PHENIX CITY, Ala. (WRBL) – Jill Tigner and Mike Venable’s paths first crossed at the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer newspaper where they both worked in advertising. Jill Rose to become the retail/national advertising manager. Meanwhile, Mike’s newspaper career took him to Wichita, Kansas and then back to Huntsville, Alabama.
“We both found ourselves divorced in the early ’90s,” Jill says. “But we maintained our friendship all these years because we had similar jobs at different newspapers.”
However, hundreds of miles separated them. As they began dating and looking to the future, they started weighing their options. The newspaper business was all they knew, so they thought maybe they should buy a paper.
Jill says, “We just sort of drew a circle around the Chattahoochee Valley and starting looking at weekly papers. The first one we looked at was the Phenix Citizen in Phenix City.” They negotiated a purchase price and threw a big party at the old Russell County courthouse in Seale to celebrate. The date was May 6, 1995. “We said, what’s black and white and read all over? The Phenix Citizen…we hope. Come help us celebrate our partnership. Special entertainment at 7:30.”
Mike remembers there were 350 people there. “Most of whom we knew, some of whom we didn’t know because they were customers or advertisers of the newspaper. Jill said she would never be married again unless Elvis was there. So we hired an Elvis impersonator who is now the Sheriff of Russell County (Heath Taylor). He sang an Elvis song and people were just going crazy. And when he finished he said…let’s have a wedding. So our priest, Bill McLemore, walks out along with our parents and kids and he married us right there.”
Nobody realized they were coming to a wedding. But Jill says, “We knew that the people that loved us would be there. We didn’t need any gifts. We just wanted to be married surrounded by people that loved us and that we love.”
Mike and Jill vowed to make their newspaper adventure with the Phenix Citizen a success, even though it took some adjustment. They knew a lot about the newspaper business, but they had never handled all of the departments of a newspaper. Mike says, “We were not journalists.”
The way Jill saw it, “We were marketing people. I’m an English major, and Mike is a great writer. But as far as having spent any time in the newsroom, we had not. We just learned by the seat of our pants.”
In 2000, Mike and Jill purchased Columbus and the Valley Magazine, a local publication started by Alice Robertson in 1992. For two years, Mike and Jill published both the newspaper and the magazine before selling the paper in 2002.
For the past 23 years, they have poured their hearts into their magazine. Jill says, “It’s been a privilege to be able to tell the stories of the people of the Chattahoochee Valley and to tell the stories of all the exciting things that are going on. Think about when somebody looked at those cotton mills (downtown) and said, hey, we should build condos there and bring people down here to live on the river. Or the person that said, why don’t we take the dams down and make a whitewater course? All of that happened while we’ve been in publishing, and it’s so exciting that we get to tell those stories.”
This dynamic duo of publishing has had to endure their fair share of health challenges along the way. Jill recalls, “Fourteen years ago, Mike was diagnosed with kidney cancer and was given about a five percent chance of living five years. And here he is 14 years later and thriving.”
Mike adds, “Jill fought off a cancer battle just a few short months ago. I thought I was going to be able able to tote that load for the whole family, but it just didn’t work out that way. She’s gotten through that, and it’s made us realize even more, with these grandchildren that we have coming along, that we need to go on and go into the next chapter and see what’s out there.”
The next chapter includes selling Columbus and the Valley Magazine and retiring. They have just recently turned the reins of the publication over to their good friends, Jody and Jerald Saunders.
“They’ve got great ideas and lots of energy and enthusiasm and we couldn’t feel better about handing it over to them,” according to Jill.
Earlier this month Mike and Jill celebrated their 28th wedding anniversary.
In Jill’s words, “We know how fortunate we are that we have had this life together. We don’t take it for granted at all. We know that it’s a divine thing that has brought us together and made us able to work together and merge two families and get through all of these health issues. And we’re still here. And we know that’s not by chance. We know that it’s a divine thing that has brought us together.”