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Company leader Bill Marcil Sr. that owns Tribune turning reins of flagship newspaper over to son

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West Central Tribune
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Effective Wednesday, after tenure of more than 40 years, Bill Marcil will step down as publisher of The Forum.

At age 74, Marcil will relinquish the publisher's role to his son, Bill Jr., but remain chairman of Forum Communications Co. He'll transfer top leadership of the firm's flagship newspaper to the family's fifth generation in a lineage that dates back to 1917.

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The publisher's job is to oversee all of the key departments at a newspaper -- news, advertising, production and delivery -- in a role that combines organizing with motivating and setting policy.

His newspaper career had improbable origins dating back to 1961, when Marcil worked as branch manager of a loan company in the Twin Cities.

The world of finance wasn't all glamour.

"I had my share of repossessed cars," he said. "You learn the facts of life real fast when you're out repossessing cars and washing machines."

Still, he took a pay cut to move to Fargo and go to work for The Forum's advertising department.

The reason for the switch had everything to do with a young woman from Fargo he'd met a few years earlier in the Twin Cities through mutual friends.

"We started dating," Marcil said of meeting Jane Black. "One thing led to another and we were married and here we are."

It happened that Jane Black's father was Norman D. Black, Jr., publisher of The Forum. After the couple was married, in 1960, Black offered his son-in-law a job at the newspaper.

Marcil declined the offer but later accepted when they were expecting their first child. He started at The Forum as a retail advertising sales representative, with no promises about where that might lead.

Born in Rolette, N.D., his family lived in Garrison, N.D., before settling in Sherwood, N.D., now a town of 300 northwest of Minot near the Canadian border.

He inherited an interest in business from his entrepreneurial father, who managed a grain business and sold scrap metal as well as insurance.

During the younger Marcil's college years at the University of North Dakota, he had a few educational experiences outside the classroom that developed calluses. One of his jobs was working for a contractor to build grain bins.

"It was hard work but it paid well," he said. "I didn't mind it at all."

Once established at The Forum, Marcil found opportunities in the family business. But it was more than just that; Marcil discovered that he had a passion for newspapers.

"It really grew on me," he said. "It was such a tradition within the family."

In a series of promotions as openings occurred over seven years, he became classified advertising manager, promotion director, production manager and assistant to the publisher - an on-the-job education in the business.

Then, tragedy struck. A few months after Norman Black's wife died, he failed one day to show up for work. Worried, Marcil and a colleague went to Black's home, where there was no answer.

Marcil broke open the door, and they discovered Norman Black was dead. Unexpectedly, at age 33, Marcil was unanimously named publisher by the newspaper's board of directors.

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The reach of Forum Communications grew substantially during Marcil's tenure, branching out from Fargo roots emanating from The Forum and WDAY radio and television stations.

Today the company owns nine daily and more than 20 community newspapers in four states, a radio station and two television properties, as well as commercial printing plants and wireless Internet service operations.

Throughout his time with The Forum, Marcil was active in business groups, most notably the Chamber of Commerce, where he ultimately served as chairman of the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Before serving on the Chamber's national board, Marcil was active at the state and local level. That involvement made him a natural to serve as chairman of the Vision 2000 Committee, a state Chamber initiative that worked to revamp North Dakota's economy.

Marcil also served as chairman of the board of the Newspaper Association of America, succeeding the late Katharine Graham, publisher of The Washington Post.

Throughout it all, though, his wife Jane has been his partner and confidante.

"Jane and I talk about the business all the time," he said. "I don't make any major decisions around here without her being a big part of it."

For her part, Jane Marcil believes her father would be pleased with the direction her husband has led the paper and company, including his strategy of regional growth and an aggressive move to online delivery.

"I'm guessing it's something he would have done," she said. "I think he was progressive in that way."

When the family turned to the matter of who should be The Forum's next publisher, the factors quickly pointed to 46-year-old Bill Marcil Jr. Their oldest child, Debora Morehouse, really wasn't interested in returning to Fargo.

As for the man who will be The Forum's next publisher, he hopes to emulate his father's accessible approach to managing the newspaper, and his ability to bring people together to solve problems.

"I've been hearing that from a lot of people," the junior Marcil said of his father's knack for forging consensus. "He's been able to transcend the extremes and kind of be in the middle," a place he'd also like to find himself.

Patrick Springer is a reporter for the of Fargo-Moorhead Forum, which belongs to Forum Communications Co.

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