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Beno staying active as Northwoods editor

By Ben Rodgers

DE PERE – An Abbot Pennings class of 1975 graduate is entertaining thousands of Wisconsinites every two months from his perch in the Northwoods.

Mike Beno is the editor of Our Wisconsin, an 80-page magazine which looks at what makes Wisconsin a great place to live.

But before Beno found himself in Manitowish Waters at the helm of a publication with a circulation of 100,000, he was making memories and getting ready for life at Abbot Pennings.

“One of the best things of my life was getting to go to that school,” the Allouez native said. “It was small, fewer than 400 kids who went there, and you just get so close with friends. I have friends to this day. I’m 62 and we get together often.”

Beno has fond memories from his time as a Fighting Squire, many of which include the behavior one would expect at an all-boys prep school.

One includes upperclassmen crawling under the Claude Allouez Bridge in search of a pigeon cadaver to dangle from the roof outside the window of English teacher Tom Pigeon.

“We worked hard. We screwed off like all kids did, but you just grew close together,” Beno said. “I don’t know, there’s a lot of things I can’t put into words about it. It was a special place in time and life.”

Beno entered the journalism field after Pennings and will quickly say he’s far from the most decorated newspaperman to attend the school.

He said that honor falls on George Stanley, editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Beno graduated from UW-Madison and spent 9 months at the Portage Daily Register as a do-it-all reporter.

Beno stayed in touch with professor Clay Schoenfeld, who tipped him off about an opening at Ducks Unlimited Magazine.

After 12 years at Ducks Unlimited, Beno took a job at Reiman Publications near Milwaukee, where he met Roy Reiman and said he saw how successful magazines could be when done properly.

By the time Beno became editorial director for the company eventually purchased by Readers Digest, it had 13 publications with 16 million subscribers.

In 2004, Beno decided it was time to slow down and he moved up north.

For nine years, Beno said he “strung together charity gigs.”

Those included installing LifeLines in older people’s homes, chairing the local food pantry and church council, and a stint on Wisconsin Public Radio.

But Beno was missing something from his life, and Reiman was looking for something new.

“A man can only chop so much firewood before you need to get a little more mentally engaged,” Beno said.

From this came the idea for the Our Wisconsin magazine, which follows Reiman’s model of relying on readers for content and being 100 percent about subscribers.

Our Wisconsin magazine publishes every other month and has a circulation of 100,000 readers. Ben Rodgers Photo

“We’re looking to tell stories, it’s an entertaining read,” Beno said. “We’re not journalists, we’re entertainers. Everything in the magazine is upbeat, cheerful, friendly, bright. You read enough of it and you’ll get diabetes, but that’s done on purpose, because the rest of the world is so filled with strife.”

The magazine is printed 100 percent on high gloss paper and includes a bevy of scenic photographs.

The October/November issue contains stories on a family who bakes 30,000 cookies annually, falconry, a former accordion salesman who created a frozen pizza empire, a church in Irma and a model airplane builder, just to name a few.

“We’re not telling people how to live their lives better. We don’t have big scoops to rip the lid off anything… we’re not doing that here,” Beno said. “We’re working to brighten people’s day.”

He said the magazine is about treating readers honestly and like humans.

“Everything we do is to make it easier and better for the reader,” Beno said. “Anything we can do that keeps subscription renewals, we do to our advantage. Everything we do to harm subscription renewals, we do at our peril.”

Every issue is 80 pages and is not dependent on advertising, but instead subscribers.

Beno said the formulaic design helps planning and editing, especially when including a plethora of tiny details that make subscribers swoon.

“When you’re not focused almost all on advertising, that’s extremely liberating,” he said. “Your magazines are all the same page count, so you can plan.”

To take Our Wisconsin magazine for a test drive, people can visit ourwisconsinmag.com and sign up for one issue.

Beno said around 1 percent of all issues printed end up on newsstands, and those newstands are across the state.

Seated firmly behind an editor’s desk with 100,000 readers, Beno said he has been lucky up to this point.

“I was very lucky to have made the acquaintances with those people,” he said. “It has nothing to do with me. I was lucky to get to Abbot Pennings, and I was lucky to meet Roy Reiman.”

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