When Paula Vogelgesang began publishing a monthly newsletter in March 1993, she didn’t even know if she’d recoup enough money to put out an April issue. Twenty-eight years later, the Wanblee resident is retiring the popular PennyWise newsletter, but she has plenty to keep busy.
Paula was featured on the cover of the May 2013 edition of Golden West’s Horizons newsletter. Eight years later, she remains devoted to the same projects she talked about then.
A Publication for Country People
For all its success, Paula is very humble concerning her role in the PennyWise publication.
“It was basically written by the subscribers,” she says. “They would send in tips of all kinds. Everything I put in there was something somebody sent to me.”
As ranchers, Paula and her late husband, Conrad, were forever trying to stretch their dollars as far as possible. This first-hand awareness of the financial struggles those in the agricultural community face was the inspiration for PennyWise.
“There were several of those little papers out,” Paula recalls, “But they mainly had to do with city living and people that went to the grocery store every day. Country people don’t do that. I was working in a grocery store before I got married and there were people on a tight budget who only came in once a month.”
Paula decided a newsletter devoted to money-saving tips would be a boon to those folks who only get paid once or twice a year. She approached Wendell Long, publisher of the Bennett County Booster, with her idea. Armed with a secondhand Underwood typewriter and a $200 budget, Paula got to work. She typed up the first issue, used a black marker to write the headlines and draw a simple logo, glued it to the newsprint pages, and had Wendell print it up. She mailed copies to everybody on her Christmas list — about 300 people total — unsure whether there would be a follow-up issue.
“I didn’t know if it would fly at all,” she says.
Heloise on the Prairie
Paula earned just enough to cover her costs, allowing her to publish a second issue. A third and a fourth followed. Her subscriber list grew, and Paula became a sort-of Heloise on the prairie, dispensing helpful hints sent in by readers. Because she and Conrad raised cattle, each issue included a beef recipe, as well. Eventually she took advantage of Golden West’s internet service and switched to a computer, helping to streamline the process of assembling the eight-page monthly publication.
Over the course of nearly three decades, Paula amassed an impressive collection of money- and time-saving tips and tricks. Many of these she adopted herself; favorites include a homemade ranch dressing mix, a coffee can filled with water and placed on a heating stove to eliminate static electricity buildup, and a homemade version of Pedialyte that costs twenty cents a quart as opposed to $5.19 in the store.
“It just amazed me the stuff that people sent in,” Paula says. “It was things that people out here in the country could really use. A newborn lamb or calf milk using canned milk, water, Castor oil, sugar, and a beaten egg yolk. Just all kinds of stuff!”
Passion Projects Keep Paula Busy
Paula finally retired PennyWise in December 2021. She may no longer be sharing hints and recipes, but the 78-year-old isn’t resting on her laurels either. Paula remains involved in the Quilts With Love project, which supplies quilts to military personnel stationed abroad and homeless veterans. Another passion project for Paula is the restoration of the Pearl Hotel in Kadoka. Built in 1907, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places a century later. Paula works with a group focused on returning the property to its former glory.
“The Pearl Hotel is being recycled,” she says with a laugh. No surprise coming from a woman whose homespun newsletter helped readers get the most for the least.
It’s been an ongoing process for 14 years and a lot of hard work, but that commitment is beginning to pay off. The downstairs is completely restored and being used as a community center for everything from family reunions to holiday parties. Work is ongoing upstairs; eventually, guided tours will provide visitors with a glimpse into turn-of-the-century life circa the early 1900s.
Paula is just glad the historic building didn’t meet a different fate.
“Somebody that works in town said, ‘Let’s just tear it down and turn it into a parking lot!’” she says. “Why would you need a parking lot? There’s gobs of room on Main Street!”
Photos courtesy of Melissa Gross, Tri-State Neighbor assistant editor.