Our Walsworth – Ripon location is the most recent member of the Walsworth family of printers, but its history stretches further back than any other Walsworth location. Beginning as a newspaper, The Ripon Commonwealth, the company was purchased by Doug and Audrey Lyke 97 years after its founding. The Lyke family grew the newspaper into a self-sustaining, mid-size printing company named Ripon Printers, simply called “The Printers” by many locals. In 2019, Walsworth acquired Ripon, and today Walsworth – Ripon is a prominent provider of catalogs, publications, manuals, soft-cover educational products and digital communications.
A Layered History
When the city of Ripon, Wisconsin, was still in its infancy, the community’s first business opened its doors amidst the toil of the ongoing Civil War. On Jan. 22, 1864, The Ripon Commonwealth circulated its first edition with the statement, “the good people of Ripon and vicinity are herewith greeted with a new paper ‘The Ripon Commonwealth.’”
The small staff of The Ripon Commonwealth worked tirelessly to collect printable materials from around the nation to print the four-page weekly. During the early years, the type was handset, and each letter, number and character had to be set one by one.
The weekly paper continued to grow steadily for almost a century. In 1957, under the ownership of Don Schuchman, the paper combined operations with the Ripon Weekly Press to become Ripon Commonwealth-Press, or Commonwealth for short, a more robust paper for the community.
Soon, Schuchman sought to retire from the newspaper business and wished to leave the business in able hands. On Sept. 1, 1962, in the Republican House restaurant across the street from the press operation, Schuchman sold the company to Doug Lyke, who would soon prove to be the perfect fit for the job.
Doug Lyke grew up in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, near Milwaukee. After graduating from Northwestern University with a degree in journalism, Lyke served in the Navy and then worked in a public relations position in Chicago. He was a newspaperman at heart, and the opportunity to purchase the Ripon Commonwealth-Press was the new beginning he knew his family needed.
Doug’s wife, Audrey Lyke, and their four young children soon joined him in making Ripon their new hometown. In his first editorial as owner and publisher of the Ripon Commonwealth-Press, Doug wrote, “With unbounded enthusiasm – coupled with a deep sense of responsibility – my wife, Audrey, and I approach our new life, our new endeavor in Ripon.”
At the time of moving, Doug and Audrey’s children – Kim, Sue, Tim and Andy – ranged from eight years old to 18 months old. Decades later, Audrey described her family’s move from Chicago to Ripon. “I was driving alone… it was raining, and I’m not sure if there was more water in the car from my tears or on the windshield outside. We had absolutely no money, lots of debt and a town we knew very little about.” The Lykes were soon welcomed by the Ripon community with success on the horizon.
When the Lyke family acquired the press, they kept the full staff without employment changes. Doug performed as the owner, president and editor, and Audrey was the vice president of office and finance. With a team of 13 people, the Ripon Commonwealth-Press, or RPC, made $250,000 in sales during the Lyke family’s first year. In addition to the weekly newspaper, RPC printed small side jobs like the Ripon College Days using hot lead type and letterpresses.
The only press in the operation was a Chief 24 offset press, which took two full days to print each edition of the Commonwealth. In 1965, the Lykes made an investment in a three-unit Goss web press and folder. The new press reduced the time to produce the weekly paper from two days to 30 minutes.
The investment was a leap of faith for the Lykes, and it would serve to substantial growth on the commercial side of the business, and an expansion to print business outside the region. RCP’s product mix grew to print 34 different shoppers, community, college, fraternal and veteran newspapers from around the state.
“RCP” with a New Meaning
While the newspaper side of the business stayed steady, the commercial side of the Ripon Commonwealth-Press skyrocketed into success. The original building on Blackburn Street underwent two separate expansions to fit in equipment and meet the demand, but by 1975, they had outgrown the small location. RCP moved into a new facility on Douglas Street totaling 18,000 square feet in April 1975. The Douglas Street location is the still the location of Walsworth – Ripon today, although it has grown almost 10 times in size since its construction. Prior to the move, RCP had to rent storage space in a nearby pickle factory for its extra roll stock.
In 1977, the commercial plant spun off as a separate company from the newspaper, so “RCP” would be the acronym for both “Ripon Commonwealth-Press” and “Ripon Community Printers.” From the founding of RCP, Doug and Audrey Lyke led with three tenets to which they attributed the company’s success: Using the latest equipment to enhance productivity and quality, having an alert and aggressive sales network and “most important of all, build an organization that includes the best possible group of dedicated, skilled and hard-working people.” With a staff of under 70 employees, Ripon Community Printers’ annual sales surpassed $2 million by 1978.
Embracing Change as an Everyday Constant
With every success, the Lykes funneled their resources back into the company through equipment and expansions. RCP expanded its Douglas Street location by 9,000 square feet and introduced a new saddle stitcher for advanced catalog abilities and a four-unit Web Leader press to add capacity for weekly grocery flyers by 1980. Two years later, RCP purchased a Creusot Loire web press from France, and it was named “Katie Jane” after Doug and Audrey’s first grandchild. During the following years, RCP’s primary products were industrial and service catalogs and manuals, newspapers, tabloids and telephone directories.
In 1989, the annual sales at RCP exceeded $18 million, and Doug attributed the company’s success to good employees who earned the company a good reputation for service, honesty and the ability to get the job done on time.
Every few years, RCP invested in more equipment and location expansions, reaching 113,000 square feet by 1989. Each purchase was made with the intention to transform RCP to become more self-sufficient as a mid-size printer. Through these expansions, the company’s footprint grew from 40,000 square feet in 1986 to 170,000 square feet in 1994.
