by Winona Post Editor-in-chief Sarah Squires
There was a can of Spam on the desk. I haven’t eaten meat in more than 25 years, and by no means does the sight of it offend me. (If anyone remembers the tale of Andrea the Chicken, you know something in a can is not going to get my goat.) But really, there was nothing else on the desk save for the computer and that peel-top can of Spam, placed right in front, waiting for me.
This was my first day at the Winona Post, and I pushed the can over and opened up the computer, wondering if there was some task awaiting me. I must have started on a Tuesday, because I remember knowing it was deadline day. Fran was recouperating at home, Cynthya was out running around in the throws of single-handedly crafting a newspaper, and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. The computer didn’t provide me with any clues save for some difficult to understand notes from my predecessor, Brian (I dare anyone to try to decipher my own notes, so that’s no slight to Brian). Porter breezed through the newsroom, huge camera swinging from her neck, and I introduced myself. “What can I do?” I asked. After her query about whether I could piece together Brian’s notes — no — she thought of something. There’s an exchange student down at the Polish Museum, she told me. Go talk to him.
So I scuttled off to find this young man and whip together a story about his time in Winona and what brought him here. Turns out, it was pretty cute: Father Breza had visited his school and given a presentation about the U.S. and Winona, and as he was leaving, the young man realized his dreams were walking out the door. He chased Father Breza outside, blurting out his one wish: “Take me to America!”
And that was my first day at the Post.
It’s hard to believe it has been 12 years. I came with some newspaper experience from two prior jobs, but Winona is a special place and the Winona Post is a newspaper that demands excellence, and I learned a great deal my first few years on the job. Cynthya encouraged my photography — there are beautiful, and challenging, and fun and exciting things to shoot here. Fran and John Edstrom helped me bring my writing to the next level, and helped me understand the importance of looking at an issue from all perspectives. I will never forget the day after I’d written about the city’s property tax referendum, a bid to get funding that would fund two or three projects on a list of 10 or 12 — which ones city leaders actually wanted to use the money for remained unknown. You’re missing the point, John told me. The point is, we don’t know what we’re paying for — write about that.
So I scurried off to explore, and John sat down and wet his editorial pen. You may recall, as Steamboat Days games are about to come to life, John compared the city’s refusal to identify which projects the tax money would be used for to the little ducky game, where kids use a plastic fishing pole with a magnet to snag a floating duck, their mystery prize idenfied on its underside. Well, that editorial beat all the others in North America that year. And I, following his advice and looking more closely at the ballot question, brought home my first writing award, as well.
Whenever there was an interesting bit of news or breaking story, I’d come in early and leave little notes for Fran and John. Before everyone simply sent a text message at any hour of the day, I’d leave a scrap of paper on their keyboards. “The city is going to erect a series of 12-foot blue heron statues around town and have people paint them — I thought you should be the first to know about Winona’s big birds,” I scribbled one morning.
Plenty of things have changed here at the Post over the last dozen years — we have some new faces, others are no longer with us, but are still part of the Winona Post family. We are a team of traditions, from the gag gifts at our Christmas stocking party (you better believe that can of Spam made the rounds) to the goofy made-up songs I force people to sing, to remembering our history and the people who worked to make this area great, and keeping that at the forefront of what we do.
There are few things in my life to which I can claim dedication for 12 years, and the Winona Post is one of them. With it comes a source of pride that can’t be counted on plaques on the wall or any accolade. It comes from you — when we help you make change in your community and beyond, like Dora Pelley is so earnestly working toward (check out her letter below); when something we write touches you or prompts you to get involved. We are so fortunate that our mission here is to benefit the communities we serve. It is an honor and a duty for which I am forever thankful.
Twelve years. Here’s to 12 more!