Mike Kramer, the president of Law Bulletin Media, died Monday at home surrounded by his family after a battle with T-cell lymphoma.
Kramer, 69, spent his life in the news publishing business and joined the Law Bulletin in 1997, rising to publisher of this newspaper in 2007 and as company president in 2015.
Beyond work at his own company, Kramer filled his time serving in the communities his publications covered. He chaired the government affairs committee for the Illinois Press Association, receiving the IPA’s Distinguished Service Award in 2019. Earlier in his career, as owner of the Minnesota Real Estate Journal, Kramer served as president of the Edina Morningside Rotary Club and chaired a referendum group for his local school district.
Kramer was born in downstate Danville and raised in Gibson City. At Monmouth College in western Illinois, he met Ann Doherty, his wife for the past 46 years.
Don Craven, a sole practitioner in Springfield, worked with Kramer on many legal and legislative issues throughout their careers. He says Kramer’s generosity and kindness was rooted in life and work.
“He never forgot where he came from,” he said. “He was a Gibson City kid. He reflected those values throughout everything he did.”
The Kramer name was long associated with newspapers in central Illinois. Mike’s grandfather operated papers in Warsaw, Ill. and Dallas City, Ill., and Mike’s father and uncle expanded the family empire to include the Gibson City Courier, the Piatt County Journal-Republican and eight other smaller weekly papers.
Fresh out of college, Mike started as a reporter for the Journal-Republican. He moved to Minnesota, where he was hired to manage the Minnesota Newspaper Association.
In 1985, Kramer launched the Minnesota Real Estate Journal, then spent the next decade starting similar publications in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Mike Szeliga, a sales manager with Law Bulletin Media, began working for Kramer in 1992 at the Minnesota Real Estate Journal. Szeliga always was impressed with Kramer’s willingness to trust the young people who worked for him.
“He promoted a lot of young people in their careers and challenged them,” Szeliga said. “Mike was all about giving people a chance.”
The Kramer family has deep ties to the Macfarlands, the fourth-generation owners of Law Bulletin Media.
In the early 1990s, Kramer partnered with Sandy Macfarland — now the CEO of Law Bulletin — to form the Real Estate Information Network, an association of commercial real estate publications.
When the Minneapolis market waned, Kramer approached the Macfarlands to propose a new arrangement: The Law Bulletin would take ownership of the Minnesota publication and use it as a model for other state publications. The deal was signed in 1997, placing Kramer in charge of the company’s real estate publications. He was promoted to vice president at Law Bulletin in 2002.
Sandy Macfarland met Kramer 35 years ago and quickly became a friend.
“After running our own businesses for many years, Mike decided to sell his Real Estate Publishing business in Minnesota to the Law Bulletin and we became associates which was the start of a closer working relationship and the beginning of becoming best of friends,” he said.
Kramer stepped into the role of publisher for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin and Chicago Lawyer magazine in 2007.
Under Kramer’s guidance, CDLB won the Illinois Press Association’s annual General Excellence award in 2014.
In 2015, Kramer was named president of Law Bulletin Media.
“Much of Mike’s success and leadership came from his integrity coupled with his many years of publishing experience,” Macfarland said. “Mike was a caring individual and always made time for anyone who wanted it. He was a wonderful leader who had an open-door policy. You could approach him with personal or business issues and would never make you feel like you are imposing on him.”
Kramer worked closely with Sam Fisher, the IPA’s president and CEO. Fisher will remember Kramer as one of the industry’s best communicators and leaders.
“Mike was everything that newspapers are supposed be. He embodied everything and understood the value of what we do,” Fisher said. “He believed in the value of building relationships — with your readers and community. (He did that better) more than anyone else I know.”
Kramer is survived by his wife, Ann; his daughter, Megan; his son, Andrew; grandchildren Emma, Jackson, Sadie and Natalie; his brother, Mark; his sister, Lisa; and the family dog, Piper.
A memorial service will be held at a later date at the Village Church of Gurnee, and the family will conduct a private burial in Gibson City.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to Love INC of Lake County at loveinclakecounty.org.