The best thing about 2020 is seeing it in the rear-view mirror.
Among other things, it was the year COVID-19 disrupted our lives. It was a year that saw major cities seized by violent disorder. It was an election year that left half of the country unhappy and everybody at wits’ end. Plenty of other news helped make “2020” a four-letter word.
Also this year, I feel, the obituary page gave us too many sad surprises.
You may remember some recent years that seemed to take more than their share of public figures and celebrities. This year, there seemed to be an unusual number of local people who passed after I had spoken to them for a newspaper story. Even more to my personal sorrow, some of them were taken before I could speak to them.
When I first came to town in January 2018, David Collins was one of the first people I met. For 12 years, he was the executive director of what is now Heartland Lakes Community Development. About two years after leaving that position, he died July 22 at his home in Iowa.
My first encounter with David is a vivid memory because of a misunderstanding at the time that we later cleared up. It made my landing a little shaky. But I was impressed by David’s passionate commitment to the community’s economic growth.
I was also sad to learn of the death of Robert Landrigan on Oct. 16. I had visited Bob’s home and workshop while writing a feature story about his art work. For many years, he carved the wooden loon given as a prize at the Enterprise’s Chili Challenge, benefiting the Hubbard County Food Shelf. He also drew beautiful nature scenes in colored pencil on wood.
Bob and his wife, Elaine, shared a beautiful home on Big Mantrap Lake, where he repeatedly told me I should come back and look at the ladyslippers in bloom or other beauties of the season. I now regret that I never took him up on that invitation.
I was in the middle of writing about Wesley Benjamin’s struggle with COVID-19, ending with his death Oct. 13 as only the second COVID casualty in Hubbard County, when I realized that I had interviewed him before, way back in 2018, in a profile of his organic dairy farm near Hubbard. After seeing what his hard work built, I can believe that he fought hard to live.
Autumn hit the local veteran community hard. Three out of four men whose military service I wrote about this year were called to the muster on high within a few weeks: Keith Kraft, Lloyd Lundstrom and, the day after Veterans Day, Bob Winner.
Keith was a former teacher who served the community for many years as a judge. He told me how, as a young Marine, his football prowess saved him from becoming a prisoner of the communist Chinese. And though his military service never took him into combat, he ended his long career in the National Guard as a major.
Lloyd’s ship survived a Japanese kamikaze attack during World War II. He told me about the zany ceremony of crossing the equator and about landing troops and equipment on Okinawa.
Bob, who at one time owned what is now Zappy’s Cafe and managed the Akeley muni, was coincidentally a former co-worker of my father, back when I was a squirt with zits and peach fuzz. My dad meant to call him and catch up, but unfortunately, time ran out.
A frequent competitor in the Enterprise’s Jack Pine Savage lookalike contest, Bob carried life-altering effects home from the Vietnam War, yet he called military service a wonderful thing for young people and said, “It gave me a good outlook on life.”
A staff member at the Heritage Living Center told me Bob got to see the story I wrote about him, even though he died the day after it was published. It’s a small comfort.
I am thankful that I had a chance to hear these men’s stories while they were still around to tell them. After writing about them, I felt a connection to them. So now, it’s like death has taken away something of mine.
Also taken away this year was Jim Theisen, whom I met at John and Jack Smythe’s “headquarters” in October, about a month before Jim’s death on Nov. 17.
While I was working on a story about hunting, John Smythe described Jim as an “encyclopedia” of information about how hunting has changed during the last 50-60 years. I meant to reach out to Jim, sooner rather than later, to talk about that. But now that door has closed.
You think you’re so clever, death. But someday, perhaps, I’ll yet get that interview with Jim Theisen. Who says there won’t be newspapers in the next world?
Meanwhile, we at the Enterprise mean to keep fighting the loss of memory and the shrinkage of history, by talking to people and writing their stories.
Let’s teach death not to be so proud. Help us keep your stories alive. If you’ve witnessed a little history, or experienced something of the world, tell us about it in 2021.
I’m not saying it’ll save the world, but if it saves a piece here and there, that’s a win.