ONE OF Wisconsin’s great journalists and conservationists, Dan Satran Sr., passed on last week to what he might call the happy hunting grounds at the age of 86.
I believe Dan Satran took this photo of daughter, Jone, in one of his favorite places, Whispering Lake in the Blackjack Springs Wilderness Area.
The scribbler is writing about ol’ Danny Boy this week because of fond and numerous memories from my first six years with the News-Review, serving as reporter and then news editor for Dan and brother Bob before they sold the newspaper in 1985.
The Satrans introduced me to some memorable traditions, most notably the pre-hunt party on the Thursday before the start of the nine-day deer season. It was cocktails in hand, steaks on the grill and a lot of tall hunting tales about chasing bucks.
Dan was an accomplished trout and bass angler. He loved to catch largemouth bass on poppers, and Spectacle Lake was one of his favorites. His snorkeling and scuba-diving adventures were well documented, as he wrote often about them in his weekly newspaper column.
He was among a handful of people who had the political ties to effectively push for the establishment of wilderness areas, most notably the Sylvania Wilderness near Land O’ Lakes and the Blackjack Springs Wilderness just east of Eagle River.
Dan was a good friend and environmental comrade of the late Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. senator who did more in the modern conservation movement than any other. They saw eye to eye on a lot of issues, and there’s no doubt that some of Satran’s conservation ethic rubbed off on me over the years.
Let me say right off that nothing is more important for a young professional than finding a good teacher and mentor in that first key job and, in that department, I hit the jackpot.
What Dan taught me in the first six months on the job was worth two college degrees. He had a nose for news like few people in the profession, and he was never afraid to take on the bad guys — whether they were self-serving politicians or even gangsters.
I liked the man because he didn’t mince words or play games. Like it or not, you knew right where you stood with Dan. He had a reputation as an antagonist because he called it like he saw it.
For those who were fortunate enough to read his weekly column for the 56 years it ran in the News-Review, up until June 2009, they know how much Dan liked to stir the pot. He could be 100 yards upwind and still smell a rat.
“Find something controversial and you’ll find news,” he always told me. “Every good decision or idea comes with controversy. Find it and you will find the heart of what is really newsworthy.”
Dan never seemed to aspire to winning popularity contests, as his demeanor was somewhat gruff. But he had a lot of close friends who got through the crusty first impression to discover a thoughtful, fun-loving guy with a vast knowledge of information.
He loved the great outdoors with such a passion that every outing was worth celebrating — and his traditional way of doing that was with a swig of whiskey or some kind of cocktail. That bothered some readers over the years, but I don’t think they understood why he chose alcohol to toast some of the best times life had to offer.
Few publishers in the business worked as hard as Dan. He was always developing a better system for writing headlines, training employees, tracking ads or laying out pages. He never seemed happy with the status quo.
Some people have questioned over the years why I often mention the Satrans every time the News-Review wins some state or national award. Quite simply, every honor was an extension of the legacy they established over three decades of newspaper publishing — a true commitment to quality.
Just as I owe my dad and mom a debt for getting me involved in their small weekly newspaper as a youngster, I owe Dan Satran for the time he took to instill in me his nose for news and how to write a compelling story, column or editorial.
I can’t take credit for current successes without acknowledging the debt I owe to those who showed me the way. I’m still carrying the torch in their honor.
I’ve always believed Dan Satran would have been a great college professor in some school of journalism, because he had the firsthand knowledge and he knew how to pass it on.
His claim to fame wasn’t that he was nice about it, but that he knew good writing from bad and wasn’t afraid to be blunt. He tore apart and red-penciled more stories than I care to admit. And I thank him for that.
Like the best coaches we all remember in our lives, Dan didn’t care if he was popular. He wanted respect. And that he earned.
Dan was a winner because he aspired to compete with the best. He always told me, if you want to learn how to write or lay out a page, don’t study your competition. Study the best papers in the state — in the country.
Thank you, Dan, for your contributions to journalism and conservation. You will not be forgotten.