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The Storyteller: Lincoln County

Newspaper publisher William Evjue learned the power of the press at the UW.

August 07, 2017

William T. Evjue 1905 used the power of the printing press and the airwaves to ensure a voice for everyday people.

A second-generation Norwegian American, Evjue was born in Merrill, Wisconsin, in 1882. He attended Merrill High School and then graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The Lincoln County native worked as a reporter for the Milwaukee Sentinel and as business manager for the Wisconsin State Journal. But when the latter newspaper opposed the antiwar views of U.S. Senator Robert La Follette Sr. — founder of Wisconsin’s progressive movement — Evjue took issue, creating the Capital Times in Madison in 1917.

Evjue started the WIBA radio station in 1925, and his weekly broadcast, “Hello Wisconsin,” became a listener favorite. He closed the program with, “Let the people have the truth and the freedom to discuss it, and all will go well.” His newspaper’s stories were often previewed over the air, after carbon copies were rushed to the station by cab.

“Let the people have the truth and the freedom to discuss it, and all will go well.”

Never hesitant to share his strongly held beliefs, Evjue spoke out against the Ku Klux Klan, U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, and the Vietnam War, among other topics of the day. In a 1948 letter typed on White House stationery, President Harry Truman wrote to Evjue, “I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” recognizing Evjue’s role in Wisconsin going Democratic in that year’s election.

Before his death in 1970, Evjue established a foundation to support worthy community causes. By 2017, The Evjue Foundation had distributed grants totaling more than $56 million.

Thank you, Lincoln County, for William T. Evjue whose work in publishing and broadcasting provided platforms for the discourse that is essential to democracy.

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