Gift retires from ECM Publishers, Inc. after 34 years

Maxine Gift of Princeton has retired as the director of accounting for ECM Publishers, Inc., after 34 years.

She was hired by Tim Enger of then Princeton Publishing and reported for work on April 11, 1978.

During her 34 years, she helped build a company whose headquarters was in Princeton until 1997 when the corporate offices were moved to a new central office in Coon Rapids.

ECM still prints its newspapers at the expanded printing plant in Princeton, where it also prints the regional edition of the New York Times.

Back in 1976, Elmer L. Andersen, former governor of Minnesota and president of the H.B. Fuller Company, purchased the Princeton Union and the Princeton Eagle and formed the Princeton Publishing Company.

As the company added 13 more newspapers, a printing plant, a distribution company and five office product stores, Gift developed the accounting department, even though she never aspired to become a manager.

She assembled a department initially consisting of staff who came from the acquired newspapers.

She was particularly proud of her ability to put together a team of different personalities. She says, “I was lucky to have wonderful people with integrity who were so honest, fun and talented.”

While she expected quality work from them, she made it a point to have the company live up to their expectations.

There was plenty of work for the staff, as the company grew from monthly sales of $35,000 in 1988 to $3 million in December 2011. At one time, ECM had 25,000 customers needing 6,000 statements and 7,000 invoices that kept her department busy all day and sometimes all night.

When ECM purchased the Anoka Shopper, the company doubled in one day from $4 million to $8 million.

Auditors checked the ECM books many times, and not once did Gift have to make an adjustment.

“The banks trusted our numbers and we always received our line of credit,” she said.

Because she was good to her staff, they either have retired, or are still working for ECM.

Julian Andersen, now the publisher, says Gift outpaced and even exceeded his father’s expectations. From 1987 until now, Gift was a member of the ECM Board of Directors.

In view of her climb in the company, in 1978, Gift actually resigned after the first two weeks she worked and had to be talked into  staying for 90 days.

She had come to Princeton from Halstad with her husband Fletcher who had joined the Princeton Police department, where Tim’s father-in-law Carl Boehm, was the chief.

The Gifts and Engers became friends and when Tim needed an accountant, he hired Maxine, who was widowed and had a young daughter Julie.

Enger wanted Maxine to reconcile two sets of books resulting from Elmer’s purchase of two newspapers. Gift realized she did not know the newspaper business and after two weeks resigned to take a position with Minneapolis Honeywell.

She was invited to attend a meeting the following Monday where Elmer Andersen and Robert Weishair of the accounting firm of Larson, Allen and Weishair of St. Cloud talked her into staying for 90 more days.

The books were reconciled in two weeks and her career was launched.

During her retirement, she intends to do a lot of cooking and baking. Her staff says they will miss those treats she used to bring to the office.

It’s hard to believe that while she got straight As in mathematics in high school, she actually failed a home economics course when she didn’t care at all how baking soda and baking powder affected the other ingredients.

She will often visit her daughter Julie, a graduate of Princeton High School, and her granddaughter Katie Knutson. Julie works in customer service with the K & M Company in Renville.

Gift leaves with gratitude to ECM who gave her opportunities and pleased with all she contributed to the company.

Enger, who has retired from ECM, recalls the potential he saw in Gift. “She was a solid person, smart and trustworthy and a perfectionist.”

Marge Winkelman of  Princeton, who is ECM president, said, “Maxine leads by example and her dedication and loyalty to ECM over the last 34 years will never be forgotten.  All of us wish her the best as she begins a new page in her life.”

Her daughter once wrote to her mother: “I have never known anyone who has loved her job more than you. You always wanted to go to work. What a ride was that. You treated everyone fairly and had a wonderful mentorship.”