh, look at this font! It’s so chubby and round! Isn’t it marvelous?’ She delighted in every detail of graphic design. Her love of design and enthusiasm were infectious.”

Understanding the stress young working mothers are often under, in 1999, Ms. Weinberger extended an offer to Ms. Dunn to bring her newborn son Garrett to the newsroom while she designed the COURIER pages.

“Employers aren’t usually this generous,” Ms. Dunn related. “It meant the world to me.”

During those years at the COURIER, Ms. Weinberger would be in and out of the newsroom most days, off busying herself with other projects. But when a staffer found a new job or a holiday approached, Janis would always arrive for the celebration with milk chocolate oranges and champagne in hand, ready to celebrate with the staff. She was also the recipient of a daily afternoon phone call from her husband, who would inevitably start the conversation with a meaningful, “Hello, Mrs. Weinberger.”

Peter grew up to be a news photographer, a pursuit that took him from Minnesota to Massachusetts to North Carolina. Janis made sure she and Marty visited him and his wife Betsy often, taking time to forge a close relationship—including playing marathon games of Uno—with their grandchildren Collette and Matt.

“My sweet Nana, there isn’t any person I know that could laugh as long as you could. Your beautiful presence made anyone feel valued, with your constant positivity and unconditional love,” Collette wrote in an online tribute. “We shared a love for art, design and photography, and those memories of our many museum trips will forever remain close to my heart. I hope to grow to be as wise, hilarious and loving as you, Nana.”

Peter and his wife, too, will miss her positivity. “Up until the end, she was still making us laugh,” Betsy said.

“Her favorite words were ‘amazing’ and ‘wonderful.’ Her glass was seriously half-full,” Peter added. “She would silently mouth the words, ‘Love you,’ and literally did this to me the day before she died.”

Peter Weinberger, who now carries the torch as publisher of the COURIER, said his parents and his own family benefited enormously from the help and support of Millie Dubai, a friend and adopted family member, because of all the care and love she provided.

“Over the past several years, she was always there for Janis, literally visiting Pilgrim Place almost every day,” Peter shared. “Millie took pride in having Janis always look her best by making sure ‘Mrs. Weinberg’ had cleaned, ironed clothes. If the lady needed more lipstick, or hair prep, Millie was there. I always said mom was the best-dressed resident in the building. Needless to say, Ms. Dubai has a lifelong job with the Weinbergers.”

Janis is survived by her son Peter, daughter-in-law Betsy and grandchildren Matt, 26, and Collette, 23.

A community memorial service is scheduled for Sunday, April 2 at 1 p.m. at the Joslyn Center, 660 N. Mountain Ave., Claremont. In lieu of flowers, please send a donation to the Claremont Senior Foundation, a nonprofit supporter of senior programs in Claremont.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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