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Vogt's Notes: Where's Erma? Wait a minute, who's Erma?

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I sincerely hope you are enjoying your first issue of the pineandlakes Echo Journal, your combined Lake Country Echo and Pine River Journal weekly newspapers printed on broadsheet newsprint.

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I can’t tell you how much thought went into the decision to combine the two sister newspapers, or how many people worked on endless details to make the transition as smooth as possible.

As we’ve reiterated in previous columns, we welcome your feedback regarding out new and redesigned product. Please look on page 5 for information on how to contact us.

Now I’ll turn over the rest of this column to, well, a cat. Faithful readers of the Pine River Journal and Echoland Piper Shopper already know Erma because her likeness is hidden every week in those print products. We know those readers are out there, because when Erma is extremely well hidden, or when she takes a break for a week to go to the vet or on vacation (yes, we admit, those are the weeks we forget to hide her), we get phone calls from readers asking, “Where’s Erma?”

We are excited to carry on the tradition of hiding Erma in our new product, the Echo Journal. For those Lake Country Echo readers and others who may not know the story, I turn this column over to Erma P.J. Bombeck, more commonly known as just “Erma.”

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Greetings, faithful readers. My name is Erma. I’m a 13-year-old calico cat who lives in Pine River, and I have a very interesting life story to share with you.

First, as you can tell, I am alive and well. Some call me fat. Some call me finicky. But I’m happy living with Deb Gunderson, that former Pine River Journal production manager who took me in as a kitten.

My mom — called Momma Cat — had a rough life. She started hanging out at the Pine River Journal building all those years ago, where the nice employees there fed her. One day in the spring of 2000 those employees heard her meowing at the back door. They opened the door to find her with a tiny kitten in her mouth.

Momma Cat, a calico with four white paws, proceeded to march into the Journal building with all six or so of her kittens, depositing them in a back corner. One of those kittens was me. She knew we were among friends there.

Our friends found homes for all of my siblings through a newspaper ad and word of mouth, and former employee Liz Dahl took my mom home to her family. They named her Mittens, and she just died a year ago of old age after a better and happier life.

“She was gorgeous,” Liz said. “She was an amazing cat. She was definitely street smart.”

Deb Gunderson took a liking to me and the yellow speck on my lip.

“She was cuter than the dickens so we decided to take her,” she said. Deb became my new mom, and she brought me to the office with her for a few years until she left her job at the Journal.

“Erma was so used to being with people. She loved riding in the car,” Deb said.

Former editor Christine Lupella said, “She would just come and hang out all day. When she was a kitten she drove a couple staff members crazy because she was fond of computer cords.”

That clever Pine River Journal staff put their thinking caps on and decided to have a name-the-cat contest to name me. For $2, readers could submit a name and proceeds were donated to the Heartland Animal Rescue Team (HART).

“Some animal-loving readers donated more than $2 for their suggestions,” Chris said. “People were great. Some came into the office to meet Erma. We photographed them with our mascot and printed the pictures the following week.”

Names submitted included Scribbles, Piper, Buttons, Gracie, Pixie, Dina, Spiker, Gidget, Erma (Bombeck), PJ (Piper Journal), Morabelle, Cinder, Inky, Lucky, Scoop, Stat, Sophia, Prints, Mews, Snickers, Typo, Putzer-razzi, Tortellini, Pica, Em, Licorice, Oreo, Paige, Ebony, Roxy, Coffee (for Dr. Coffman, the local vet who cared for me), Aurora, Fiona, Scarlet, Ginger, Lucy, Abby, Catriona, Leona, Nia and Headline.

Did any of you readers submit any of those names and donate to HART?

We were proud to raise more than $200 for the animal shelter in Baxter, and the name Erma P.J. Bombeck won. (P.J. stands for Piper Journal, in recognition of the shopper and the newspaper.)

“It wasn’t a lot, but it was something and it was fun,” Chris said of the naming contest.

You can thank Lynn Wangberg, Pine River-Backus English teacher, and editor Chris for the idea to hide me in the newspaper and shopper each week. When Chris heard that Lynn’s class used the newspaper for a scavenger hunt each week to learn about their community, she decided to give the students something fun to look for — me!

Lynn said her eighth-grade class still does the newspaper scavenger hunt, and the students’ absolute favorite part is looking for me. Some students who get the newspaper at home will even look the night before and come to class knowing where I’m hidden.

“The No. 1 question every week is, ‘Where’s Erma?’” Lynn said.

If you haven’t yet seen me hidden somewhere in the pages of this first Echo Journal, go back and take another hard look. I promise I’m lurking somewhere. Look for my picture shown to the right. Pick up next week’s newspaper to find out what page I’m on this week.

Good luck finding me!

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