- Written by Megan Joyce Megan Joyce
Marking a silver anniversary is a celebratory milestone in the life of any small business, especially one that started in its founder’s basement and flourished into a regional niche-publishing and event-production company commemorating 25 successful years.
On-Line Publishers traces its origin story back to 1995, when its now-president and CEO, Donna Anderson, was a volunteer working with seniors in her central Pennsylvania community.
“As a volunteer with the Office of Aging for many years, I saw firsthand the wide range of lifestyles of seniors in my community. Some were traveling, taking amazing trips, while other suffered from isolation and loneliness,” Anderson recalled.
“I thought I might be able to make a difference for the seniors in Lancaster County by sharing uplifting and relevant information everyone could relate to, no matter what their status in life.”
The first issue of 50plus LIFE — then called Senior News — debuted in Lancaster County in December 1995.
Over the next decade, the monthly newsprint magazine’s coverage would expand to embrace five more central Pennsylvania counties to form 50plus LIFE’s current six-county umbrella: unique editions for Chester, Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon, and York counties.
“I couldn’t have imagined in 1995 when I founded the company that we would grow to serve six counties with more than 150,000 readers monthly,” Anderson said.
Though its look and its name have changed with the times, 50plus LIFE still brings readers profiles of local individuals and articles on topics ranging from health and wellness, Social Security, Medicare, and financial issues to perspective/humor columns, veterans’ stories, nostalgia, grandparenting, book and movie reviews, nature, and gardening — and, of course, local events and information.
“While the information we provide in 50plus LIFE is not late-breaking news, it is information that resonates with baby boomers and seniors in our community,” Anderson said. “It’s been intensely gratifying when a business tells us that they have grown because of their relationship with our company.”
OLP’s line of niche publications eventually grew to include BusinessWoman, a professional women’s magazine, and b magazine, a lifestyle baby boomer publication produced from 2008-16.
On-Line Publishers also produces beyond50, a resource directory available in seven county editions, and 50plus Living, an annual guide to housing and care options for seniors, caregivers, and the disabled.
Recognizing the increasing impact of online readership in the 21st century, OLP was an early adopter of digital publishing technology. Its publications have successfully made the leap to digital formats so they can be read online and in print.
“It’s been interesting to watch the evolution from print to digital,” Anderson noted. “That said, many of our readers still prefer to hold the paper in their hands, which hasn’t changed. Many ‘junior-seniors’ enjoy reading 50plus LIFE online.”
The March onset of the COVID-19 pandemic this year brought some changes, both immediate and longer term, to the company’s usual operations.
“Everyone in our organization was already set up to work remotely when needed before the pandemic hit,” Anderson said. “It was a relatively easy transition for our team to work from home to remain safe and healthy. It took a bit of time to get into a rhythm, but we haven’t skipped a beat along the way.”
Back in 1997, OLP first branched out into events. The first 50plus EXPO (then called Celebrate Seniority Expo) brought businesses and the community together for face-to-face interaction.
“When visitors to an expo tell me that life has been changed because of our events or something they read in the magazine, my heart sings,” Anderson said.
But with COVID-19 jettisoning most brick-and-mortar events in 2020, five of OLP’s six 50plus EXPOs — as well as all four Women’s Expos and four Veterans’ Expo & Job Fairs — made the necessary jump to pandemic-friendly virtual platforms.
During this time, OLP Events, the company’s events division, also added the 50plus Living Virtual Open House, which gave baby boomers, seniors, and caregivers the opportunity to “visit” mature living communities and service providers online from the comfort and safety of their home or office.
And as COVID-19 safety measures shut down businesses and sent unemployment rates soaring this spring, OLP Events added the JOBS610 and JOBS717 online job fairs to connect jobseekers with regional employers looking to hire.
“From the beginning, my mission was to serve the mind, heart, and spirit of our community,” Anderson said. “I’ve been fortunate to work with a team of individuals who see the vision that together we can make a difference.”
The year brought unexpected challenges and opportunities for the company and its team during its silver anniversary.
But silver — one of the most malleable and transformative of metals — possesses exactly the qualities a company needs to survive the unique disruption only a viral pandemic can bring.
With 25 years’ experience in flexibility and innovation, Anderson and her team were able to navigate the upheaval, rethink the plans, and embrace the new possibilities.
“The event industry, pre-COVID-19, continued to grow as people are living longer, and the demand for products and services needed to serve this community is growing exponentially,” Anderson noted. “We hosted our events in 2020 on a virtual platform with great success.”
Even with the blossoming presence of online events, Anderson knows the craving for and significance of face-to-face interaction is one community value even the coronavirus can’t conquer.
“50plus LIFE is important to our readers and advertisers as they endeavor to connect with each other,” she said.
“We hope to return to live events in 2021 for the same reason: connecting businesses with the community they serve and helping our visitors learn about the variety of products and services that are available to enhance their lives.”
With two and a half decades now reflected in her rear view, Anderson confesses that at the company’s inception, her predictions for its future focused solely on a simple, compelling goal to make a difference.
“I was driven day in and day out by the responsibility to do what I could with my God-given talents to educate, entertain, and encourage older people in southcentral and southeastern Pennsylvania,” she said.
Sensing that she has done so, Anderson said, is her greatest accomplishment.
“I was humbled recently when my daughter said I showed her that ‘intention plus action could breathe life into great ideas.’”