Point Reyes Light- May 25, 2000
Inverness publisher Fred Graeser dies at 90
By Dave Mitchell
Former newspaper publisher Fredric Graeser of Inverness died Wednesday, May 17, in Indianapolis, two weeks after surgery for a broken hip. He was 90. (Mr. Graeser had been visiting his son Mark, who lives in Indianapolis.)
The Inverness resident was the founding publisher of The Montclarion, a weekly newspaper in the hills of Oakland. He and his wife Micky purchased the name for $100 in 1944. When they sold the newspaper in 1977, it was one of the most successful weeklies in California.
Mr. Graeser was born to Henry Bernard Graeser, MD, and his wife Etta Rebecca Martin on May 28, 1909, in Kensett, Iowa.
In that era, rural doctors in the Midwest were never off duty. Dr. Graeser tried to ease the burden by replacing his horse and buggy with a motorcar, but he was slow to master driving it, noted his daughter-in-law Micky Graeser this week.
On one occasion, she said, he drove into a barn, yelled, "Whoa," and crashed through the far wall. Enough of this, and "Doc Graeser" moved his family to the Imperial Valley where he took up farming. His three sons, Jim, George, and Fred, and a foster daughter Amy helped with the chores.
Eventually Dr. Graser passed the California medical examination and became a physician in Holtville, Imperial County.
As a child, in Holtville, Mr. Graeser read a book called Star Reporter, which inspired him to pursue a newspaper career. After working at various print shops to help learn the trade, he became editor of The Sagehen, a literary magazine at Pomona College.
First reporting job
After graduating from Pomona College in 1930, Mr. Graeser got a job as a $25-per-week reporter for The Claremont Courier in Los Angeles County.
But he quit that job after four years to try gold mining in Columbia, Tuolumne County, with his brother-in-law. They dug in an abandoned mine for one summer before giving up the endeavor.
Mr. Graeser went back to work as a reporter at The Morning Valley Post in El Centro, Imperial County, editing the society page before being promoted to city editor.
From there he went to The Holtville Tribune; however, he became disillusioned with the life of an underpaid newspaper editor and went to work for a friend in a camera shop in Hollywood.
But soon he was back in the newspaper business, working at The Claremont Courrier. It was there that he began to hatch a plan to one day own his own newspaper.
Although naturally shy, Mr. Graeser during his college years found he had a talent for acting, and after graduating, he played a variety of roles in performances produced by the Claremont Community Players.
Meets his wife on stage
While playing the part of a dissolute Austrian prince in The Queen's Husband., he met an attractive amateur Mary Laird, who had been pressed into service, she said this week.
The novice actress, Mr. Graeser's wife-to be, was working as an assistant to a psychology professor at Pomona College, and the couple were married three months later. (At the time of Mr. Graeser's death, they had been married 61 years.)
During World War II, Mr. Graeser worked for the Goodyear corporation in Los Angeles, making rubber fuel tanks for fighter planes. The rubber tanks were designed to hold their fuel even if punctured by flak.
He attended welding school parttime, but when it came time to take his welding test, he failed. However, he was immediately hired as a welder by the Kaiser corporation's Richmond shipyards.
"He did the worst welding he had ever done," recalled his wife, "and they said, 'You're hired.'"
Founds The Montclarion
After the war, Mr. Graeser again returned to newspapering, this time as an owner. The first issue of his Montclarion came out in October 1944, and it was Mr. Graeser's exclusive passion for five years.
Eventually, Mr. Graeser was hired away from the Montclarion to be an advertising copywriter for the Gill, Bascom and Bonfigli agency in San Francisco. There he wrote television and radio copy for Skippy Peanut Butter, Foremost Dairy products, and Roman Meal Cereal, among others.
However, Mr. Graeser tired of not being his own boss and ultimately returned to the Montclarion, which his wife had been running during his absence.
During the 33 years that Mr. Graeser owned The Montclarion, it grew to become a vital part of the Montclair District of Oakland.
Pot among the asparagus
Mr. Graeser was always adventurous, noted his wife, and when a member of the newspaper staff gave him some marijuana to try, the publisher - although in his mid-60s - liked it and decided to plant some, which he intermixed with asparagus in his vegetable garden in Concord, where he and Mrs. Graeser were then living.
Mrs. Graeser was dubious of the idea although she almost played a role in nearly undoing him. As it happened, Mrs. Graeser returned home one day to find that someone had broken into their house. She immediately summoned Concord police who, in turn, called in reinforcements.
Thinking the burglar might still be in the house, the police stormed through the Graesers' front door after stationing officers all around the home. When the culprit was not found, Mrs. Graeser suggested police check the area between the house and a nearby canal - only to instantly realize that's where Mr. Graeser's pot was growing.
Worse yet, the officer assigned to check the area was using a dog to help him, and Mrs. Graeser recalled, "I then thought, "What if I get Fred in jail on a felony?'" Luckily, the officers about this time decided the burglar may have fled to a nearby school, and they all rushed off to look through school buildings.
Nonetheless, noted Mrs. Graeser, "I was so frightened I made Fred dig [the marijuana] up and put it in the compost." That may have been just as well. Two weeks later, the burglar, a 17-year-old boy with a criminal record, was caught in a neighbor's yard.
Move to Inverness
In 1977 Mr. Graeser and his wife Micky, who by now was officially his co-publisher, sold the paper and retired to Inverness.
When The Point Reyes Light won a Pulitzer Prize in 1979, Mr. Graeser and another retired newspaperman, Barney Clark of Point Reyes Station, volunteered to put out this paper so the publishers could get away to attend a Pulitzer banquet at the National Press Club in Washington.
And before long, Mr. Graeser himself was again publishing - although this time not for money. Instead, he started the newsletter-sized Press of Inverness. Writing and printing the journal at his own expense, he distributed it free in town almost every week for nearly 10 years.
Reflections on his death
During this time, Mr. Graeser also published an occasional journal, The Huckleberry Herald. It was a whimsical compilation of amusing material and sent free to various friends and family members. In his typically self-deprecating style, he referred to it as "nothing but a jot and a tittle - and some flotsam and jetsam."
On May 29, 1994, the day after his 85th birthday, Mr. Graeser wrote for The Herald, "I just want to tell you all that I have consulted the actuarial tables and have learned that at age 85 I can count on 6.1 years remaining. This will take me into the new century, and thus I will find out what folks will be calling it: Two Thousand, Two Naught Naught, Two Zero Zero or whatever. But it also means after a certain civilized and predicable passage of time, you will not have old Graeser to kick around and hug and kiss (if you are a female)."
Wrote Coastal Cook column
Besides writing for his own publications, Mr. Graeser from mid-1980 to mid-1982 wrote The Light's "Coastal Cook" column.
In other community affairs, Mr. Graeser was an early board member of the Point Reyes National Seashore Association and became president upon the retirement of Boyd Stewart of Olema. And while in his 80s, he participated in art classes at the College of Marin.
Mr. Graeser is survived by his wife Micky of Inverness and three children: Catherine of Pueblo, Colorado; Laird of Santa Fe; and Mark of Indianapolis. He also leaves eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
A memorial will be held the afternoon of Sunday, June 4, with the time and place to be announced next week. Memorial donations in his name can be sent to the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) or the American Friends Service Committee.