Longtime Agweek ad director a champion for advertisersFARGO, N.D. — Through 13 years with Agweek, former advertising sales director Noel LeTexier often heard farmers and ranchers tell him he worked for their “bible” of agriculture.
By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek
FARGO, N.D. — Through 13 years with Agweek, former advertising sales director Noel LeTexier often heard farmers and ranchers tell him he worked for their “bible” of agriculture.
“People said it all of the time, especially the farm wives.,” says LeTexier, who, ironically, has since become a minister.
For many advertisers and ag show-goers, LeTexier was the face of Agweek. As the longest-running advertising chief for the publication, he helped guide it through its mercurial national ambitions and back to a solid competitive regionalist vision.
LeTexier had a a zeal for the magazine — its readers and advertisers — that remains with the advertising staff today. Retired in 2001, LeTexier lingered as a consultant and show staffer through 2008.
“My last show was out in Mitchell, S.D., outside a tent, the temperatures were in the 90s and the wind was blowing 30 mph. and the dirt was flying. But the people showed up,” he says, laughing. “It was a huge show.”
More on the Rev. LeTexier’s spiritual awakening later. First, his Agweek story.
Back to ag’s future
LeTexier grew up on a farm in Leroy, N.D., in Pembina County. His father quit farming when Noel was a youngster and worked for a neighboring farmer. At age 10, he accompanied his father to that job. Later, Noel hired on with a neighbor through high school.
“It’s hard to imagine today that when I was 15 years old, I was out in the field, combining with a Minneapolis pull-type combine,” LeTexier says. “I couldn’t imagine my own kids doing that at that age, being out there by themselves combining. I loved farming — loved it. And that’s why I loved working at Agweek, working with farmers and farm businesses.”
LeTexier graduated from Cavalier (N.D.) High School in 1961. He went on to the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks and majored in history and political science.
“I’d intended to go to law school, but I was married at 22 and working two jobs and I was tired,” he says. “I decided, ‘I’m not going to struggle through this for another three years.’”
He started a career as an insurance adjustor but quickly decided he wasn’t suited for accident investigations.
In October 1967, he started a career in advertising at the Grand Forks Herald.
His first boss was Henry Dibbern, who also taught advertising at UND. Dibbern died at age 51, but taught him a lot.
“Henry loved to teach,” LeTexier recalls. “He had me in his office right away in the morning and we’d study advertising — how write copy, ‘benefit headlines,’ how to do layouts. He was an incredible teacher — very ethical. He wanted things done right, and he wanted customers treated right.
“I guess I learned those ethics from Henry. You told customers the truth straight out. You didn’t try to jerk them around about what the ads were going to cost or what the circulation really was. You told them what they were getting with their money, and you did what they wanted with their ads. And you didn’t run it unless you had their OK.”
LeTexier learned other things the hard way.
He drank too much. Alcohol led to the breakup of his first marriage. But after the wreckage of addiction, he found Jesus Christ and took his last drink July 19, 1981. He spent six weeks drying out at the Glenmore Recovery Center in Crookston, Minn.
“I was a new man!” he declares, only half-joking he was “pastorized” off of booze. He would marry his wife, Diana, in 1983.
A new man
LeTexier started by selling advertising to urban retailers, but also agricultural clients for what then was referred to as the Herald’s “Farm and Home,” or casually, the “green sheet.” It was the Herald’s farm insert that came out on Thursdays.
“One fellow — Roger Plattes — put the whole thing together — editorial, makeup,” LeTexier remembers. “He loved that green sheet and he did a great job with it.”
Mike Maidenberg came to the Herald as publisher in 1982. The Indiana native observed the success of the green sheet and other ag weeklies in the area — publications like the Back Forty in the Red River Valley and Agri News in the Rochester, Minn. He thought the Herald could produce something like that and more.
Fresh out of the Knight Ridder home office in Miami, Maidenberg also knew how to convince his friends in Miami to try for a bigger ag play. Knight Ridder had an interest in specialty publications. The Miami Herald flagship newspaper had launched a Business Monday section, which was an early success. The Herald envisioned an expanded ag weekly — “Agweek” — not as an insert, but as a free-standing publication.
“Once the concept was explained and people I reported to in Miami understood that it was a free-standing weekly, we could show them the importance of ag, the dollars that would come through it, it wasn’t a great hurdle,” Maidenberg recalls.
LeTexier wasn’t yet on the Agweek staff, but he heard how it was going. The first step was establishing a circulation presence.
“They started out with ‘free’ Agweeks — 55,000 copies delivered every week,” LeTexier says. “That went on for 18 months and then we started wanting to charge for it, and circulation dropped considerably. We had to deal with that for years — people wanting it to come free.” But it was always the plan that circulation would be a part of the revenue stream.
