Mike Parta leaves a lasting legacy

Mar 1, 2022

Michael Parta as a child, working at the New York Mills Herald. (Contributed / Parta Family / Forum News Service)

Former local newspaper owner and NNA past president passes away at 74

Forum News Service

If you’re reading this article, you have Mike Parta to thank.

Throughout his decades-long career as a local newspaper owner, Parta showed a true passion for good journalism and an equally true love for his community, and that brought strength and relevance to the papers he owned.

Parta died on Jan. 29 at the age of 74 after a long battle with cancer.

During the course of his career, he owned the New York Mills Herald, Perham Enterprise-Bulletin, Wadena Pioneer Journal, Staples World, Contact Shopper, Wadena Intercom and the Finnish language newspaper Amerikan Uutiset.

His first paper was the Herald, which he took over from his father who had taken it over from his father, making Parta a third-generation family owner. From there, Parta's interest in newspapers just grew.

“He thought community newspapers were the heart and soul of any community,” said his daughter, Abby Parta.

Known for his optimism, Parta maintained a positive attitude even throughout his nine-year cancer journey.

“His glass was always half full — always half full no matter what just happened to him,” said Chuck Johnson, a longtime friend and previous editor of the newspaper in Perham.

Johnson said Parta carried the philosophy of community-building with him from New York Mills to Perham after he bought the paper there in 1978.

“They made the commitment that they wanted Perham’s news to be covered,” Johnson said, referring to Parta and his wife, Jan, who ran the papers together, along with their children, for over 30 years.

He said Parta was an active participant in Perham's progressive leadership.

“Deep in his soul, he was a community builder,” Johnson said, and the newspaper served as a tool to support the community.

One of Parta's biggest passions was for education, as he believed in the strength of schools as an “important foundation” to any community, according to Kevin Cederstrom. Cederstrom worked as a reporter and editor at the New York Mills Herald, which eventually combined with the Perham Enterprise-Bulletin.

“He stressed the newspaper’s commitment and obligation, (the) responsibility of being a leader in the community,” Cederstrom said.

When the Perham School District faced bond issues in the 1980s, Parta partnered with a group of community members to help pass a referendum to renovate the high school and build Heart of the Lakes Elementary School. His wife also served as a school board member for over 20 years.

“The newspaper took a real active role in being an advocate (for the schools)," said Johnson. "It probably wasn’t neutral journalism; it was advocate journalism."

As a new journalist working with Parta, Cederstrom remembers many lessons on balancing personal conflicts while covering local stories. He also fondly remembers Parta as a source of encouragement and support as he built his career.

“He had a great way of teaching and mentoring without being overly critical as a publisher,” Cederstrom said. “He was committed to those principles of community journalism, and he had a great newspaper career.”

In the “wonderful, rewarding, complex and often frustrating world of journalism,” as Cederstrom described, Parta truly cared for the community.

He was also “always a leader” in the communities he served, Cederstrom said. Parta was a member of the New York Mills City Council for about 30 years, for example, and was a director of the Perham Rotary Foundation, among other involvements.

“The entire New York Mills community will miss the impact that Mike has had on us over the decades,” the Civic and Commerce Association shared in a Facebook post. “He leaves behind a lasting legacy that has touched countless lives and helped change the footprint of our town and region. We are sending thoughts and prayers to his family during this difficult time.”

Beyond his local community involvements, Parta was a past president of the Minnesota Newspaper Association, National Newspaper Association and National Newspaper Association Foundation.

“He was a small town guy, but he took the platform he was given to not only grow his town, but do things for community journalism in his state, even to the national level,” said Jennifer Parta, his daughter.

“Mike was one of a disappearing breed of small town newspaper publishers. He was totally vested in the idea that communities needed an involved newspaper, and he and his wife, Jan, proved that for over 50 years. He not only reported the news of the community; they were often deeply involved in making that news,” said Dennis Winskowski, a longtime friend and former lakes area newspaper publisher. “Mike will be missed by all who knew him.”

From stories on basketball games to Cub Scouts, Parta highlighted the community through what he called “refrigerator journalism,” said Melissa Swenson, publisher of the Perham Focus, Wadena Pioneer Journal and Detroit Lakes Tribune. She worked with Parta for several years.

“He said that a small-town paper was about giving people things to clip out and hang on their refrigerators,” Swenson explained. “I respected Mike and learned a lot from him. He loved being from New York Mills, his family, living on the lake and newspapers.”

After Parta retired from his journalism career, he sailed into another career as the owner of Hoot’s Sports (now Ray’s Sport & Marine). He was a lover of lake life and was a lake home resident himself, on Big Pine Lake. He enjoyed pontooning and being out on the water with good friends, good drinks and good food, Cederstrom said.

Right up until the end of his life, Parta continued to value the importance of newspapers. Johnson said that as Parta went through his final cancer treatments, he was still hoping to share a message at this year's Minnesota Newspaper Convention about the journalistic and financial challenges that newspapers face. He passed away on the Saturday of the convention.

Parta's son, Chris Parta, said his dad told him “on Friday, the last time I spoke with him, the day before he passed away, (that) he was starting to write thoughts down for a project about the history and development of community newspapers.”