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A photo of UMM professor emeritus Jim Gremmels at the letterpress.

Jim Gremmels printed tickets for the annual spring ball fundraiser in Glenwood, starring the UMM Jazz Ensembles. Gremmels is also a regular co-host. This year the event will help raise funds to rebuild the Lakeside Ballroom, which burned last year. It also supports a humanities project and scholarship at Morris.

Little press on the prairie

English professor emeritus Jim Gremmels keeps Prairie Gate humming

By Gayla Marty

April 14, 2004

In a small room overlooking the park at the heart of the University of Minnesota, Morris, Jim Gremmels works in a printer's apron, setting up green and white paper to feed into the teeth of a letterpress. Through the whir and click, sheets emerge on the other side of the press, imprinted as tickets: Spring Ball: UMM Big Jazz Band and Swing Club, Glenwood Central Square, Friday, April 16, 2004. Gremmels, professor emeritus of English, can easily run the press while conversing freely. "Tickets for the spring ball," says Gremmels. "Are you coming?" The Chandler-Price press came from the town of Cyrus, about 10 miles east, in 1971. When the Cyrus Courier closed, the printing press went up for sale. Gremmels wrote a proposal for a small grant from the UMM College of Liberal Arts to buy it. "We got the press, and a pounding table, a case of type, and a cutter, and that put us in business," Gremmels remembers. The grant also paid for a new set of Garamond type. In the basement of the nearby Camden building, Prairie Gate Press set up shop. Prairie Gate refers to Morris's location on the old Wadsworth Trail, which led to what was once Fort Lincoln at Sisseton, South Dakota. Gremmels learned to run the letterpress from a student, Tom Hennen, who had worked as a professional printer. Over the years, Gremmels has in turn taught students and colleagues. Often, they have been work-study students. "They come from a variety of fields--I had a good biologist once," he says. "It takes a special type of student to really get into it and become a good printer." Prairie Gate Press turns out tickets and posters as well as wood cuts and chapbooks. Gremmels pulled out a set of three original poems printed on papers in coordinated colors, the first imprint of the press. Gremmels was one of the first 13 faculty members hired in 1960 when the University of Minnesota opened the Morris campus, expanding an agricultural school into a four-year college. He had been teaching high school in Glenwood for five years after receiving his master's degree in American studies at the Twin Cities campus. Today Morris is one of the top public liberal arts colleges in the nation. It's no stretch to say that Gremmels is a one of the people who made the campus what it is today. He received one of the first Morse-Amoco Awards for outstanding teaching, in 1968. When he retired in 2000, Gremmels and his family made a major donation to the Morris campus. A longtime resident of nearby Glenwood, Gremmels became a regular host at the annual spring jazz fundraiser in his hometown--first at the historic Lakeside Ballroom, and then, when it was destroyed by fire, at Glenwood's Central Square. Most days, Gremmels still can be seen driving up to the campus. Over the years, the press began to get crowded out of Camden. It moved recently to the Community Services building and now resides in a sunny room, directly across the hall from the Center for Small Towns and Cities. Imprints from Prairie Gate Press can be found at the UMM bookstore.

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