ST. ALBANS — After 40 years of editing the St. Albans Messenger, Gary Rutkowski is retiring as executive editor.

Michelle Monroe, a longtime Messenger Staff writer, will assume the job.

Rutkowski was appointed editor and general manager in 1976, when he was just 25.

He has led the newsroom through both technological and ownership changes, including Emerson Lynn’s purchase of the paper in 1981.

“I look at Emerson’s decision to keep me on as the pivotal point in my career,” said Rutkowski. “It helped fulfill what has been a lifelong desire to work on a small, community newspaper and to do so in a great place in which to live.”

His partnership with Lynn has been one of shared purpose and accomplishment, according to Lynn. “From my first moments at the Messenger to where we are today – 35 years later, Gary has been indispensible to our operation. He’s been a close friend, a journalist with unimpeachable integrity, and the partner I was all too lucky to have. He has been integral to our success.”

“I can’t imagine those years without his dependability, his sharp wit and quick laugh,” Lynn said.

Rutkowski and his wife, Cindy, moved to Vermont soon after graduating from the University of Wisconsin in their hometown of Stevens Point. While in college he wrote for the school’s newspaper, eventually becoming editor, just as he had in high school.

Although the Rutkowskis are planning to travel, they have no intention of leaving St. Albans.

“The Franklin County community always has been great to me and my family,” said Rutkowski. “When moving here, Cindy and I, thought we might stay for two or three years but came to love this area and Vermont. Our children, Erin and Ryan, were born in the 1970s and it seems as though they were in school here before we knew it. The roots had taken hold, maybe before we even realized it.”

Rutkowski joined Vermont Publishing Corp., the Messenger‘s parent company, on Oct. 22, 1974 as a reporter for the statewide Vermont Sunday News, also working as a staff writer for the Colchester-Winooski News.

He moved to the Messenger in 1975 and was named editor and general manager, the following year, when the Vermont Sunday News and Colchester-Winooski News closed.

When he first began work at the Messenger the paper had just closed out the use of hot lead typesetting.

In the 1980s, Rutkowski worked with Lynn to make the Messenger the first daily paper in New England to use desktop publishing.

During his years at the Messenger, Rutkowski has trained and mentored numerous reporters, many of whom have gone on to successful careers in journalism.

In addition, the Messenger and its staff have received countless awards for excellence in reporting during Rutkowski’s tenure, including those won by Rutkowski himself.

After so many years in the newspaper business, he remains committed to the value of community newspapers. “I appreciate the power of the Internet and social media,” said Rutkowski. “However, a trusted local voice – one earned by people, your neighbors really, and dedicated to well-established professional ethics — is absolutely essential. It’s increasingly becoming a newspaper’s job to sort through what is found online and stated as truth, often when it isn’t.

“Newspapers aren’t perfect, there will always be that human element but locally people can make decisions about their hometown paper’s integrity,” he added. “Readers have the opportunity to become part of the discussion, criticisms and all right there on the editorial pages for all to see.”

For Rutkowski, his staff and co-workers, the parting is a bittersweet one.

“I’ve heard that a special kind of sadness comes when you’ve achieved something important to you and that is so true,” he said. “The relationships created over so many years are important, too, and I look forward to continuing them and, in some measure, remaining involved.

“It is time to leave the daily deadlines — of which, you know, there have been thousands — and to sit back for a bit and contemplate the next phase of life.”

In addition to travel, that next phase includes more time spent with his wife, children and granddaughter, a chance to reconnect with friends and family back in Wisconsin, travel, and time to read a good book or two, or 20.

Monroe, who officially takes over for Rutkowski on Thursday, will be the first woman in the paper’s 155-year history to lead the newsroom.

“I couldn’t be more pleased having Michelle Monroe take my place,” said Rutkowski. “She knows and understands this community, is passionate about St. Albans and Franklin County’s future, is a great advocate for an even better community and is in every way qualified. No one works harder than Michelle and she has a great staff. I predict that together they will make important strides and gain special recognition for doing so.”

Lynn, and his wife, Suzanne, Messenger general manager and co-publisher, joined in offering best wishes to Mr. Rutkowski and his wife, Cindy. They also echoed Mr. Rutkowski’s support of Ms. Monroe.

“Michelle will continue Gary’s push to make the Messenger an increasingly vital part of the Franklin County community discussion,” Ms. Lynn said. “It will continue to be an exciting and dynamic place to be and we’re appreciative to the community’s unwavering support.”