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Lyle and Inez Christianson: “We started ‘My Favorite Christmas’ ”

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX  —  The Colfax Messenger has been in existence since April of 1897.

And in each Christmas edition for the last 118 years, businesses in Colfax have taken out Christmas greeting ads as a way to say “Merry Christmas” and “thanks for your business.”

Lyle and Inez Christianson, both lifelong residents of the Colfax area, bought the Colfax Messenger in February of 1968 and owned the newspaper until January 1, 1995, when Ellis Bloomfield took over.

For the past 24 years, readers of the Messenger have been enjoying a Christmas feature written by Colfax Elementary students called “My Favorite Christmas.”

It was Lyle and Inez who started the “My Favorite Christmas” feature.

“We always had trouble coming up with copy. I don’t know why I picked the third graders. Some were sad. Some were funny. I remember one of them said something about mom and dad were getting a divorce. Overall, they were pretty good. And we got enough copy (for the newspaper)!” Lyle said.

In the December 19, 1991, edition of the Messenger, third graders, with a picture of each of the classes, wrote about “My Best Christmas.”

In 1992, the third graders wrote about “My Favorite Christmas.” In the 1993, the feature was called “My Best Christmas Ever.”

Ellis Bloomfield continued the tradition of “My Best Christmas” in the December 20, 1995, edition of the Messenger, except that year, the actual handwritten stories from the third graders were published in the newspaper.

The 1996 Christmas edition of Messenger included “What Christmas Means To Me” written by Colfax Elementary third-graders, and again, with the actual handwritten stories published in the newspaper.

Lyle and Inez started including Colfax elementary students in 1982. The December 23, 1982, edition of Messenger featured the kindergarten students’ answers to “Dear Santa Claus: This is how to get to my house.” The kindergarteners were asked how they would give Santa Claus directions, and their answers  were carefully written down and published in the newspaper.

As Lyle noted in the introduction to the feature, some of the directions were quite detailed, “go out on BB,” and some were rather vague, “go past a bunch of farmhouses.”

The 1982 edition also included Christmas stories written by Colfax Elementary students. Many of the stories featured E.T. (The Extra-terrestrial) as the protagonist.

“Recollections of Christmas Past” written by area residents were included in 1980.

In 1985, the Messenger included  “What Christmas means to me” by Colfax Elementary fifth graders. A total of 44 answers were published in the newspaper.

In the December 25, 1986, edition of the Messenger, students from Beverly Keltner’s 2C class wrote about “Santa’s Problem: his reindeer have the flu.”

In 1987, students from Beverly Keltner’s first grade class answered the question, “Christmas is …” The special section included drawings by the first graders, and the newspaper published a class photograph.

In 1988, third graders in Leona Ubbelohde’s class wrote stories about Christmas. A class photograph also was published.

In 1989, third graders in Mrs. Ubbelohde’s class and in Ruth Satter’s third grade class, wrote stories about Christmas. One of the questions posed to the third graders was, “What would happen if Santa lost his sleigh?”

In the December 20, 1990, edition of the Messenger, third graders wrote Christmas stories with titles such as “Santa Gets Stuck,” and “How Santa Got in the House.”

In the December 24, 1997, edition of the Messenger, the “Remembrances of Christmas Past” feature started and continues to this day — along with “My Favorite Christmas” and “Letters to Santa” written by Colfax and Elk Mound elementary students.

In the early 1980s, Lyle and Inez also had included a few “Dear Santa” letters from area youngsters.

Writing by children in the Colfax area has been a feature of the Colfax Messenger Christmas editions for 35 years — and all because of Lyle and Inez Christianson.

Letter press

For the Christmas edition, “we always had ads from pretty much every business in the community,” Lyle recalled.

“I think we just followed in Ken Reed’s footsteps and did what he did. Lyle worked for Ken Reed when he was high school,” Inez said.

The Christiansons bought the Messenger from Ken and Helen Reed.

“That was quite a job (getting the Christmas ads together). I didn’t call people. I went around with the Christmas book. I goofed one time, and the customer got a little mad. I ended up with Jewish ad rather than a Christmas ad. I paid more attention after that,” Lyle said a little ruefully.

The “Christmas book” is still used today. Every year, a new collection of holiday greeting ads — Christmas, New Year’s, Hanukkah, and now also Kwanzaa — are available for newspapers to use.

All of the ads at the time Lyle and Inez owned the newspaper had to be laid out by hand. Today, they are designed on a computer.

“At that time, we were a letter press,” Lyle said.

“I remember when we were going to buy the Messenger, Lyle brought home this drawer of all these letters that you had to learn to set up the type. [Lyle said it was called a California Type Case.] He brought it home so I could learn it. It had that tiny little six-point stuff. I thought I would never learn how to do that with those tiny little letters. I did learn it after a while,” Inez said.

