A Boomer Pub Turns 60

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Editor

Richard Johnstone
Richard Johnstone

It could hardly be more different from its peers, most of whom grew up in suburbia on TV and fast food, turned rock and roll into the national anthem, briefly migrated “back to the land” in the early ’70s, fueled a stock market revolution in the late ’80s and ’90s, and are now moving inexorably toward retirement, 75 million or so strong, the richest, most spoiled, most impressionable and one of the most influential generations in human history. At 50, I’m in the middle of this demographic pack on its history-making ride.

But then there’s the “it” that opened this little opinion piece. It, of course, refers to this magazine, Cooperative Living, which, like the first wave of baby boomers, is turning 60, in fact this very month. This publication (or “pub” in the parlance of editorial types like me) does share some of the “search for who I am” traits of its human boomer peers. For instance, this pub has changed its name over the years from its “birth” name, Rural Virginia, to its “young adult” name, Rural Living, and ultimately in 2000 to its mature moniker, Cooperative Living. Like others of its generation, it’s also adopted an array of “clothing” styles over the years, from broadsheet newspaper, to tabloid, to magazine on newsprint, to the “suit” it’s worn comfortably (with a few colorful upgrades) since the late ’60s, that of magazine on enamel paper.

But despite these surface similarities, at its heart (and core) this magazine is not at all like its boomer peers. The magazine grew up in rural Virginia, of course, not suburbia, and began life speaking to rural families about the value of a cooperative lifestyle, working together to achieve common goals, putting the group ahead of the individual, with every member of the group having the same power in this business democracy, one vote, whether you’re a small farmer or a large business owner. It has also always stressed community service over individual glory, and the value of local relationships over national trends.

It’s also always focused (by its nature as a print publication and through its pages) on reading as a preferred entertainer and informer, and has often featured recipes highlighting farm products and often requiring the investment of time and love not possible in a microwave culture. It’s shied away from fashion and fads, musical trends and political waves, preferring instead to focus on the real centers of influence in any community, the men and women who give freely of their time to help their neighbors behind the scenes, in school auditoriums, volunteer fire houses, church fellowship halls, and hospital and nursing care rooms.

More than anything else, this magazine has covered the people who make Virginia’s rural communities, small towns, and (more recently) emerging suburbs such vital, vibrant, vigorous and intensely interesting places to live, labor, love, and be laid to rest.

Old-fashioned? Yes, unashamedly so. But, you may also be saying, doesn’t Cooperative Living also embody by its limited coverage of the world’s larger issues the down side of tradition, that is, being insulated and provincial? Perhaps a bit, but it’s also been big-hearted and generous in its concern for the less fortunate in our communities, and adamant about the strength of the democratic process wherever it’s practiced.

In a generation that’s almost obsessive about numbers and records and milestones, this publication has a few of those as well, being one of (if not) the oldest magazine(s) published in the Commonwealth, and also having the largest circulation of any publication —newsletter, newspaper or magazine — published in Virginia.

But in the end, this magazine isn’t about numbers or names. It’s about you, the reader, covering your community and hoping you’ll spend a peaceful hour or two each issue reading about your neighbors, your history, and why your community is such a great place to live. The fact that this magazine is celebrating a 60th birthday means that it’s been at least somewhat successful in meeting this goal.

Finally, to close on the note with which we opened, Cooperative Living is unlike its boomer peers in yet another way: We will not look to retire early, or change careers. We’ll just keep doing what we’ve done since that first issue in October 1946, hoping we deliver to you a publication worth reading, and working hard to improve it all the time.


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