Dick Lutz, Longtime Editor and Publisher of WIRE, Passes Away


Richard “Dick” J. Lutz, editor and publisher of The Main Street WIRE from 1996 to 2016, died Sunday of a heart attack in Sarasota, Florida, while visiting college friend Irwin Starr. He was 79 years old.

Lutz was born on November 19, 1938, in Dunkirk, New York. Showing an early talent for writing and public speaking, he was encouraged by his father to become a proficient typist, learning to pound out a stunning 90 words per minute and building on a combination of skills that would ultimately set the course of his life.

Media Innovator

Friends and colleagues describe Lutz as someone with a passion for new technology. According to friend Irwin Starr, that was true even in college at the University of Michigan. Starr says Lutz was the first person in the city of Ann Arbor to purchase an IBM Selectric typewriter, owning one even before the University.

Lutz graduated from Michigan in 1960 with a bachelor’s in speech, and then again in 1962 with a master’s in Radio and Television. He was Journalist in Residence at the University of Michigan from 1978-1979.

In 1963, while a teaching fellow in Michigan’s speech department, he also served as the assistant area coordinator for the Midwest Program on Airborne Television Instruction, a precursor to satellite television, which broadcasted educational programs throughout the Midwest via airplanes. He worked as a broadcaster at the school’s radio station, WUOM. The station was the first in the US to pick up and rebroadcast the voice of Soviet Major Gherman S. Titov from Radio Moscow during his lap around the Earth – a frequency that Lutz is credited with picking up and broadcasting out.

It was also at the University of Michigan in 1960 that Lutz met girlfriend Margaret Fondren, known as Marnie, with whom he would reconnect nearly 50 years later.

“I was always dumbfounded that he could create a script or a short story in a couple of hours,” says Fondren. “It seemed as though his creativity would flow through a conduit from his thoughts to his fingers, nonstop.”

Lutz with girlfriend Marnie Fondren in 1960.

She says the two had been out of touch for 47 years when, in 2008, she discovered he had published the historical novel Jadwiga’s Crossing, based on his family’s history as part of the great Polish migration to the US. They began corresponding, eventually picking up where they’d left off decades earlier. Lutz had planned to move to Michigan at the end of the month to be with Fondren. He was also in the process of trying to publish a sequel, Jadwiga’s America, for which he was choosing cover art.

“As a pilot, pianist, publisher, and photographer he was an example of a truly multidimensional person... an example of what can be accomplished by a purpose-driven life,” she says.

After college, Lutz worked at multiple radio and television stations. Foreseeing the coming impact public television would have, Lutz started his television career at a public television station in Hershey, PA, in 1963 – years before Congress would pass the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, expanding the development of non-commercial broadcasting. His time there was followed by ten more years at stations in Madison, WI and Pittsburgh, PA in a variety of roles. He was honored with a Corporation for Public Broadcasting Local Programming Award in 1975.

Lutz at his first television job as a summer intern in 1958 at WICU-TV in Erie, Pennsylvania

Years later, a new technology would catch his attention: the development of communication via the internet. Long before web browsers – or even the web – existed, he started work as an advisor to British Telecom and the BBC in their attempt to introduce an early version of the internet to the US market. That work ultimately brought him to Roosevelt Island in 1981.

Island Life

Once in New York, Lutz eventually struck out on his own, becoming a consultant.

“When I first met him around 1990, he was selling and setting up computers for first-time users and teaching them to use software like WordPerfect,” recalls longtime friend Peggy Brooks. “I was an impatient learner and often made a wrong move before he had a chance to explain something. He never lost patience, but just calmly said, ‘No, well, this is what comes next.’”

Meanwhile, The WIRE was at a crisis point. The paper’s founder, Dr. Jack Resnick, had passed the paper on to Rivercross resident Jim Bowser. But Bowser had suffered a stroke and could no longer edit the paper.

“I dragged Dick into the frey,” says Joyce Short. “When we met, he’d lived here in the community for a while, but hadn’t been involved in Island affairs.” At the time, she was chairing the 1996 RIRA election committee. “I knew that without a newspaper, residents would have no information on which to base their votes.”

Lutz, who admitted to not knowing the difference between RIOC and RIRA for the first few years of his Island residency, may well have been describing himself in a 2013 editorial he wrote, which read, “If Roosevelt Island is just a short-term stopover for you – a place where you keep your stuff, and sleep – you may have little reason for community involvement. But a stopover can somehow become home, the place where you lodge not just your stuff but also a piece of your soul. Hardly noticing that it’s happening, you become a stakeholder. You grow reasons for involvement.”

Suddenly Lutz was once again reporting and editing the news. “The two of us functioned together as associate editors,” says Short. “After a few months, once the paper was re-established, I left for other pursuits. He wrote an editorial expressing his acknowledgement for my efforts that literally brought tears to my eyes.”

The WIRE

Islander Sharon Bermon, who helped copy edit the paper, also remembers those early days at The WIRE. “Joyce, Dick, and I hand delivered the paper in the beginning. I have vague memories of running through the endless hallways of Eastwood [now known as Roosevelt Landings], tossing papers in front of each door.”