The 2004 commission of the company’s first 8-Unit Man Roland Rotoman N heatset press was a highlight among numerous developments made since then. It was the first “stacked” installation of the press in North America.
“Without the wonderful people that put their energy and desire into their work, the modern-day equipment would mean very little… Change has been an everyday constant at RCP since then and will be the catalyst to ignite our after-burners to propel us into the 21st century.”
– Russ Welch, lead web press supervisor from 1975
Lyke Family Legacy
The print operation in Ripon would not be what it is today without the visionary leadership and commitment provided by the Lyke family and the community they created in Ripon. In 1993, Doug went into what he called “semi-retirement” to function as a consultant and senior advisor, and Dave Gray, previously the vice president of operations since 1976, became the new company president. In the same year, Doug’s youngest son, Andy, became vice president of Ripon Community Printers and Andy’s older brother, Tim, became the publisher of the Commonwealth.
The Lyke family communicated kindness and diligence through their work and everyday interactions. They created a legacy of open and honest business practices, and they were not afraid to share their failures alongside their successes. Although it was easy to know each employee when there were only 13 on staff, the Lykes prioritized knowing each employee by name and encouraged their employees to get to know each other by saying a genuine “hello” at the start of each day. As Doug described it, a sincere greeting on a daily basis is a small investment that pays big dividends.
The Lyke family invested heavily in the Ripon community in many ways. Doug and Audrey were active in the church, volunteered often and prioritized those values in the company as well. Under their ownership, the press facility developed a strong tradition of community involvement through blood drives and supporting local charitable organizations such as the United Way, among many other initiatives. One of the recent highlights of these efforts was their participation in the Ripon Santa Club, which provides Christmas gifts for families in need. This vision aligns with Walsworth’s culture as a family organization that puts people first, and Walsworth strives to uphold the generous ethos founded in Ripon by the Lyke family.
“Walsworth — Ripon, previously Ripon Printers, has been a pillar in our community for generations,” said Jason Mansmith, Executive Director, Ripon Area Chamber of Commerce. “Their legacy in the city of Ripon has been incredibly beneficial by offering a fantastic work environment, along with deeply rooted support for everything that is Ripon. We are blessed to have them as a part of the fabric of the city.”
After RCP’s 40-year anniversary under the Lyke family, Doug passed following a battle with cancer. His passing was reported in the Commonwealth as a full-page story, celebrating him as a “leader who loved the solid people of Ripon… businessman, alderman, school board president, musician, volunteer, benefactor, church leader, newspaper publisher – a man who filled many roles in Ripon fills one more: departed friend to many.”
Andy and Tim Lyke carried on the same values their parents instilled in both Ripon Commonwealth-Press and Ripon Community Printers businesses. In 2006, Ripon Community Printers was shortened to Ripon Printers. In the following years, Ripon Printers gained more business and accolades as they continued to add more equipment to their roster and focused on the touchstone of continuous improvement. The printed and online publication of the Ripon Commonwealth-Press, for which Tim Lyke still writes, runs today.
In 2012, Ripon Printers had more than 300 employees and annual sales of $48 million, and the Lyke brothers shared the cover of Printing Impressions magazine. The same year, the company acquired and integrated Sells Printing Company into Ripon Printers. Ripon Printers grew again in 2016 through the acquisition of Maquoketa Printing. This period of growth for Ripon Printers aided the company in becoming a self-sustaining operation and allowed them to reach beyond their previous capabilities in the market.
On the topic of the 2012 acquisition, the president of the former Sells Printing Company, Donald Schroeder, commented, “Once we decided that being acquired was the best course of action, choosing Ripon Printers was easy. The Lyke family has provided steady, successful leadership for the past 50 years that resulted in significant company growth. The Lykes and the team at Ripon Printers have also created a customer-first culture that Sells Printing customers value and have come to expect.”
From Andy Lyke’s first days as maintenance staff at his parents’ local newspaper, he upheld the company values for hard work, diligence and mutual respect that set the standard for the printing operation in Ripon as a whole. As President and CFO of Ripon Printers, Andy was an efficient and precise leader and a selfless and generous person. He was known to go out of his way to help coworkers through hardships and place himself last when others were in need. In preparation for his retirement, he sought to secure a future for the company marked by the same values of service and generosity.
Ripon Printers joined Walsworth in 2019, becoming Walsworth – Ripon. Andy continued to serve as CFO until his retirement in July 2021. In a 2021 edition of the Commonwealth, Tim Lyke wrote of his brother, “Andy believed to his core that, as Ripon Printers’ president and later as Walsworth – Ripon’s CFO, his responsibility was to serve others, to assure they had the tools, opportunities and guidance they needed to be successful — individually and collectively.”
On The Horizon
The acquisition of Ripon Printers in 2019 by Walsworth was driven by the desire to build upon our print and binding capabilities with a company whose people value supporting their local community. The facility augmented our catalog manufacturing and helped us create additional benefits for customers through its proximity to the mailing hub of Chicago, as well as Walsworth’s other midwestern locations.
“Now that for the first time in two generations no Lykes will be on the company payroll, the secret will be revealed: The company’s success the past 60 years has been due less to the last name of the people who owned it than the heads, hands and hearts of the hundreds of conscientious, loyal and skilled people who made the Lykes look better than they deserved, every day and in every way.”
- Tim Lyke on the event of Andy Lyke’s retirement, Ripon Commonwealth Press, 2021
As the Ripon location moves forward in the Walsworth family of printers, the future will hold to the Lyke family’s touchstone of continuous improvement and values of hard work, generosity, honesty and kindness. Walsworth is grateful to share the rich history of another family-owned press operation, which will continue to operate under the same values as a historical fixture of the community.