Association newsletter a vanishing breed?

Posted on Wed, 09/01/2021 - 12:30pm

Looking back at the Dialogue’s 50-year history

By Neil Warner

It’s human nature to take something for granted when you’ve had access to it for a long time. It wouldn’t be surprising, then, if some Malibu East residents consider a monthly newsletter to be part and parcel of living in a large condominium building.

They may be surprised to learn that few condo associations have a similar publication. A quick survey of ASCO properties shows that several have abandoned their newsletters because they can’t find volunteers to staff the publication. A few associations publish quarterly newsletters, and others rely on posting a notice on their bulletin boards whenever management considers it appropriate.

Now that email has become ubiquitous, many associations rely on that method of communication rather than printed newsletters. Looking at the trend, you may conclude that condo newsletters are going the way of the daily newspaper in America.

Malibu East is privileged to have had a regularly published newsletter throughout most of its 50-year history. There have been a few gaps when nobody was willing to take on the editor’s duties. These gaps are difficult to pinpoint, because the staff isn’t sure how many back issues are missing from its library. The last significant period when the Association was without a newsletter appears to have been from spring 1993 until mid-1994.

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic the Dialogue was published on its regular schedule. Based on safety concerns, the April, May and June issues of 2020 weren’t printed by our commercial printer but posted online only.

A succession of editors, styles

There have been at least 15 editors during our newsletter’s history, including one who lasted for only one issue. Jack Winans had the longest tenure, 13½ years, before his death in March 2011. Having previously worked in the deli department at Dominick’s grocery store, Winans was self-educated about journalism and the mechanics of producing a newsletter – a task he worked at continuously. He was devoted to promoting Malibu East via the Dialogue. He also was adamant that bicycles should not be ridden on Sheridan Road sidewalks, after his wife, Elaine, was injured by a bike rider. Ultimately, that cam­paign proved futile.

This writer feels privileged to have contributed to the newsletter for nearly 40 years in various capacities, including serving as assistant editor under Winans and then as editor after his passing.

Dunbar Builders pub­lished the original newsletters under the title Breezes from the Malibu East, mostly four- to eight-page issues that served as a sales tool for the property, promoting the amenities and the residents’ lifestyles. One issue from 1972 featured an article, with photos, about a couple’s condo interior and another article about the first residents’ party, held in what was then called Windjammer Hall.

When Dunbar turned the property over to the unit owners in mid-1973, the Association produced its first newsletter, called The Conversation Piece, a two-pager that provided the results of the first Board election, a message from the first president (Ray Blackstone) and a summary of the committees that were being formed. Of particular note, more than 40 owners volunteered to run for the Board, and ballots were received from 400 out of 498 eligible voting units.

In the late 1970s, the newsletter first took the name Malibu East Dialogue, and Board president Dee Feldstein also served as the editor. Issues in those days were typed and copied, often numbering 20 to 24 pages. Board minutes, which included much more detail than today’s streamlined minutes, were printed in their entirety. The names and unit numbers of residents who were delinquent with their garage payments were printed, along with the amounts they owed.

In late 1983 John Van Keulen became the editor and changed the format to a 5½-by-8½ booklet with a cardboard cover, similar in size to Reader’s Digest. Issues were published monthly or bimonthly. Van Keulen, who’s still a Malibu East resident, introduced more advertising (“I literally walked the neighborhood and took a booklet along with me,” he said recently), an editor’s letter, a regular report from Board president Susan Schroeder, a seniors update and observations on the music scene, written by Van Keulen. “We wanted to give a few things that were important to residents and then use the rest of the issue to entertain.”

Because the digital age hadn’t touched everyone by the mid-’80s, producing the newsletter was still old-school. “We retyped everything and did cut-and-paste. I learned to use an X-Acto knife and paste-up boards,” Van Keulen recalled.

In August 1986 Tom Beatty took over from Van Keulen, publishing bimonthly issues and introducing several new designs on the cover. One utilized three artistic photos of the building’s exterior, and a later version used a porthole design in the center of the cover with a different photo placed inside the porthole in each issue.

