Jul 30, 2014

Year in Review: Editor’s choice

My favorite stories to work on in 2011.

Year in Review: Editor’s choice

Some people enter their chosen field to change the world. I’d be lying if I told you that was my main motivation.

Although I devoutly believe that journalism plays a vital role in society, I chose my career because it seemed an ideal way to sample the wealth of experiences the world has to offer. That decision has so far proved to be a good one. Wherever I’ve worked, my job has led me to interesting people and experiences I probably wouldn’t have otherwise encountered. The past year has been no different. 

Here's a look at the stories I, personally, found most enjoyable to work on in 2011.


Harold Camping and Co. drew immense attention as the May 21 date they predicted for Christ’s return neared. But Hopkins residents started seeing billboards warning people about the prophecy as early as March.

My interview with WeCanKnow spokeswoman Allison Warden (no relation to me) for that article was the most engaging conversation I had this year. Our conversation ranged from scripture to the criticism that outsiders increasingly heaped upon the group as May 21 neared.

Warden, a payroll clerk by trade, was a true believer but remained unfailingly polite—whatever skeptical question I threw her way. Although pundits portrayed the believers as a bunch of kooks, Warden came across as thoughtful and self-aware. She knew how the rest of the world viewed her beliefs. She also trusted in her faith. There’s grace and courage in that.

Of course, you know how the story ended. May 21, and later Oct. 21, passed without any sign of the end times. In his most recent interviews, Camping has hinted he’s no longer convinced that anyone can know the exact date of Christ’s return. I never heard back from Warden, despite trying to contact her May 22. Allison, if you read this, give me a call. I’d love to catch up.

Mayor Gene Maxwell never came across to me as the sentimental type, so I was struck by how much he seemed to be moved by a trip he made to the Ukrainian city of Boryspil as part of a “civic engagement” event.

When Maxwell returned to Hopkins, he described how excited Boryspil residents were to be included in the process of crafting the city’s vision and mission statement.

“(The trip) is one of the happiest things I’ve done in a long time,” he gushed.

That trip led Hopkins and Boryspil to become sister cities—a relationship that culminated in a visit from the Ukrainian delegation Sept. 27.

I was fortunate enough to tag along on their daylong tour of the city, and my emotions soon echoed Maxwell’s. The delegation included a Boryspil city councilman, a student and professor from the Ukrainian National Academy of Public Administration and other Ukrainian government and business leaders—all people who care deeply for their community.

Yet they face challenges back home that we in Hopkins can only imagine. The way these visitors marveled at Hopkins’ businesses, community resources and even government .

Those of you who know me have probably guessed that I’m a government geek.

The workings of local government, in particular, fascinate me. It’s a level of government that has immeasurable impact on people’s lives, and it’s a level of government that everyday people .

So I was intrigued to learn about the elimination of a tax break that threatened to rearrange the tax burden. The story promised much sifting through legislative analysis and reading of budget documents—both of which I love.

It also gave me license to talk with intriguing sources—notably Preston Rep. Greg Davids (R-District 31B), speaker pro temp and chairman of the House Taxes Committee, and Gary Carlson, director of intergovernmental relations at the League of Minnesota Cities.

Davids, who worked on the legislation that led to the repeal, was frank about the change’s imperfections but argued it was better on balance than the alternative and a sort of consolation prize for $102 million in Local Government Aid cuts. The conversation had a refreshing level of nuance—a sentiment I suspect is more common in St. Paul than the polarized headlines and news releases suggest.

Carlson, meanwhile, is a font of information who was only too happy to talk with a small-town reporter about the intricacies of municipal funding.

This is not to downplay the real headaches the repeal has created for cities. Many are clamoring for legislators to change the system in the upcoming session.  Yet the story remains one of my most educational experiences in 2011.

As part of a Huffington Post special feature on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, Patch editors across the country sought out residents in their communities affected in some way by the disaster.

Now, I am a Texas native. My father, an Army chaplain, was also born in Texas. So tracking down a source for the 9/11 profile wasn’t as simple as calling up a high school buddy.

But in the small world that is the Army, my father happened to work at the Pentagon with a soldier from Hopkins. A couple e-mail exchanges later, and and I had arranged a time to discuss his deployment to Afghanistan just months after Sept. 11.

Rogness turned out to be an extremely thoughtful, introspective soldier. He described being called up from college in Duluth to leave for the unknown world of Afghanistan.

“Looking back, it was very eye-opening,” he told me. “I didn't understand the full ramifications of what I was involved in.”

Rogness faced the post-9/11 world more personally than most, but the transition he observed was, in many ways, something that everyone in the new world wound up facing at some point.

clock repairman Joff Simmons is a quiet man who can usually be found tinkering away in the back of the store while owner Mark Purdy works at the prominent bench that customers encounter first.

But Simmons’ low-key nature turned out to be just perfect for teaching 16-year-old Will Dziuk the workings of an old pocket watch he discovered. The teen found the century-old pocket watch at his great uncle’s farm, and Purdy agreed to he could learn to repair it at the shop.

Dziuk showed up one morning, and soon he was hunched over a watch beneath Simmons watchful gaze as the clock repairman encouraged him to experiment with the watch’s inner workings.

It was a scene that perfectly captured the joy of learning how things work—and the resonance of a master passing along his skills to the next generation.


Be sure to check out the entire series, to be published on the following dates:

  • Dec. 26:
  • Dec. 27:
  • Dec. 28:
  • Dec. 29:
  • Dec. 30:
  • Dec. 31: Editor’s Choice
  • Jan. 1: Most-Read Stories

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