The Town Line: 30 years of serving area towns

by Roland D. Hallee

The first issue of The Town Line was published on March 15, 1989.

The founders of The Town Line, Gary and Trish Newcomb. (File photo)

The brain child of China residents Gary and Trish Newcomb, the newspaper’s goal was to bring neighbors and their respective towns closer together through better communications.

Area towns and their residents had gone through some turbulent times during the mid-’80s when much animosity had grown to epidemic proportions. Gary and Trish figured that if people really knew what their neighbors were doing, they would better understand each other.

Although the original mission statement for The Town Line has been lost, its general meaning is how the newspaper got its name. Gary and Trish believed that if everyone was more open in their communications, they could all become better neighbors, and asked people to take their discussions, differences and ideas, and meet at “the town line.”

Preparing that first issue was a monumental task. First there was equipment to purchase, acquaint themselves with computers and their programs, find a printing company, and then arrange a distribution system.

Once the first issue hit the streets, Gary said, “How will we ever put out another issue?” He thought he had used up all possible material in that first issue. Well, miracles happen, and now, 30 years later, The Town Line newspaper celebrates the publication of 1,450 issues to date.

Gary and Trish nurtured the newspaper for the first nine years, until, thinking they had taken the paper as far as they could, put it up for sale in 1997. The final issue under the guidance of the Newcombs came on December 20, 1997.

The original staff consisted of three people. The first issue denotes the Newcombs as both publishers and editors. Trish was advertising director and Gary took care of the graphic designs. Julie Dermott was administrative assistant.

In the early days, the staff of The Town Line included, seated, from left to right, Trish Newcomb, Gary Newcomb, Lea Davis and Susan Walter. Back, Susan Boody, Fred Davis and Susan Cottle. (File photo)

As time passed, and the newspaper grew, additional staff members were needed to accomplish the work. On May 16, 1990, Susan Cottle became the first editor other than the Newcombs. She would continue in that capacity until the end of 1991. Joe Lupsha and Fred Davis each served as assistant editor during this period.

On January 6, 1992, Lea Davis was named the second editor in the paper’s brief history. Lea would continue as editor and eventually as managing editor until May 14, 2004, the longest tenured editor in the history of the paper at the time.

During her time, the paper went through a series of setbacks due to changes in ownership. After the Newcombs closed the paper at the end of 1997 for a lack of a buyer, Dennis Keller came on the scene and purchased the assets. The paper reopened its doors on January 31, 1998.

The paper would continue on its normal path until July 3, 1998, when it became a bi-weekly (once every two weeks) due to economic hardships. Keller would eventually close the doors on October 10, 1998.

That’s when the paper’s future took an unexpected turn for the better. A small group of former staff and some interested community members worked through the winter of 1999, formed a new plan and incorporated the publication as a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit private foundation.

Spearheaded by Joann Austin, Faith Ames, the late John Robie, staff members Lea Davis, Sandy Keller and Roland Hallee, all of whom donated their time, the groundwork was ready to continue towards re-opening the paper. At this point, a great amount of gratitude is bestowed upon the late Faith Ames, who personally financed the initial few issues upon the return of the publication, until sufficient revenues enabled The Town Line to sustain itself.

On March 6, 1999, The Town Line re-emerged as the voice of these small central Maine towns. Through great community support, both from businesses and small grants from the towns, The Town Line firmly planted itself back on the path to recovery.

The Town Line is now a nonprofit organization with a board of directors as overseers. Forever striving to improve the quality of its offerings, The Town Line is constantly seeking new, tax deductible, memberships to the organization. Similar to public radio and television, The Town Line accepts memberships and monetary contributions and donations.

The current members of the board of directors are Joann Austin, Eric Austin, Neil Farrington, Gladys Hewett and Emily Cates. Others to have served on the board in the past have included Joe Pinette, Walter Wilson, Mike Mara, Faith Ames, Dick Kelley, Joe Suga, and Marge Roy, among others.

The staff under the regime of Dennis Keller included, seated, from left to right, Sandy Keller, Roland Hallee, Lea Davis and Martha Holzwarth. Back, Natalie Lyon, Nancy Heath, Ed Heath, Paulie Heath, Mike Heath, Dennis Keller, Miriam Keller and Dustin Heath. (File photo)

On June 1, 2004, Susan Varney became the third editor in the newspaper’s history. She would continue in that position until February 2005, when upon her departure, Roland Hallee became the fourth editor of The Town Line. He continues today as the managing editor and is now the longest tenured staff member (25 years of service), and the longest serving editor (13 years) in the history of the paper, having begun his career at The Town Line in May 1993. With nearly 55 years of newspaper work, and editor of two other weekly newspapers in Pittsfield and Skowhegan, he has used his experience to guide The Town Line through some dark days.

Over the past 30 years, The Town Line has occupied six different locations. The original site was at the old fire station, next to the old post office off Rte. 3, now occupied by Whitt’s Garments.

From that location, they moved in January 1994 to a building on Rte. 3, across from the South China Post Office (now occupied by Legacy Home Improvement). They would remain there only a short period of time before relocating in June 1995, to the 202 Plaza on Rte. 202, in South China.

Upon its reopening as a nonprofit in 1999, they were located in the lower level at 16 Jonesbrook Crossing, in South China. They would remain at that site until November 2008, when they moved upstairs in the same building in the space formerly occupied by Fernald Family Chiropractic. All of the locations were in South China. The newspaper is now located in the lower level of the old China Town Hall, next to the China Town Office, at 575 Lakevidw Drive.

Through the years, others were instrumental in the success of the paper. Susan Boody, Adam Hansen, Troy Henderson, Carl Mercier, Paul Basham, Diane Bickford, Michelle Shores and Kathy Duhnoski (the present ad director) have all served as advertising directors. Advertising salesmen over the years have included Ken Nawfel, Betsy Murphy, Martha Holzwarth, Aileen Wescott, Marlene Myers, Bill Zinck, George Chappell, among others. Office managers have included Heide Hotham, Sandy Keller, Sylvia Martin, Marilyn Boyle, Angela Brunette, and Joan Hallee. Claire Breton has been business manager since 2000. Prior to that, business managers have included Ed Heath, Natalie Lyon and Adam Hansen. Others to contribute as graphic artists have been Fran Vitolo, Susan Walter, Dirk Rose, Roland Hallee and Kareno Stansbury. Lyn Rowden was the senior staff writer and assistant editor from 2009 until 2013, when layoffs were needed in order to cut expenses as revenues began to diminish.

Included with all these people is an endless list of regular contributors and volunteers.

March 15, 2018 marked the beginning of the 30th year of publishing The Town Line, a feat that, in 1989, seemed way out of reach to its founders.

The staff and board of directors at The Town Line newspaper thank all the advertisers, businesses and supporters of the past 30 years that has made it a success, and will push forward into the future to continue its mission set forth by Gary and Trish Newcomb in 1989. The Newcombs now reside in Ohio.


Responsible journalism is hard work!
It is also expensive!

If you enjoy reading The Town Line and the good news we bring you each week, would you consider a donation to help us continue the work we’re doing?

The Town Line is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit private foundation, and all donations are tax deductible under the Internal Revenue Service code.

To help, please visit our online donation page or mail a check payable to The Town Line, PO Box 89, South China, ME 04358. Your contribution is appreciated!

1 reply
  1. Trish and Gary Newcomb
    Trish and Gary Newcomb says:

    Hi Roland and staff,

    Read and enjoyed the article this week as The Town Line celebrates 30 years!!
    You’ve kept the ball rolling, Roland, and we are forever proud that the paper is still around. Congratulations!


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