From typesetting copy to digital production to selling ads and even writing an article or two, Mary Karst has had a hand in almost every angle of producing The Hays Daily News.
Today, Karst will turn a new page as she retires after 43 years at the newspaper. She said Wednesday she is looking forward to it.
“I’m excited to start the next chapter of my life, to be able to spend time with my grandkids. I’m going to struggle through sitting at dance class watching my granddaughters dance, and taking piano lessons, and then my husband and I are going to do some traveling,” she said.
Her husband, Tom, plans to retire in January, but the couple will be hitting the road Saturday morning for a Colorado vacation.
After working under — and even training — seven publishers, Karst leaves after working the last year as The HDN’s general manager, responsibilities she took on in addition to being advertising manager, a job she’d done for about 20 years.
“I always tell everybody I’ve been here for 43 years but I started when I was 2,” she said with a laugh.
She actually started as a type setter in the composing room in 1976 when she was 17, two weeks before graduating from high school.
Technology has been the biggest change in the industry, she said.
“When I started, everything was typed on little strips of yellow tape. If you wanted six-point type,” she said, referring to the size of the lettering, “you switched a gear and the font strips and ran that tape through to get all of the six point. And then you switched it for eight-point type and so on.”
Headlines for news stories were calculated with a formula, dependent on the size of type and how many letters could be used in the space allowed.
Today, that work is all done with a click of mouse and a few key strokes.
Karst even occasionally did what today would be called IT support for the Compugraphic typesetting computer.
“If something went wrong with the computer, I would call into Compugraphic, and they would tell me what I needed to do to fix it. And I’d get screwdrivers out, I’d take the board out and put the new board in,” she said.
Later, she moved into the advertising department, typesetting copy for advertisements, then moved into advertising sales.
She even wrote for the editorial side of the paper.
“We used to do a hunting section, and my husband took me out and taught me how to hunt with a black powder gun, so I wrote an article about my first experience at hunting with black powder,” she said.
Through the years, she has won numerous awards from the Kansas Press Association for advertising design.
Moving to the paper’s top management spot is something she said she always kept in her vision.
“I always felt like I would retire from this office. I always felt like I’d be the leader of the newspaper at some point,” she said Wednesday from behind her desk in what had been the editor and publisher’s office since shortly after John Montgomery took that position in 2000.
Montgomery, now an executive in Kansas City with TownNews, which provides technology and services for media, promoted Karst to advertising manager.
“I was fortunate to have Mary as a key member of my management team at The Hays Daily News. Promoting her to advertising director at that time was a smart move. She was a standout seller and became a successful manager by virtue of her genuine personality and customer service ethic,” he said in a message to The HDN.
“Mary has had a distinguished career at The Hays Daily News and made a lasting impact,” he said.
Pat Lowry, the HDN’s final editor and publisher, in an email to The HDN, called her “the matriarch of the paper, even when her boss was female.”
“Mary was a treat to work with,” Lowry said. “She took her work seriously — but not herself.
“It would be difficult to choose a single reason for the success she enjoyed, so I’ll go with three: She out-organized everyone I’ve ever worked with, she knew everybody in town, and she executed strategy flawlessly.”
Montgomery also pointed out the community service she and her husband were committed to.
“It was a joy to watch her and Tom become devoted to and take leadership roles with the Wild West Festival, among other civic commitments,” he said.
Karst was on the WWF committee for about 20 years and served as president for half that time. She and Tom stepped back from their roles with the committee in 2018.
At the 2004 Wild West Festival, she was named Citizen of the Year. The Hays Area Chamber of Commerce chose the award at that time.
“That was a total surprise to me,” she said.
She has also served on the board for CASA of the High Plains and with the women’s business and professional organization Soroptimist International, volunteered with the Hays Area Chamber of Commerce and is a charter member of the Wonder Women League, a service group association with United Way of Ellis County.
As she steps down from the leadership of The Hays Daily, Karst said although the adage “ink gets in your blood” is true, it’s not the work she will miss.
“The people. The group that I’ve worked with for so many years, that’s what I’m going to miss the most,” she said.