After 10 years of reporting and photographing news in and around Kingsbury County, I have decided it’s time for a change. I am leaving The Kingsbury Journal at the end of this week. I won’t be going far — two doors down – to work at American Bank & Trust.
I began working at The De Smet News a little more than 10 years ago. My first day was Jan. 17, 2011— Martin Luther King Day — which in the newspaper world is not a holiday. There was a lot of snow on the ground; it was relatively nice out, and it was a school holiday. So, my first assignment was to go find some kids playing in the snow to photograph. I was excited that I was going to be getting paid for doing something that before then, I might have done for fun on my day off!
I found two young sisters, Lyric and Aria Gruenhagen (grown up young women now), sledding on the hill behind the hospital, and one of the photos I took of them was my first published in the paper (and reprinted here.) I came into the job with the distinct advantage of having lived in De Smet for three decades, while being employed at the grocery store for half that time. I knew almost everyone, including the kids, and they all knew me. I wasn’t some stranger walking up to children asking to take their photo. I also realize this part of the job had to be harder for the men who do it, especially if they don’t know as many people. I can just imagine the panic a parent might feel if their child told them there was some strange man driving a van (our company vehicle at the time) asking their names and taking pictures of them in the park or at the swimming pool! But hearing, “The lady from the grocery store took our picture for the newspaper,” wasn’t going to alarm anyone. It wasn’t long before local kids would say, “Hey, it’s the newspaper lady!” whenever they saw me.
After six years in De Smet, I transferred to the sister paper, the Lake Preston Times, and stayed there as editor for four years. I wasn’t as acquainted with people there when I started, but having two co-workers who knew the people, history and dynamics of the town was invaluable. I got acquainted quickly and really enjoyed my time there. But, when I was offered a promotion and the opportunity to come back to De Smet and avoid the commute, I accepted.
I was just getting back into the swing of things in De Smet, when life as we knew it started getting weird. COVID had reached South Dakota, and it was hitting closer to home every day.
And soon, several factors—including the virus, led to both newspapers closing.
At any other time in history, my co-workers and I would have gone somewhere for a meal and beverages after we locked the doors for the last time. But, because we were entering a global pandemic, that was not a viable option. Our “girls’ night out” has not been cancelled, but it has been put on hold.
It was a couple of strange months. For the first time in my life, I had more time off than I knew what to do with. And, it was maddening to have an extended, unexpected “vacation” and to not be able to go anywhere! I didn’t feel comfortable planning even a day trip with my camera, going to a movie, or going out in search of another job. I spent a lot of time over the next two months in my backyard with my dogs, and any photography trips I took were within a few miles of home.
If I had simply retired in an ordinary way, and times were “normal,” I’d have had all kinds of places to go and things to do. But, “normal,” as we all know, did not describe 2020. The break was nice for a while, but it didn’t take long before the walls started closing in.
So, when I was offered a job at the newly-formed Kingsbury Journal, I was eager to get back to work. I have enjoyed the opportunity to report on happenings from both communities these past eight months.
But, like I said, after 10 years, it’s time for a change.
I know I won’t be able to hang up my writing and photography completely. After all, I did it for fun before it was my job.
Once I get settled into my new gig, I plan to still do some occasional volunteer work for the paper. So, if you see me out taking photos of children in the snow next Martin Luther King Day — a bank holiday — I actually will be doing it for fun on my day off.