Ranger, Lander Journal, Wind River News sold to financial adviser

RIVERTON — The Ranger and its affiliated newspapers in Fremont County have been sold.

After decades of ownership by the Peck family, and countless editions, stories, pictures, editorials and columns rendered, the flagship daily Ranger and other papers are changing hands.

The Peck family has published newspapers in Fremont County for nearly 73 years.

Ranger staff gathered Friday afternoon in the newsroom at 421 E. Main in Riverton, knowing that second-generation owner and publisher Steve Peck had an announcement, but yet unaware of its nature.

He had been The Ranger's publisher since 1991 and spent 17 years as editor, continuously since 2009, part of 38-year career that included 23 years alongside his father, Ranger co-founder Bob Peck, who died in 2007.

Peck introduced buyer Grace Andrus, a Riverton-based financial adviser who approached him unexpectedly in April, asking to negotiate a sale.

"I want to ask you to imagine the best meal you ever ate," began Steve Peck at Friday's announcement to staff and others.

He spoke of myriad foods, a healthy appetite, a stimulating setting, one's favorite people -- all the traits of a memorable feast.

"Think of that with me for a moment. And then imagine that even with the best meal you've ever had, the time comes -- " Peck, who was emotional throughout his parting announcement, paused over his words -- "the time comes when you've had enough. And that's where I am today.

"So, ladies and gentlemen, I'm here to tell you today that The Ranger has been sold."

The family has published newspapers in Fremont County and Wyoming since 1949.

Peck's last day as editor and publisher was Friday, although he worked a final shift as usual on Saturday to produce this edition of the Sunday paper.

The longtime publisher emphasized that the newspaper has been the center of his lifestyle since he was a child, sharing childhood stories of paper routes, custodial work, the excitement of election nights in the old newsroom, growing up among the heavy equipment, and all the trappings of pre-Internet magic that transferred memories to paper.

"I've never known one day in my life without it," the 60-year-old publisher said.

Peck said buyers have been seeking The Ranger throughout his "entire life," always rebuffed, but this time, it felt right, he said, partly because "I have no successor."

Peck's only son, Robert, was "a kid who grew up in Riverton and went to Yale. They usually don't do that and come back to Riverton and come to work."

The younger Peck is a professor at the University of Iowa. He has worked extensively for the family business through the years, holding down the Main Street business delivery route from age 8 to 14, and as recently as Friday produced the daily Associated Press pages and wrote his usual Friday column -- all work he has been doing for the business for since 2015, either in the Ranger office or remotely from Iowa.

The other reason he's choosing to sell now, said Peck, is that the buyer finally is right -- a local person who wants to be involved in local media rather than an outside "absorber" of local business with no ties or interest in the community.

Andrus has lived in Riverton since 2017.

She stressed to the group Friday that she is committed to the area and would like to see it flourish.

She expressed the clear wish for The Ranger to embody the community it serves.

Andrus also is acquiring Riverton Ranger Inc.'s other newspapers -- the Lander Journal and the Wind River News, along with the ADvertiser/EXTRA.

Steve Peck also is the principal owner of the weekly Dubois Frontier, and he will stay on in his capacity as president of New Frontier Inc.

Andrus will operate the business under a new corporate name, Wyoming Media.

The Ranger's co-owners, Peck's wife Shawn and older brother Chris, described by Steve Peck as "great newspaper man" now retired from jobs as editor in chief in Spokane, Wash., and Memphis, Tenn., both favored the sale as well, he said.

Riverton Ranger Inc. purchased the Lander Journal and Wind River News in 1999 from Bill and Nancy Sniffin. The ADvertiser was acquired in 2008 from Edwards Publications.

At one time the Peck newspaper group included more than a dozen publications in two states, encompassing The Ranger, Lander Journal, Wind River News, the Shoshoni Pioneer, the Dubois Frontier, the Powell Tribune, the Kemmerer Gazette, the Thermopolis Independent Record, the Lovell Chronicle, the Basin Republican-Rustler and the Star Valley Independent in Wyoming, plus the Hardin (Mont.) Herald, the Carbon County News in Red Lodge, Mont., and radio station KRBN, also in Red Lodge.

Most of those properties gradually were sold back to their on-site publishers, an innovative ownership plan that established numerous publishers around the state with papers of their own. The model for years was part of journalism history course work at the University of Wyoming.

At the time of Friday's announcement, only The Ranger, the twice-weekly Lander Journal, weekly Wind River News and weekly ADvertiser/EXTRA remained in the group, along with the Dubois Frontier, separately. The Shoshoni Pioneer ceased publication in 2018.

In addition to Ranger, Lander Journal publisher and Wind River news publisher Steve Peck, two other second-generation family members are longtime journalists.

Bob Peck's son Chris worked as editor of the Carbon County News, then at the Twin Falls Times-News in Idaho, then spent more than 20 years as editor of the Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review.

