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An encounter from the past as I mark one year here

About the time I was approaching my first anniversary at the newspaper a reader asked where I was from and suggested I share more of that with readers.

Now that I have officially marked my first anniversary at the Stevens County Times/Morris Sun Tribune/Hancock Record, I will take that suggestion. I introduced myself to readers just after I started in the fall of 2016 but I'm going to tell you a story from an encounter at the Donnelly Threshing Bee weekend to tell you more about me and my journalism career.

As I walked up to the row of classic cars on display in Donnelly on Aug. 27, I heard what I thought was a familiar voice. Sure enough, I recognized the voice of Rich Sullivan of Belview. Rich was a janitor at the Belview School when I worked at the Tri County News based in Cottonwood back in the 1990s. Rich was a darn fine janitor and a booster of the school, the community and lover of classic cars.

Rich recognized me. We hugged and then began to chat. I told him I thought about him every time I entered a new school and periodically when I'd be in various schools that I covered. Rich's restrooms were spotless. I mean spotless. They literally sparkled. More than once I've entered a school building and thought 'This place needs Rich.'

We caught up on various business owners, families who lived in town, his family and mine. He retired from full-time work with the school district but he has since returned to drive bus and handle some part-time janitor work.

Rich was the janitor when the school district was grappling with whether to cement a partnership with Renville, Sacred Heart while Danube was thinking of leaving. Belview continued as part of BDRSH and eventually, that partnership changed.

One of his bus driving duties is at the charter school in Echo. Before there was a charter school, there was an elementary school in Echo. Echo was part of the Yellow Medicine East School District. I covered some contentious meetings in those days.

As Rich and I caught up on things, vivid memories of people, memories of meetings and conversations with school people, community members, including encounters where some folks just yelled at me because they didn't agree with a story or editorial. I once climbed to the top of the Belview school because the principal wanted to show me the roof and because she liked the view. I've often wondered where she is now.

Each recollection was just another affirmation of why I continued to work in journalism at weeklies and small dailies over the years. I've been screamed at by a teacher inside a small gym while office staff and other teachers heard it. I do not exaggerate, she was screaming, until I began to laugh, which is one way to diffuse a situation. But I've also had county officials chew out fellow county officials because they knew I was right on open meetings laws. The good and the bad, as many cliches say.

Journalism is about relationships. It's about telling stories that may seem bad, good, contentious or warm and fuzzy. It's about neighbors, new streets, water rates, crime, you know, the stuff of life.

Rich is just one of the people I've been fortunate to meet in more than 30 years of work. There are dozens and dozens of folks like Rich in areas of Minnesota and Iowa. There are dozens and dozens of stories about schools that struggle with funding or hospitals that successfully recruit doctors or farmers that try new methods.

I've told a few stories of this area in the past year. I'm looking forward to telling more. I've met a few folks like Rich in the past year. And I'm looking forward to meeting more.