Happily, subscribers started to see the publication’s worth and the magazine retained its paid circulation status, which was important to advertisers.
Agweek’s first sales director was Tom Kuchera, who would go on to be advertising manager for the Herald. Second in command was Roger Brokke. LeTexier, who had been selling advertising both for the Herald and for Agweek, became Agweek’s advertising director on Feb. 1, 1988.
LeTexier took on the advertising directorship just as a two-year drought was setting in.
“Those were tough years, very tough years — ’88, ’89 and ’90. Very tough going, but we made it,” he says.
After the drought, things started to pick up. Farmers and their suppliers were beginning to climb out of the whole financial pit of the mid-1980s, and into a recovery period of the early 1990s. The improving farm economy was good for Ag-
The editorial department bulked up, the advertising staff bulked up to support of a high-value product. LeTexier mentions names like John Wayne Gass, Dave McSparron and Dave Berndt.
“We had some great people,” LeTexier says.
Dave Fleck sold out of a Bismarck, in an office managed ably Mary Sorlie. Fayette Heidecker, who remains Agweek’s only original advertising or editorial staff member, worked out of Dickinson.
In Fargo, Agweek had office manager Peggy Novakoske. Jim Martodam was the first sales rep, joined by Mitch Anderson and Matt Herman, who went on to national publications. Eventually, John Fetsch was the Fargo rep.
In the buildup days, Agweek’s main circulation strength lay in the Red River Valley and four-state region (North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana) but with a pumped up editorial staff, the publication was going throughout the world. Numerous copies went to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington.
While the publication found its legs, the Knight Ridder folks wanted more. By 1994, they decided long-range profit projections a 10 percent return-on-investment were not enough to stay with a national approach. LeTexier thinks that if today’s electronic transmission of information had been available in those days, things might have turned out differently, but there was no way to know that. He’s philosophical.
“You have to go with what management says,” LeTexier says. “We just decided we’d be the best we could be in the four states we were going to concentrate on. I think we were successful at it. I know that talking to the farmers at the farm shows . . . well, they just loved their Agweek. And they let us know if they weren’t getting it.”
Surviving the flood
When the great flood of 1997 hit, Agweek almost ended, LeTexier recalls.
Grand Forks Herald operations moved to Manvel, N.D. LeTexier’s Trinity Lutheran became a refugee center, with staffers sleeping in the pews. The church installed showers — one for the men, one for the women.
While Herald operations were the most urgent, Agweek shifted advertising operations to its Fargo office. Editorial people first went to a sister publication, the Aberdeen (S.D.) American News. Editor Rona Johnson and Kim Deats were among those who kept things together.
“There was talk that they might shut Agweek down, or that we couldn’t handle it right then,” LeTexier recalls. “But we were able to stay alive by going out and taking the initiative. Obviously, it’s still here. The drought was hard, but the flood was more threatening to Agweek than anything else that’s happened.”
LeTexier retired from Agweek in 2001. He’d had some heart trouble and decided to cut down his stress level to avoid early heart deaths that had run in his family. His staff gave him a picture of Jesus, holding a lamb, and the caption: “Rejoice, I have found my sheep, which was lost.” — Luke, 15:6.
“It touched my soul,” he says.
Since 2001, Agweek has had other advertising directors — Mark Steinke, Jason Melin and now Linda Lande.
Back to the Bible
In his entire 13 years with Agweek, LeTexier and his wife, Diana, had lived in Manvel — about 10 miles north of Grand Forks.
When he came out of alcohol treatment, nearly 30 years ago, he started speaking in churches, studying for the ministry and taking online courses. Pastors at Trinity Lutheran Church in Manvel helped him.
“They trained me and sent me out,” he says.
Trinity in 1987 had affiliated with the American Association of Lutheran Churches, a group out of a large merger that became the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
While in his Agweek role, LeTexier was low-key about church work. He deliberately kept his public life and his spiritual life separate.
“People didn’t know it then, but most weekends I was serving a church somewhere,” LeTexier says, listing churches in Grand Forks, Poplar Lake, Minn., Alvarado, Minn., Mekinock, N.D., and rural Park River, N.D. “I did a lot of filling in at places that didn’t have a pastor or couldn’t get one.”
LeTexier believes God saved him from alcohol and turned his life around.
“It was very powerful. I was changed in a moment’s time,” he says, adding, “I was ‘pastorized.’”
His family realized the source of his change.
His two oldest sons went into the professional ministry. John is a missionary overseas. Joseph is a professor in a Bible college and seminary at Columbia (S.C.) International University. He has seven children, and all but the youngest saw him in his alcohol yearsand know what happened.