The Urillos: The Observer’s first family

Observer co-founders Anthony L. Urillo and Jennie Urillo review the first edition of the Southington Observer in Dec. 1975.

Observer co-founders Anthony L. Urillo and Jennie Urillo review the first edition of the Southington Observer in Dec. 1975.

By TAYLOR HARTZ
STAFF WRITER

Sitting around the kitchen table in their childhood home, Susan, Marta, and Robert Urillo browsed through a stack of black and white photos from the early days of The Southington Observer.

The community weekly newspaper celebrated its anniversary in December, celebrating 40 years since the first Observer rolled off the Southington presses on Dec. 3, 1975 under the watchful gaze of Anthony L. Urillo with wife, Jennie, by his side.

The three children recalled memories of what the paper meant to their parents and what it was like for the seven siblings—Stephanie, Mary, Susan, Marta, Anthony, Angela, and Robert—growing up in the newspaper industry in Southington.

Anthony Urillo surveys the paper with Robert and Jennie.

Anthony Urillo surveys the paper with Robert and Jennie.

The process for starting The Observer was exactly what the original tag line read: “An independent newspaper – open to all parties – influenced by none,” said Robert, viewing a photo of himself at 11-years-old, proudly standing beside his father with the paper’s first issue.

As the Urillo children have watched the news industry evolve over the past four decades, they agreed that their parents’ product still thrives because of its local angle.

“It’s local news, and people want to know what’s going on,” said Marta.

“People who went to high school here want to know how their buddies are doing and how they’ve succeeded or have not succeeded,” added Susan.

During their family’s tenure, the Observer circulation grew with readers spanning all 50 states. The Observer allowed both those who remained in their hometown and those who settled elsewhere to stay informed on Southington news.

With local printing, local reporters, and local news, the paper was never expected to stand alone without the support of the weekly “Step Saver” shopper – but 40-years later the news is still printing.

“He started something that was unheard of in the state of Connecticut,” said Susan.

Robert said that, as he stayed active in the news industry, he learned that “the only papers that are going to survive are going to be the ones with local content because you can’t get it anywhere else.”

National and international news can be widely accessed online, said Robert, “but to know who’s doing what business where and what’s going on in town, you can’t find that out unless you’re covering it locally.”

That local coverage was Anthony Urillo’s goal in 1975.

The first issue of The Observer is reviewed by Anthony L. Urillo. From left, James Bruno, Donald Lackey, Urillo, Ralph Riccio, Ed Beckley, Observer head pressman Fred Marino, editor-in-chief Andrew W. Nelson III, secretary/treasurer Jennie Urillo, and comptroller Walter F. Marciniec.

The first issue of The Observer is reviewed by Anthony L. Urillo. From left, James Bruno, Donald Lackey, Urillo, Ralph Riccio, Ed Beckley, Observer head pressman Fred Marino, editor-in-chief Andrew W. Nelson III, secretary/treasurer Jennie Urillo, and comptroller Walter F. Marciniec.

“He wanted it to be the voice of the town,” Robert said about his father, who bought the Spring Street land, built the office, and expanded the building to grow the press.

Unbiased, fair, and local news was what he set out to produce. “He wanted to close that backdoor,” said Robert. “He didn’t want anyone to influence what was coming in. It was meant to record the information of the town.”

Though it was a family-run paper, Marta said none of the children were ever on the editorial or reporting staff. They always handled the business and production side. While they all spent their childhoods delivering ads and stuffing inserts, each took a different approach to following in their parents’ footsteps.

Marta worked in sales, the art department, and eventually settled into handling the paper’s finances.

Robert ran the press in his summer breaks from college, where he and Susan studied news production management at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.

Robert went on to serve as the production manager for The Step Saver, Inc. before working with The New York Times, Co.

Susan had a hand in the art department, reception, camera work, type-setting, and “everything in production” before becoming the Vice President of Operations.

The siblings said that while they got to know the industry at an early age, many staff members also learned their craft at The Observer and credited their parents with their start in the news.

In addition to a family-wide involvement with the community paper, Anthony Urillo encouraged his staff to be just as active in the town of Southington as he was.

Observer founder, the late Anthony L. Urillo in 1986.

Observer founder, the late Anthony L. Urillo in 1986.

Anthony Sr. was involved in the start of the Calvanese Foundation’s Memorial Charity Golf Tournament, and though he and Jennie were registered independents, their friends fell on both sides of the aisle and Anthony “really did always give back to the community,” said Susan.

When the parent company, The Step Saver, reached more than 100,000 in circulation, the family recognized that their father had influence. When the Observer began driving local competition, they realized that their father “made friends and enemies with that paper,” said Susan.

This was largely due to their commitment to reporting the news, no matter who it might affect or offend.

With more than 20 editors having supervised the newsroom over 40-years, turn-over was quick to ensure precise, accurate reporting under Urillo’s eye.

His commitment to the news led the staff to see as many as three editors in one-year, while he and Jennie’s loyalty kept some in the position for nearly a decade.

“If it happened, and it was factual, it would go in,” said Robert, who said his father, who passed away in 2012, remembered the paper fondly.

The siblings hope their parents’ passions for factual, local news will continue to reach the town through The Southington Observer.

“He reported the news. He lived by that,” said Susan.

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Anthony J. Urillo reviews a copy of the short-lived Plainville Observer during its first incarnation. The paper resurfaced in 2010.

Anthony J. Urillo reviews a copy of the short-lived Plainville Observer during its first incarnation. The paper resurfaced in 2010.

Hot off the presses. Editors and publishers review the paper after an early run off the press.

Hot off the presses. Editors and publishers review the paper after an early run off the press.

Anthony Urillo congratulates the Observer's first editor Andrew W. Nelson III for the work that went into the first edition of the Observer.

Anthony Urillo congratulates the Observer’s first editor Andrew W. Nelson III for the work that went into the first edition of the Observer.

Observer editor Andrew W. Nelson III reviews the paper with staff writer Mary Doherty.

Observer editor Andrew W. Nelson III reviews the paper with staff writer Mary Doherty.

Congratulations all around. Who would have guessed that 40 years later the paper would still be going strong.

Congratulations all around. Who would have guessed that 40 years later the paper would still be going strong.

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