As years go, 1973 was interesting. The Vietnam War ended; Skylab, the U.S.’s first space station, was launched; the Watergate scandal blew up; and the first patent for the ATM (automated teller machine) was granted — all happenings that have had lasting effects in one way or another. That same year, Encore was created, with its own lasting legacy. For 50 years the magazine has been publishing stories and images that celebrate Southwest Michigan and the greater Kalamazoo community. Encore has published more than 3,900 articles, on everything from the arts, local businesses, nonprofit organizations and community leaders to sports, dining, farming and beer. In honor of our 50th anniversary this month, we’re digging out some of the quirkier facts about the magazine.
Started as a playbill
Encore can credit its inception to Miller Auditorium, on the WMU campus. Phil Schubert was hired in 1972 to sell ads for the auditorium’s program guides for symphony concerts and other shows performed there. He had a little extra space to fill one month and quickly dashed off an article. It was so well received by Miller patrons that he decided to create a full-fledged magazine, Encore, Magazine of the Arts, which debuted in September 1973, pictured above, although the cover says October 1973. The publication was given free to patrons at Miller and included program notes for the auditorium’s performances that month. Encore continued to be distributed at Miller shows until 2020, when the pandemic shut down the facility. Post-pandemic, Encore is no longer distributed at Miller but has increased its public pickup locations across the community, giving more readers access to its content.
One of the most enduring — and endearing — features Encore printed was its Guess Who? — a photographic riddle that graced the magazine’s center spread from November 1998 until October 2009. Guess Who? featured a local notable who was disguised in costume, and readers were given a few clues to try to identify the costumed individual (a sort of precursor to today’s TV show The Masked Singer). There were 170 Guess Whos; the first person to be featured was former Western Michigan University president Diether Heineke, who was adorned as Santa Claus, and the final was former Kalamazoo Institute of Arts executive director Jim Bridenstine as Galileo. The Guess Who? above features Kalamazoo attorneys James and Michele Marquardt, dressed as a king and queen in the September 2008 issue. We run a visual look back at this feature here.
Encore has always been an advertiser-supported publication, and thousands of local businesses have promoted themselves on our pages through the years. It is really fascinating to peruse the back issues and see the businesses that have come and gone. But we are happy to say one of the magazine’s first advertisers is still advertising today. The Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra is the longest consistent Encore advertiser — it ran this ad in Encore‘s first issue, in September 1973, and has continued to promote its concerts and events through advertisements in Encore every year since.
3535 Bronson Blvd.
When current Encore owners Marie and Krieg Lee invited then-owners Rick and Penny Briscoe to their home in 2011 to talk about buying the magazine and gave them their address, Rick said, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Turns out that the Briscoes had also once owned the house at 3535 Bronson Blvd., from 1991–1997. Two owners later, the Lees bought the house and moved there in early 2011. The Briscoes were able to explain a lot of the house’s idiosyncrasies (such as the “unfindable” switch for the front outside lights, which was located inside a cabinet in the bar off the kitchen). And when Marie and Penny took a tour of the upstairs, Penny pointed out that the Briscoes owned the same line of bedroom furniture as the Lees: Victorian Sampler by Lexington Furniture, which the Lees had bought while living in Virginia and the Briscoes had bought in Kalamazoo at Stewart & Co. Interestingly, both the Briscoes and the Lees sold the house at 3535 Bronson Blvd. to move to lake homes.
That’s a lot of words
Encore has had a number of writers over the years, but a few have had remarkably long — and prolific — tenures with the magazine. Robert M. Weir, pictured at right, holds the title for having written the most recorded stories published in Encore: 182. He first wrote for the October 1996 issue, a story about portrait photographer Marc Kelemen and his service dog Odie, and continues to contribute to the magazine to this day. His most recent story, on paddling the Kalamazoo River, was the August cover story. Tom Thinnes, who wrote for the magazine for nearly 20 years, may actually have written more, but the early issues of Encore did not include bylines, so it’s hard to know. The next most prolific writers after Weir and Thinnes would be current editor Marie Lee, who has written 100 stories; and historian Larry Massie, who wrote 95. It wasn’t uncommon for both Weir and Thinnes to have written profiles that were 5,000 words in length. Today the average cover story is half that length.