An 18-month hiatus from publishing began in late 1988, before Scott Young took the helm with the March 1990 issue. Young changed the format to the 8½-by-11 page size that is being used today, and he introduced Board meeting notes and the Community Calendar, both of which remain regular features to this day.

Young gave up his editor duties soon after he was elected to the Board of Directors in September 1990. A series of editors followed throughout the next seven years, as well as the aforementioned break in 1993-94.

Winans became editor in November 1997 and he steadily increased the advertising, with the aim of generating enough revenue to cover the printing costs, which he sometimes achieved. Copies of the Dialogue were mailed to many other condo associations in the neighborhood and to numerous Edgewater organizations. In turn, the staff gave more coverage to neighborhood events.

New content, technology

Starting with January 2000, each issue of the Dialogue was posted on the Association’s website, Winans began introducing color in the online PDFs, although the copies distributed to the residents continued to be in black and white.

Since this writer became the editor, the staff has honed in on its primary objective: to promote communication among owners, residents, the Board of Directors, management and the staff of Malibu East. Each issue always includes the Board meeting notes, and the property manager’s report has expanded in scope. The staff has profiled many residents and Association employees, bringing to light their many accomplishments. The Dialogue also offers practical advice, such as how to winterize your unit and how to reduce your water usage. It supplements these core articles with lighter fare that the staff hopes will be of interest to residents, such as the coverage (with photos) of Malibu East social events, reviews of local restaurants and stories about Edgewater history.

Although the Association funds the Dialogue, the staff is given the freedom to express its opinions, within reason.

The content of the newsletter has changed from editor to editor, but the focus has always been on life at Malibu East, including the residents’ activities and what management and the Board are doing. In September 1994 the Dialogue introduced the “Etta Kitt” column, which dealt with situations or behavior that was objectionable to some residents. In the January 1996 issue, Scott Virzi was added to the staff as a cartoonist, debuting “The Adventures of Balcony Man,” a multiframe cartoon that used humor to address annoying issues in the building. And in February 2013, one-frame cartoons by Nick Blea became an occasional feature.

The use of four-color in printed copies that were distributed to residents was introduced in the January 2019 issue, with color photos from the holiday and New Year’s Eve parties.

Memorable stories abound

As vital as it is to have a capable editor who is willing to take charge of the newsletter, any editor will tell you that the presence of a hardworking, talented staff is every bit as important. They devote their time and energy on behalf of the Association, without compensation. In addition, the delivery volunteers who drop each issue at residents’ doors are indispensable.

This editor can say with pride that the current Dialogue staff is the best he has ever worked with, as evidenced by its monthslong 50th anniversary coverage.

The list of outstanding articles from the pages of the newsletter is long, but, focusing on the past decade, several come to mind:

  • Tracy Poyser’s touching story about the death of a resident, written from the perspective of the deceased resident’s dog (September 2012).
  • Poyser’s feature about then-residents Vernita Gray and Pat Ewert, who became the first same-sex couple wed in Illinois, in a ceremony performed in their unit, before the new law allowing such marriages took effect (December 2013).
  • Lori Ziesmer’s profile of property manager Violette Deschamps (April 2014).
  • Beth Robinson’s feature about children who had grown up in Malibu East (December 2016).
  • Helen Lambin’s remembrance of living in a “girls’ club” at 5900 N. Sheridan Road in the late 1950s (May 2018).
  • Ron Cohn’s wistful yet humorous six-part series “Edgewater: A mid-century reminiscence” (November 2018; February, March, July 2019; January, February 2020).
  • Cohn’s firsthand account of how Malibu East was marketed in the early 1970s, along with some of the ads that were used, and his sidebar with biographies of Dunbar Builders’ key players in the property (May, July 2020).
  • Linda Eng’s introduction to our new dog pens, as reviewed by the dogs (December 2020).

You can find all of the above articles on our website at

Incidentally, the Edgewater Historical Society has requested permission to reprint in its newsletter a number of our articles that relate to local history.

The Dialogue staff hopes that residents find something useful or interesting in each issue, even if they don’t read it cover-to-cover. Your comments and suggestions are encouraged; send them via email to