Ed Goodpaster was a talented newsman. His credentials included stints as an editor at some of the nation’s top publications — Time magazine, The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post. He was Bob Woodward’s boss for a time.
Many people outside of Trempealeau County don’t know that Goodpaster, who died earlier this year at age 91, took a startling career detour in the early 1970s when he bought the weekly Whitehall Times newspaper and moved his family to west-central Wisconsin.
“He wanted his kids to know the trash man and the banker. We met them both the first day,” said his son Clark, who lives in a Boston suburb today. “That was his philosophy. He wanted us to have a more intimate way of life.”
Ed and his wife, Louise, were Midwest natives from Illinois and Iowa, respectively, who migrated to the East Coast when Ed took a job at Time Magazine in 1965. But after a few years in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Bethesda, Maryland, it was back to the Midwest for their family’s sake.
In August 1972, Ed and Louise packed up their three children — Andy, 13, Clark, 11, and Emily, 9 — and moved to the Trempealeau County seat of Whitehall.
“It did seem like a big adventure,” Clark recalls.
The whole Goodpaster family was involved in production of the small-town weekly newspaper. Andy was a photographer, Clark covered junior high sports and Emily wrote a column about life at Sunset Elementary School. Louise sold ads. And Ed, who had directed coverage of race riots and the Vietnam War, was sitting at meetings of the Whitehall school board and city council, and writing a weekly column. He loved the column because in his editing jobs, he hadn’t had the opportunity to write.
“There was a feeling of everybody working together on something,” Clark said of the family newspaper operation. “We would all go pick up the newspaper in La Crosse where it was printed, and always stopped at McDonalds.”
Except for Louise, the Goodpasters loved life in the small town, but the long hours at the Whitehall Times office on Main Street wore on Ed.
“Newspaper-wise, he felt it was all-consuming,” Clark recalls. “Anyone who runs a small business knows what it’s like.
“He had this wanderlust of living out his life running a weekly newspaper. That wasn’t his calling.”
So after two years, Ed sold the paper back to its previous owner, Robert Gauger, and the family returned to the East Coast where Ed worked as an editor at the Washington Post.
“It was less work than running the Whitehall Times,” Clark said.
During the rest of Ed’s newspaper career, he worked in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. He even was president and publisher of Grit magazine, a national weekly paper that his son said may have been his favorite job.
Leaving Whitehall was difficult for Clark and Emily back in the ’70s because they’d grown accustomed to the lifestyle and had close friends there. More than 40 years later, they stay in contact with those friends and haven’t forgotten their two years in the heartland.
“There was something about learning about small town life that is absolutely imprinted on us,” Clark said.