CEDAR FALLS — It’s been 50 years since Northeast Iowa native Merrill Oster and his wife, Carol, launched Communication Consultants (ComCo) in Cedar Falls.
Now known as Oster Communications, the couple has decided to celebrate the milestone with a reunion slated for Saturday at the Hilton Garden Inn Convention Center.
Though the Osters sold the company 20 years ago, Professional Farmers of America, just one of many off-shoots, continues to maintain a staff at Fourth and Main streets in Cedar Falls. Farm Journal Magazine is now headquartered in Philadelphia; and Futures Magazine, another off-shoot, is currently based in Chicago.
“Carol and I hit on this idea to regroup with our old friends and colleagues to celebrate,” Merrill Oster said. “We accomplished so much together – and the world took notice.”
The world indeed took notice. ComCo was a marketing advisory company. It became a financial publishing firm with a global reach.
In 1973, Jerry Carlson left his managing editor position at Farm Journal to partner with Merrill Oster in founding Professional Farmers of America. The Pro Farmer newsletter became an immediate success.
Joining Carlson were Darrell Jobman, Rex Wilmore, Larry Graham and Mike Walsten as Oster’s “starting five leadership team.” They created new types of financial analysis and marketing advice based on the use of commodity futures. They reshaped delivery of information to real-time satellite and the internet. They taught Pro Farmer members how to use futures markets to manage their own risk via the Pro Farmer Institute, which provided seminars on futures marketing, buying of land and other profit-making topics.
Oster bought Commodities Magazine and its 3,000 subscribers in 1976. It grew into Futures Magazine with 65,000 subscribers. Its Commodity Price Charts and Investor Publications became industry leaders. The Commodity Education Institute trained hundreds of traders and brokers.
The 1982 acquisition of Commodity Communications Corp. allowed Oster to receive real-time price information from every futures exchange in the world. With the founding of Futures World News, the ensuing Oster Dow Jones Commodity News and the development of software, the company became FutureSource.
Oster formed three additional companies to meet its internal needs. It bought Parkade Properties, renovating 100,000 square feet of office space which helped stimulate a downtrodden Main Street in Cedar Falls. Teledirect was its direct marketing division, and American Graphics Services provided pre-press functions. It also published the Cedar Falls Citizen Newspaper, after the demise of The Cedar Falls Record, and the Hometowner shopper.
Overall, Oster companies put together 400 business associates in 16 countries. They served 250,000 financial decision makers worldwide.
Current Oster companies include Pinnacle Prairie, the 720-acre real estate development in Cedar Falls; and Oster Partners, a real estate investment firm with properties in Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Arizona.
The Oster’s moved back to Cedar Falls after working in Woodstock, Ill., for six-and-a-half years following college.
“We moved back to Cedar Falls on what I truly believe was a God-given calling,” Merrill Oster said. “We wanted our children to have the same benefits we had, by having access to grandparents all the time. So it was largely a family-slash-spiritual decision that brought us back.
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“The benefits of being (in Cedar Falls) were just enormous,” he added. “We had a relatively low overhead back in those days. Yet I had clients in Chicago and New York. It was the best of both worlds. I could fly to Chicago for 75 dollars on Ozark and another 100 dollars I would be in in New York.”
Oster said the other benefit was the local workforce.
“The workforce in Cedar Falls, the work ethic of the people we hired from Cedar Falls and Waterloo was just awesome. Most of our employees were recruited from the Cedar Falls, Waterloo and Northeast Iowa market place.”
Oster explained that one of the challenges basing his business in the Cedar Valley was convincing clients that he and Cedar Falls could develop a product that could help somebody in New York sell their product.
“There was a little bit of a sales barrier there but I’m a better than average sales person,” he laughed.
Other imprints made by Oster in the community include jump-starting a fundraising campaign to save the Oster-Regent Theatre with a sizable donation, which helped revitalize the downtown; and he was a driver behind main street development and Vision 2020.
Registration for the reunion is from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Hilton Convention Center. A lunch buffet runs from noon to 2 p.m. followed by leisure time to share remembrances with attendees. Wine and hors d’oeuvres will be served from 6:30 to 7:15 p.m., followed by the dinner and program.
More information is available on the company’s website at www.osterreunion.com.
The Osters currently reside in Aurora, Ill., in order to be near their children and grandchildren.
“I miss walking into church (in Cedar Falls) on Sunday morning and seeing people that I’ve known for generations,” Merrill Oster said. “Seeing a group of peers who were involved in a bunch of exciting projects. These were idea people. I miss that comradery.
“There’s no substitute for having an everyday job where you are with a group of people who are stimulating you to think bigger. It was an exciting environment that we created. We treated each other as family. We had a very special bond amongst our staff. Renewal of that will be exciting.”
The Oster’s return to Cedar Falls every three or four weeks to visit their granddaughter and to check in on Pinnacle Prairie, still Merrill’s largest responsibility since his retirement.
“Even today, when we pull into Cedar Falls, we say it’s ‘nice to be back home again,’” he said.