Jennifer Rash Lane’s labor of love to make her grandfather proud

Teri Saylor

Special to Publishers' Auxiliary

Jun 1, 2019

Pictured L to R outside the Hardin County Independent office in Elizabethtown, Illinois: Jennifer Rash Lane, owner, editor, publisher; Susie Hurford Williams, volunteer; Julie Hurford Farley, retired owner, editor and publisher; Heather Rash, ad designer/reporter.  (Hardin County Independent)
The late Betty, pictured left, and Noel Hurford, pictured center (former owner and editor respectively), work at the Hardin County Independent in Elizabethtown with office clerk, Gladys McDowell  — year 1966. Retired owner, editor and publisher Julie Hurford Farley was 12 then. Julie and her sister, Heather, grew up in the newspaper business; to this day, they can smell the ink from the old press on paper day and can see the line of people out on the sidewalk waiting for their copy “hot off the press.” Times sure have changed with the invention of computers. Ten years after this picture was taken, Julie began working for her dad at the Independent. She retired last year, with daughter Jennifer Rash Lane now at the helm.
Jennifer Rash Lane’s grandparents, Betty and Noel Hurford (Hardin County Independent)

Jennifer Rash Lane looked back on her southern Illinois childhood, when she and her sister spent hot summer days helping her grandparents deliver the Hardin County Independent, their family-owned weekly newspaper, to the little villages and hamlets throughout its coverage area.

“On newspaper day, it would be my sister, Heather, my grandma and me, and we’d load up the newspapers, and we’d get in grandpa’s truck. There was no air conditioning, so we’d roll the windows down and go from town to town along the route,” she said. “We felt famous.”

The group would stop in the small village of Cave-In-Rock to pick up next week’s community news from the local correspondent. Then they would stop for lunch.

“We got a lot of attention,” Lane said. “I remember on paper day, we’d be loading up the truck and people would be lined up on the sidewalk waiting to get their newspaper. I also remember sitting on the front counter, handing them out.”

Lane did not immediately follow in her grandparents’ footsteps, but instead became a licensed occupational therapy assistant and started in that profession in 2000. She fell in love with her work.

“For 13 years, I traveled 100 miles round trip to work in the school system with children who had special needs,” she said.

In 2013, Jennifer felt a calling to take her life and career in a different direction. Married with two young sons, she longed to spend more time in her hometown.

By then, her mother, Julie Hurford Farley, was publishing and editing the family newspaper.

“I felt like I needed to be closer to my kids, so I finished that school year and resigned. Later that year, I began working under my mother at the Independent, which is only about 7 miles from my house,” Lane said.

Cave-In-Rock, Elizabethtown and Rosiclare are the major towns in Hardin County. They are nestled in the woods of the great Shawnee National Forest and follow the route along the Ohio River Scenic Byway. All three towns sport a beautiful view of the sunrise over the river each morning.

“We are a nature-driven area, and outdoor activities are in abundance,” Lane said.

The nearby Garden of the Gods recreation area and the Cave-In-Rock State Park attract many visitors. This rural area has a few unique restaurants, a grocery store and a couple of convenience stores, as well as a Dollar General, according to Lane. A local dentist, a handful of doctors and a general hospital help keep the community healthy.

Hardin County is best known for its abundance of fluorite, originally known as fluorspar, a beautiful mineral in a wide range of colors, and the official mineral of Illinois. It has a variety of industrial uses and is valued as jewelry and household décor.

Fluorspar mining was an economic driver in southern Illinois from 1840 until late in the 20th Century, when the mines started shutting down, partly because it became cheaper to get the mineral from China, where it is also mined.

The Hardin County Independent, established in 1871, became a part of Lane’s family unofficially in 1947 when her grandfather, Noel E. Hurford, went to work there. He left the newspaper briefly in 1951, but he returned in 1956 and became publisher and editor in 1963. He bought the newspaper six years later.

In 1976, Lane’s mother, Julie, started working for the Independent, and after two decades, she was named editor. In 2008, when Noel Hurford died, she took over as owner and publisher. She retired last year.

Lane has been owner and publisher since January 2016. Even though her mother is retired, she still comes in on Mondays to help with the phone and with typing. Lane’s sister works Monday through Wednesday, designing ads and typing in stories. Lane does it all by herself on Thursdays and Fridays.

“I work long hours,” Lane admitted. “The office is like home.”

The Hardin County Independent is a newspaper where people stop in to drop off their ads, news bits and pay for their subscriptions. It’s also the destination for a number of historians. Lane, who also serves on her local library board, digitizes the paper through and gives subscribers access to the archives as part of their online subscriptions.

The Independent has about 1,430 readers who get their newspapers in the mail and in local stores. In addition, the newspaper has about 168 e-edition subscribers. It is printed on Tuesday for Wednesday delivery.

While Lane maintains the Independent’s lively presence on Facebook of more than 2,500 virtual “friends,” she also believes in the personal touch.

“I personally thank my subscribers and my advertisers,” she said. “I haven’t lost many subscribers or advertisers, but I worry about every single one.” Currently she averages about 30% advertising, mostly from local businesses and churches. The public notice advertising helps keep the newspaper afloat. She worries about her readers if the newspaper no longer existed.

The special sections she creates for graduation and special events are popular, and she is hopeful about the newspaper’s future — sometimes even optimistic.

“My goal is for the newspaper to remain strong and unique to our area in Southern Illinois,” she said. “We want to keep it special for our community, and I hope our readers have faith in me.”

Lane’s family has owned the Hardin County Independent for 56 years. For Lane, who is now 41, it has become a labor of love and a precious vault for childhood memories. She owes it all to the grandfather, who took her along on his newspaper delivery route and made her feel like a celebrity.

“I give this newspaper my heart,” she said. “And I often look at Grandpa’s picture and tell him, ‘I hope I am doing this in a way that makes you proud.’”

Teri Saylor is a freelance writer in Raleigh, NC. Reach her at