Co-owner of Kansas newspaper, who died amid stress from police raid, honored in funeral service

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MARION — Joan Meyer, surrounded by flowers and escorted to her gravesite by the same police force that may have had a hand in her death, was honored by the community in a Saturday service.

“Joann was the epitome of knowing ‘small town’ does not have to mean ‘small mind,’ ” said the Rev. Ron DeVore. “She knew everybody in the community of the county.”

Meyer, the 98-year-old co-owner of the local newspaper, died a day after law enforcement raided her home, where she lived with her son, Marion County Record publisher Eric Meyer.

Her son believes the stress of the unprecedented Aug. 11 raid on her home and the newsroom was a contributing factor in her death. Marion police seized computers, cellphones and materials from the newspaper office and Meyer’s home as part of an investigation into alleged identity theft of a restaurant operator, Kari Newell.

“She just sat most of the evening, you know, ‘Where are all the good people? Where are all the good people and how come they haven’t done something about this. Why are they allowed to do this?’ ” Eric Meyer said in an interview with PBS. “So the last 24 hours of a 98-year-old woman’s life was devoted to pain and anguish, and a feeling that all her life didn’t matter.”

She couldn’t eat or sleep after the raid. A day later, she died in the home she had lived in since 1953, the day before Eric Meyer was born.

Eric Meyer said the first police officers arriving at their house during the raid were nice, but when seven of them made their way through the house, his mother became concerned. They took pictures of her son’s personal bank records and other documents.

“She was so distraught,” Eric Meyer said in the PBS interview. “You know, when you’re 98 years old, your world shrinks a bit. She lived in that house for almost 70 years. It was her castle. It was her safe place.” 

Rowena Plett, a 28-year veteran of the paper, came Saturday to show her respect to Joan, who she said had been an ever-vigilant speller and editor. 

Plett said the paper’s situation was still uncertain.

“We’re kind of up in the air, nothing finalized,” Plett said. “It’s brought a lot of attention to our little town and our newspaper.”

A Marion police officer prepares to escort Joan Meyer to her gravesite. She died, her son believes, from the stress of Marion police raiding her home and newsroom. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

But Saturday was a celebration of Joan Meyer’s life, not just her harrowing last few hours. A lifelong Marion resident, she spent her life in community engagement. 

She began her 50 years of working at the newspaper in the 1960s, joining her husband, Bill, after Eric was old enough to attend school. Bill, who she married in 1949, had joined the then-called Marion Record-Review in 1948.

She spent almost four decades as the community news editor. When Bill retired in 2005, Joan kept working, although she took a step back after Bill died in 2006. Even after she retired, she listened to a police scanner in her house.

After her retirement, she published a weekly column called “Memories” and still was active in newspaper functions.

“That’s what Joan said newspapers should do, is not tell you what to think but give you the grist for the mill and urge you to think, to consume,” DeVore said to the 60 or so people gathered at the Valley United Methodist Church.

The congregation sang hymns such as “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” during the almost-hourlong service.

Eric Meyer said in a Kansas Reflector interview earlier in the week that his mother would have appreciated the outpouring of international support for the newspaper in the days after the raid.

“I think she’d think, ‘Well, I knew I was going to go pretty soon. I’d rather go as part of a cause than something else,’ ” Meyer said. 

As people filtered outside of the church to head to the gravesite, the Record’s newspaper van pulled up, ready to lead the funeral escort.

Just a little down the street, a Marion County police car parked opposite Kari’s Kitchen — which is just steps away from the church — waited to start the procession. The police officer inside stared straight ahead, not looking at the little group of reporters filming the church.

Then everyone got into their cars, the police car set off, and the procession pulled away.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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