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Remembering ‘the people’s mayor’

July 2, 2014

Former Decatur Mayor Fred Isch, right, who died Tuesday, was a recipient earlier this year of the Sagamore of the Wabash award, the highest honor an Indiana resident can receive from the governor. State Rep. Matt Lehman, left, presented the award, while current Mayor John Schultz looked on. DDD file photo

    Fred Isch’s list of accomplishments in support of his community is seemingly endless, and began well before he served 20 years as mayor. It was his time as mayor, however, which will forever imbed his name and memory into the lifeblood of Decatur, Indiana.
    A mostly-unknown fact, though, is that Fred came extremely close to never running for mayor; maybe 72 hours or so close.
    Fred had joined the Decatur Daily Democrat in 1957 and through hard work and expertise had risen to the position of production manager under Dick D. Heller Jr., the publisher. Production manager mostly meant he could, and did, perform all required tasks of the newspaper operation, save editorial and advertising. A few years later, it was Heller’s idea to take the newspaper from “hot type” — linotypes, hot lead, lots and lots of ink, etc. — to the new concept, “cold type,” or offset printing.
    The Decatur Daily Democrat was one of the first newspapers in the state to go to offset, and while it was Heller’s idea, it was Isch who carried it out in the late 1960s. By 1977, Heller had decided to sell the business, which had been in his family since around the turn of the century.
    That same year, local Republicans had been trying to talk Isch into running for mayor, against three-term Democrat Harold Miller. Isch had served on the North Adams school board, been a member of city council and was extremely popular. Fred, though, was not a politician. Besides, he was being paid a nice wage to oversee all aspects of the newspaper’s production.
    It was around the time of the deadline for filing for office when the new ownership, a corporation which owned a number of other newspapers, took over. A few jobs were cut, job descriptions were changed and wages were cut. Fred was one of those who took a big hit and, of course, he wasn’t happy about it. Not after all he had done for the place.
    So with the filing deadline just two or three days away, he jumped: Ran for mayor. And the rest, as they say, is history.
    For the complete story, see today's print or online editions.

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