“To set up for ads, you had to do it all by hand. The newspaper type was on the Linotype,” she said.

“You had a pica stick. You used your thumb to keep the type from tipping over. You set your stick at the width you wanted. Then you adjusted it. When you got all done, you could put four or five rows of type, depending on the size. Then you pulled a proof (of the ad) and made your corrections,” Lyle explained.

“It did take forever. I remember when we first bought the Messenger, it was just terrible. I thought, ‘why did we even do this?!’ Our kids were little. We worked day and night. I made a bed on the floor for them, and they’d lay down and sleep on the floor. It was crazy,” Inez said.

Lyle and Inez have three children: Peggy, Sue and Mike.

“We had a press that was sometimes so full of static, [Inez] had to sit in the back and catch them when they came off the fly,” Lyle said.

“I remember feeding that big old press. You had to feed the sheets of paper in there. You couldn’t miss, because then it printed (on the roller), and you had to clean it all off if you missed one,” Inez said.

“Mike was in kindergarten when we bought the newspaper,” she noted.

Colfax roots

Lyle grew up in Colfax and was born in a house by the creamery.

The old creamery building currently houses Ackerman Dairy Products.

“We lived mostly out on (Highway BB) for a long time. We lived there for many years,” Lyle said.

“The old train would go by. The house was cold. I think it had eight bedrooms. Oh, boy, it was cold. Cover up with a lot of quilts, and you could still see your breath. The old train would go by, and the house would shake,” he said.

There were 11 children in Lyle’s family.

Inez grew up part of the time out in the country.

“I don’t really remember any Christmases when I was little,” she said.

Inez went to the country school at Running Valley and attended a country school near Albertville  for three years.

When Inez was in grade school, her family also lived in the house on the corner just east of the Colfax Animal Hospital.

“I remember it was mom and dad and me and my brother. Lyle came from a big family. I just had one brother,” Inez said.

“I went to country school for quite a few of the years I was growing up. And we always had a big Christmas program. And Sunday school programs … we always had to memorize our parts,” she said.

“We had Delbert Olson (for a Sunday school teacher at Colfax Lutheran). And he always told everybody to speak up. I think I kind of hollered,” Lyle recalled with a chuckle.

“Of course they didn’t have microphones then,” Inez noted.

Winter sports

“One Christmas I got a pair of skis. That’s when we lived out in the country,” Lyle recalled.

“Laverne Rosenberg lived down below me. He’d come over, and we’d both go skiing. We used to go pretty good. At night, I used to wax those things up. Anyway, that one time, he went down the hill, and the snow was quite high. It was about level with the fence. He hit the fence, and his ski hit the fence and split it right in half,” he said.

“Ray Wiseman got a hold of an old sled, and it was the best sled I ever had. You’d go down the hill and then walk a-l-l-l-l the way back. It took twice as long to get up the hill than it did to go down,” Lyle said.

“When I went to Running Valley school, I was in sixth, seventh or eighth grade, we used to slide on a piece of tin,” Inez said.

“And one time, I slipped off that — bump, bump, bump — and I couldn’t hardly sit for a week. That’s pretty dangerous on a piece of tin. We must not have had a sled or a toboggan,” she said.

“We used to have a big Christmas dinner,” Lyle said.

“Lyle’s  mother was a good cook,” Inez said.

“She was always cooking and baking. She used to make Julekaga,” Lyle said.

Teddy bear

One year, when Lyle was a young man, he won a big teddy bear at the Colfax Free Fair and gave it to Mona Thorson.

“She’s still got it,” Lyle said.

“That’s when we were going together. He spent more money at the Colfax Free Fair! I wish I had the money he spent there. That was when he was working all these other jobs. You could win all kinds of things in those days. They were nice teddy bears. Mona said it doesn’t have any eyes left,” Inez said, noting that Mona is Inez’s cousin.

“She must have been pretty little. I’m 11 years older than Mona. She must not have been very old,” Inez said.

Lyle says he remembers Mona standing by the fence around the beer garden.

“I remember going up to her and giving her the teddy bear,” he said.


At the time the Christiansons purchased the Colfax Messenger, the newspaper was located in the building where the Colfax Animal Hospital is on East River Street.

“We moved over to where it is now (on Railroad Avenue),” Inez said.

Lyle started working for the Messenger when he was a junior in high school. At that time, the Messenger was located in the building that now houses Dr. Marjorie Clement’s dental office.

“That’s where I started. That’s when Holden Swift used to live upstairs. [Ward Swift owned the Messenger prior to Ken and Helen Reed.] I started when I was a junior in high school. I just walked in and asked if I could come in after school and sweep the floor and clean up for some spending money. I’d go down after school and Saturday morning. And then one day (Ken Reed) asked me if I wanted to learn the trade,” Lyle said.

