When John Shepler took over The Lawton Constitution in 1910, typewriters and hand-or-machine-set type were the standard. In 1955, when The Lawton Publishing Company moved to its new building at Southwest 3rd Street and A Avenue, the structure was filled with the most up-to-date machinery and equipment, including the latest Linotype machines with which an expert could set up to seven lines of type in one minute.
Today, hardly a trace of the 1955 equipment remains. The typewriters have given way to computers, and Linotype machines to laser typesetters.
Progress and staying on the leading edge of technology have always been a benchmark of the Lawton newspaper, the survivor of a fierce newspaper war that followed the birth of Lawton in 1901.
Fifteen newspapers were started in the years after the 1901 lottery, but by the mid-1910s there were only two surviving daily newspapers - The Lawton Daily Constitution and the Lawton News.
The Lawton Constitution was born in 1904 from a dispute of Lawton Democrats. One faction - hoping to capture the city and county printing contracts - set up its own newspaper by purchasing the weekly Elgin Eagle and moving the paper to Lawton, where it was renamed the Lawton Daily Constitution under the editorship of J. Roy Williams.
In 1910, Williams sold the newspaper to John Shepler, a Missouri native who had published the weekly Milan Standard in Missouri for 18 years. He sold that newspaper in 1902 when he moved to Pawnee, Okla., and purchased two weeklies, the Courier and Dispatch, and merged them into the Courier-Dispatch. He sold the Pawnee Newspaper in 1909 and worked as a sales superintendent of state school lands and in the real estate and stock exchange business before purchasing the Constitution.
John Shepler died in 1919 and his two sons, Ned and Fred, became co-publishers. In 1923, the Sheplers purchased the Lawton News and changed it into a weekly paper.
Throughout its history, the Constitution has been a family tradition. Ned Shepler became sole publisher in 1942 after the death of his brother, Fred, and continued as publisher until 1967. Ned Shepler's daughter, Shirley, married the late Bill F. Bentley, who served as editor-publisher from 1967 to 1989. The Bentleys' two sons, Steve Bentley and Don Bentley, served as co-publishers until 2012.
In March of 2012, the Bentley brothers sold The Constitution to another set of native Lawton brothers, Bill W. Burgess, Jr. and Brad W. Burgess. The sell to the Burgess brothers insured that the newspaper will remain locally owned.
“We think it is important that the voice of any community, the newspaper, remain locally owned,” Bill Burgess said. “All too often we’ve seen what happens when major corporations purchase the local newspaper. There is a tendency for the paper to lose a certain amount of local flavor. We just couldn’t let that happen to Southwest Oklahoma,” Burgess said.
On April 1, 2018 Southern Newspapers purchased The Constitution from Bill & Brad Burgess. Southern Newspapers is a community newspaper company based in Houston, Texas with operations in Texas, Alabama and Oklahoma. Dolph Tillitson, President of Southern Newspapers said: “We are delighted to have The Constitution join the Southern Family and look forward to great success in Lawton and the surrounding communities.”
Southern is deeply committed to local community journalism and allows local newspaper leadership to steer the direction of the newspaper operation.