Stories, people that made an impact in 2019
Editor’s note: As a new year begins, Park Rapids Enterprise news staff took a look back at 2019, reflecting on moments that stood out from a year’s worth of stories.
A unique privilege to listen to your stories
By Shannon Geisen
A police scanner sits in the middle of our news department. On the afternoon of Jan. 2, it blared a warning that there was a fire at the Blueberry Pines Golf Course.
My heart always sinks when we are sent out to cover fires and accidents. I hope no one is injured. I hope the fire can be put out quickly, minimizing damage. You never know what to expect until you arrive on the scene.
As I began the drive toward Menahga, plumes of black smoke were already visible. I knew that couldn’t be good.
The intensity of this particular fire was scary. About 100 firefighters would battle this terrible blaze. I’m anxious to stay out of their way, making sure my car isn’t parked obtrusively. I identify myself, and as I take photos and shoot video, I keep my distance so they can work. Sadly, the building was a total loss. Thankfully, no one was hurt.
Later in January, I would receive a call from Larry Holm, who narrowly survived having his throat slit by someone temporarily staying at his home. He wanted to tell his story. We met at Burger King, and I listened as he shared his harrowing ordeal. He was tearful, and so was I. It was difficult to hear and equally hard to retell.
It is a unique privilege to be a reporter for a community newspaper. We meet a lot of our amazing neighbors over the course of a year. Mostly, we listen.
I feel a great responsibility when writing about someone’s experiences. That story is like a precious gift. It must be treated respectfully. It must be truthful. It must be accurate. It must be told. It is an honor that I take seriously.
I accept this responsibility when reporting about a government meeting or a community event as well. I have been entrusted with telling it.
Sometimes the story is playful, like when Joe Grisamore aimed for a Guinness World Record for the tallest full Mohican Mohawk.
Sometimes it is painful, like the news coverage and dash cam footage from the Nevis shootings, which left three people dead and a Hubbard County sheriff's deputy injured.
In 2020, I fervently hope our community sees more joy than tragedy, and I thank everyone who courageously told their stories in 2019.
Witnessing public and private pain was humbling
By Robin Fish
It’s hard to choose just one story in 2019 that had an impact on me.
I touched just a small corner of the tragedy in February around the Nevis area, when three local people were shot to death and a police officer was injured. It was an emotional roller coaster, covering how that happened and how a community could move forward and heal itself afterward.
It was also a story that stirred debate in our newsroom about the local paper’s responsibility to tell it. You can be sure nothing about that story made it on the page without serious discussion and painstaking pursuit of fact.
Beyond that, that story took a personal toll. Assigned to cover a community prayer service a few days after the shootings, I listened to the lessons and sang along with some liturgical songs, but I couldn’t bring myself to aim the camera lens at anything more up-close and personal than the front of the church building, from the opposite end of the parking lot, with no people in sight.
Aiming my microphone at anybody, even outside the church, felt dirty even to think about. People were in pain, and seeing it only made me feel it, too. Oh, how the role of pushy reporter feels puny in moments like these.
In November, some readers took to social media to criticize the newspaper’s decision to share a WDAY-TV story about law enforcement’s release of dashcam footage taken the day of those shootings.
For me, seeing the unedited footage removed all doubt about whether that was the right decision. It dramatically demonstrates what police officers, troopers and deputies face every day, driving into danger to protect the rest of us.
The calm courage in the off-camera voice of Deputy Eric Rypkema, reassuring his wife by phone while bleeding from wounds on his face, moved me to tears.
Another story that made me cry last year was one that never made it in the paper – part of our coverage of how bullying issues were being handled in local schools.
I respected a family’s decision to withdraw consent to tell their child’s story, but I think if you read her tearful account of how harassment by her peers made her feel worthless, you would cry, too.
Being allowed to witness such deep, private pain bore fruit, even if I couldn’t pass it on. I felt some of that pain myself. It made me more keen to listen, to believe the victim, and to tell their story on the next opportunity – and there are too many opportunities to tell that kind of story.
A young girl’s pain, passed from heart to heart, convinced me that something in our culture needs to change. I hope that change is now underway in our area’s schools. The fuel to get that change moving may be the heat of emotion. For me, that unpublished story was my fill-’er-up.
Finding light in the midst of darkness
By Lorie Skarpness
The story that impacted me most in 2019 came out of a Nevis School Board meeting. It was the first meeting after 11 children in Nevis lost a parent in a tragic shooting, an event that touched everyone in that room in some way in the small, close-knit community.
It started out as just an ordinary meeting with nothing special on the agenda. Then, as the meeting drew to a close, board member Justin Isaacson said he had something he wanted to share.
With tears in his eyes, he said it was hard for him to even speak about the shooting because he feels so badly for the hurt these children experienced but that he wanted to do something to help.
“It seems like when something like this happens, the outpouring of support is tremendous at first, but then people go back to their lives and it kind of falls through the cracks,” he said. “These children will be affected forever and need our help. I hope there will be a group of people with a vision for a foundation who can collaborate to make sure these children and the trauma they experienced are not forgotten.”
As a reporter, I have written many stories about important causes but never felt compelled to join in to volunteer. This time was different. What Justin said was like a glowing light beaconing that there was hope for something good to come out of this tragedy that was weighing on everyone’s hearts.
After the meeting, I told Justin I would help him. After reaching out to others in the community, we gathered for our first meeting in April. As the group grew, we decided to name it Healing Hearts.
Akeley Police Chief Jimmy Hansen and Hubbard County Deputy Josh Oswald became key members, along with Chris Swenson, who has been an advocate for victims of domestic violence for over 20 years. She shared an idea that has been done in other cities called Shop with A Cop.
Police officers volunteer their time to take children impacted by domestic violence shopping to help them overcome fears associated with police and build trusting relationships with officers by getting to know them as people who are there to help, serve and protect.
Our first “Shop with a Cop” event was in August. In addition to Hansen and Oswald, we were joined by Park Rapids police officers Joey Rittgers and Rob Gilmore to help children purchase back to school supplies. The focus of the December “Shop with a Cop” was buying Christmas gifts for their families. Both events were made possible because of the support of organizations and individuals in this community who opened their hearts by donating to the cause or volunteering their time.
After each shopping trip police officers, children, families and volunteers had a pizza party filled with laughter, smiles and happy conversations.
I feel so blessed to have been at that school board meeting because it made me realize how important it is to do something to help when we can. We are fortunate to live in a community where so many wonderful people give of their time and money to make a difference in the lives of others all throughout the year.