When Lyle graduated from school, he became what was known as a “tramp printer” and went from town to town, doing “job work” printing.

Lyle went to school at the Dunwoody Institute for graphic arts in the Twin Cities.

“It was quite a school. And then I worked for the Rose Tribune there for quite a while,” Lyle said.

“I was going to work in all these small towns. But it ended up not being too many towns,” he said with a wry smile.

Lyle graduated from Colfax High School in 1953, and Lyle and Inez were married in 1958.

“After we were married, he worked in Cornell and Chippewa. He was working at the Herald Telegram,” Inez said.

After the Christiansons bought the newspaper, Ken Reed still covered the village board meetings.

“He would cover the board meetings, and I would stay in the shop and do the job work, the commercial work. There was more money in the commercial than there was in the newspaper itself,” Lyle said.

After Lyle and Inez bought the Messenger, they changed the size of the newspaper.

“We went from a broadsheet to a tabloid. It took as much type for the tabloid. But the tabloid made it feel like it was a bigger paper. You had to set your folder up different. When we ran the paper off, we had to cut the paper in half and run it through the folder. It was a lot of work,” Lyle said.

“We had a little machine that we used to put the addresses on the newspapers. That was a job. You had to set the type on there,” Inez said.

After a while, instead of printing the newspaper themselves, the Christiansons took the pages to the Dunn County News for printing, and then after that, the newspaper went to Rice Lake for printing. After Paula and Carlton DeWitt bought the newspaper in 1997, they eventually switched the printing to Amery where the Colfax Messenger is still printed today.

“I used to go up and down the street on Monday mornings to get ads. The big supporter at that time was  the  Farmers’ Store. Martin Hoyland had a television and repair shop. He was pretty good too,” Lyle said.

Christmas Day

For quite a few years, Lyle and Inez lived in a house behind the Colfax Methodist church. It was a house that had been owned by Lyle’s parents.

“We lived there at the time our kids went to school. Then we built the house where the Dean Stokkes live now. Then we bought the house on Cedar Street,” Lyle said.

“Christmas Day has always been our day to get together with all the kids in our family. But this year, we’re going to the Grapevine because I don’t have any room,” Inez said.

Lyle and Inez recently sold their house on the corner of Cedar and West River and moved to the Prairie Ridge Apartments on Big Blue Stem Lane.

“Even last year in our house, we were pretty crowded. We’ve got our kids. Our grandkids. Our great-grandkids. We have 30 people,” Inez said.

Lyle and Inez have nine grandchildren and more than a dozen great-grandchildren.

“We had three kids, and each of our kids had three kids,” Inez noted.

Mike lives in Red Wing. Susie lives near Spring Valley. And Peggy Johnson lives north of Colfax in the Town of Grant in the Popple Creek area.

“On Christmas Day, every year we get together. I don’t buy gifts anymore. There’s too many. We do a gift exchange,” Inez said.

Christmas stockings

Lyle and Inez said they could not recall a special gift they bought for any of their children.

“They always made a list, and we picked out a few items,” Inez said.

“You used to hang up stockings,” Lyle said.

“Oh, yes, I had all kinds of stockings hung on our fireplace,” Inez said.

“They’d get kind of excited about that on Christmas morning. We’d put those little cars in there. And candy,” Lyle said.

“When the kids were little and still believed in Santa Claus, then we opened our gifts on Christmas Day. We’d have to hide them and bring them out during the night,” Inez said.

“One thing I do remember that I got for all of our grandkids is I bought them all Cabbage Patch dolls. Brent still has his. It had a sailor suit on, so he named it Anchor. Or rather, Peggy still has it,” Inez said.

“I tried to find one with their name, but you couldn’t always do that. They were really popular when my grandkids were little,” she said.

“I used to do a lot of baking. I still do now, for Christmas,” Inez said.

Inez also makes lefse for the craft sale at the Grapevine on the Saturday gun deer season opens.

“Peggy can really roll out lefse. I used to always just go and fry it for her,” she said, noting that as she has started making more lefse herself, she finds that she actually enjoys rolling it out.

“I always make white rolled out cookies with frosting, too,” Inez said.

“Peggy says her kids are so fortunate to have grandparents. All my kids had was my mother. My dad died young. Lyle’s mother and dad died young. They only had a grandma. As Peggy says, her kids have had two sets of grandparents,” Inez said.

“I only knew one grandparent. She lived with us,” Lyle said.

“They didn’t live to be so old back then. My dad was only 49. Your dad was 58 or 59,” Inez said.

“He was 59 in (19)59,” Lyle said.

“Our family was fortunate, really. We were too, when you stop to think about it,” Lyle said.

“I think we’ve been very lucky,” he said.