Later he chaired the department of journalism at Southern Methodist University before beginning a 12-year-career as editor of the Memphis (Tenn.) Commercial Appeal.

He retired from that position in 2013 and still lives in Memphis.

Roy Peck's son David Peck worked for The Ranger before becoming publisher of the Lovell Chronicle in 1983. He also owns the weekly Greybull Standard and Basin Republican-Rustler.

Steve Peck, departing as publisher after this edition, worked as a route carrier, motor route driver, mailroom worker, custodian, sports writer, reporter/photographer and advertising manager before his editor and publisher duties.

He has won more than 80 Wyoming Press Association "Pacemaker" awards in news, features, photography, advertising, editorial writing, column writing and special editions.

He wrote more than 8,000 editorials and was voted Wyoming's top editorial writer 10 times.

Peck is the chairman of the Central Wyoming College Board of Trustees, and position his father also held.

He has been the public address announcer for Riverton Wolverin basketball for the past 35 seasons, a job he intends to continue.

Wife Shawn Peck, a longtime elementary school teacher in School District 25, also worked for The Ranger, sheparding the company through a difficult period following the Sept. 11 attacks and accompanying business downturn in 2001-02 as bookkeeper.

Andrus introduced herself and her son Dan, a software engineer who has worked recently for Google and YouTube, saying she plans to expand The Ranger's digital footprint.

"We will still print -- don't worry about that," said Andrus, with a nod to mail room and press workers.

Her daughter Amanda, who was not at the meeting, is slated to develop The Ranger's social media presence.

The three newspapers will be keeping their names, she said.

Andrus said she intends in approximately one month to transfer The Ranger into its employees' hands, as an employee-owned company.

She also said her key goal is to represent Riverton, Lander, the Wind River Indian Reservation, and surrounding areas as directly as possible, by hiring reporters local to each area.

"As we grow our business," Andrus said, "the goal is to have a vital community publication for each community, and focus on the assets which are important -- which are the people."

Looking from face to face in the newsroom, Andrus said "You are very important. You are the professionals -- the ones that are going to run this company, and are going to push it forward into the future."

The Ranger printed its first edition in March 1953, after The Riverton Review -- a successful paper dating back to the founding of the town in 1906 -- and The Riverton Times amalgamated. The newspapers had published once weekly prior to the merger, switching to twice-weekly afterward under The Ranger name, which was suggested by Bob and Roy Peck's father.

Steve Peck's father Bob Peck and uncle Roy Peck, then both in their mid-20s, bought the struggling Riverton Press in July 1949, renaming it The Riverton Times and operating from a building on South Third East downtown.

Both brothers had worked as teens for The Review prior to their venture. Roy Peck was the sports editor there while he was still in high school.

The newly renamed Times was the smaller weekly, lacking the older paper's venerability, staff and equipment, but it captured day-to-day life through aggressive photojournalism, sports and hometown event coverage, and what Steve Peck would recall in an annual March editorial as quality writing and photographs the older paper could not match.

The brothers came from a large, well-known Riverton family (their father owned the Morning Star Dairy), and they capitalized on their local familiarity.

Just five months after they bought the Times, the young brothers' paper was named the best weekly in Wyoming in the annual Wyoming Press Association contest.

In all, The Ranger has been recognized as the WPA general excellence winner 12 times.

The publisher of the Review, E.T. "Beany" Childers, approached the Peck brothers in 1953, offering a merger.

The Pecks bought out Childers in 1960, with The Ranger converting to daily publication that year.

Steve Peck launched the Sunday Ranger in 1999, simultaneous to the purchase of the Lander Journal that summer.

The Ranger published six days per week for three years, reverting to five days in 200

Roy Peck died in 1983 at age 60. Bob, or Robert A. Peck, continued to work at The Ranger until he was 82. Both brothers died while serving in the Wyoming Legislature.

Peck remembered his father as "the greatest citizen in the history of our town."

Both Peck brothers were active in public service.

Steve Peck listed the names of many Ranger employees through the decades who gave their all, brought new developments, and helped keep The Ranger printing amid the shifting landscape of communications industry.

Peck said longevity was a common characteristic of Ranger staffers, a source of pride for him.

"We've had a great long run," he said.

He spoke of the way news coverage becomes a life within a life -- the occasions on which he's had to set his personal reactions aside even from the starkest tragedies involving people he knew, to convey a story to the public.

"Publishing the daily newspaper is a difficult thing to do," Peck told the group. "And it's an important thing to do.

"We always felt we were the most important business in town. That was the way my dad wanted me to look at it -- and I always have."

The Ranger begins publication under its new ownership with the edition dated Tuesday, Jan. 11, the Lander Journal on Wednesday, Jan. 12, and the Wind River News Thursday, Jan. 13.