The lost years of Madison Magazine
Before Madison Magazine, we were Madison Select
Upon starting our research for the 40th anniversary issue, this much we knew: Madison Magazine’s history as a business dates back to 1958, when University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate Dale W. Lang started Select magazine, the first of many Select magazines he’d start in the United States. Select changed ownership a few times and the name changed to Madison Select before being bought by James and Gail Selk, who dropped “Select” in 1978, and so Madison Magazine’s history began.
But after some digging, we found that for at least 14 years in the ’60s and ’70s, Select – Madison Magazine’s “granddaddy” publication – was owned by legendary collegiate boxer Gene Rankin.
Rankin won three NCAA championships while at UW-Madison in 1939, 1941 and 1942. “After I got the magazine started, I kind of came to the conclusion that Madison was a little small population-wise to support a magazine,” says Lang, who currently lives in Colorado. He says he sold the magazine to Rankin in 1960 or ’61. Rankin died in 1995, but we contacted his son, also named Gene Rankin, a Madison attorney. “Dad’s main business, along with real estate development, was National Appliance Publishing Co., essentially a monopoly in trade-in guides for appliances (kitchen and laundry) back when they actually had a value,” says the younger Rankin. “Select was something that he did in an office on the top floor of [the] Commercial State Bank building, and he often swapped advertising for goods. For a while I helped him with layout and paste-up.”
Rankin employed both Gertrude Struck and Dolly Harman, according to Gail Selk, former publisher. “Gert and I were going to buy [the magazine] together,” Gail recalls. But Gail says Struck went ahead and bought Select herself — her name first appears in the Wisconsin Blue Book as the owner in 1977. “I remember Mom telling me she wanted to elevate the magazine from society reporting to a sophisticated, well-rounded publication with a variety of content pertaining to Madison and its citizens,” says Struck’s daughter, Ann Struck. “I used to go to her office on Carroll Street and help her with mailings as she single-handedly sold advertising on the phone and researched and wrote articles, in addition to her editorial tasks. My father’s publishing company, Rural Life Publishing in Lake Mills, Wisconsin, published many issues of Madison Select.” Gertrude sold the magazine to the Selks a year later.
Meanwhile, Harman started her own competing publication, This Is Madison, which was later bought by Madison Newspapers Inc., Gail says. “They ran it for a while [and] we were very worried, because they had all the money in the world and we had none,” Gail says. “But we just worked really hard, and they went out of business.”
Following a divorce, James Selk sold his part of the magazine to Gail in 1992, but he continued to write his politics column until June 1998. Gail ran the magazine until she sold it in 1995 to the family that owns Madison-based Morgan Murphy Media, the magazine’s current owner.
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