Government coffee?

Many years ago, several elections ago, the Cook County Coalition of Lake Associations held a candidate forum. There were many hard-hitting questions about property taxes and protecting water quality and so on. But the question that sticks in my mind from that long ago Q&A session was—who pays for the coffee and treats consumed at county board meetings?

There was a round of laughter when the question was asked, but it was obvious that people— voters—wanted to know. What government fund was used to purchase the coffee? How much was allocated to cookies and donuts each year? Was this an acceptable use of our tax dollars?

The audience seemed pleased to hear that the commissioners themselves provide the goodies shared during the midmorning break. There is a schedule and they all take turns bringing a treat. In fact, they not only bring enough for their board colleagues, they bring extra for county staff and citizens— and members of the press—in attendance. I’ve been fortunate over the years to sample some tasty treats prepared by local politicians. My favorite treat is the rum cake made by former Commissioner Walt Mianowski.

And the coffee itself? That is paid for by donations from the commissioners and county staff as well. No tax dollars wasted on coffee.

However, I don’t think money spent on coffee would be a total waste of county funds. I know, people who know me will be quick to say that I am addicted to coffee, so of course I would be supportive of the government providing coffee. But there is more to it than that.

A lot of problems could be solved if we all shared a cup of coffee (or tea!) now and then.

A lot of problems could be solved if we all shared a cup of coffee (or tea!) now and then.

The idea came up recently in a meeting I had with some Blandin Foundation Community Leadership participants. I was meeting with them to talk about our shared experience with the leadership training. They were taking part in the traditional Blandin leadership program and I was in the midst of the Editors & Publishers program. We were comparing notes and talking about the topic they have chosen to work on—building government trust.

I shared some of the things we are considering at the paper, such as the yet-to-happen “Coffee with the News-Herald.” As I explained that I would like to get together with readers now and then to chat over a cup of coffee, there was laughter. One of the Blandin participants said, “I see a theme here!”

Apparently one of the group working to build trust in government had suggested that the county offer coffee to taxpayers waiting for help. One of their group liked the idea of a little coffee station in the lobby of the planning & zoning office or the assessor’s office—like those at the car dealership or fancy hair salon. She suggested that a beverage—it didn’t have to be coffee, it could be a nice rooibos tea or even a cooler filled with refreshing water—would go a long way to soothing an irritated soul.

It brought to mind the book by Greg Mortenson, Three Cups of Tea, about Mortenson’s accidental foray into humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although his story was questioned as exaggerated and his charity challenged in 2011, it is clear that Mortenson’s nonprofit, Central Asia Institute, has built and helped operate some schools—and it continues to do so. So despite the cloud of uncertainty surrounding his story, Mortenson is doing good works.

And what good Mortenson has accomplished started with Three Cups of Tea. The book title comes from a proverb of a Tibetan/Pakistani ethnic group, the Balti: “The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family…”

I know, it would be complicated to have a coffeemaker and hot water and tea bags and containers of water scattered around the courthouse. It would be an additional task for a county staffer who already has enough to worry about. No one has time to sit and drink three cups of tea before conducting government business.

But it’s a nice thought. It’s good to see leaders thinking of ways they can build trust, even if it is with something as simple as providing coffee or orange pekoe to visitors. It’s a start.

****************

There is no trouble so great or
grave that cannot be much
diminished by a nice cup of tea.

Bernard-Paul Heroux


A painful, but necessary discussion

It is not very often that the Cook County News- Herald republishes an article from another newspaper. It is complicated to get permission and we prefer local content. However this week, I obtained permission from the Grand Rapids Herald Review to share a heartbreaking story about a father’s struggle to cope with the suicide of his daughter.

I didn’t go looking for the story on page A7. A father, John Bauer, contacted the Cook County News- Herald because his daughter, Megan Bauer Stejskal, a beautiful 33-yearold social worker, spent some time in Grand Marais. She worked as a mental health practitioner and at Superior National at Lutsen golf course in the summer. In the short time she lived on the North Shore she made many friends, who were all shocked and saddened to hear that she had died.

The News-Herald did not report the circumstances of her death because it didn’t happen in Cook County. She chose a different place, Bayfield, Wisconsin, to end her life. The News-Herald received an obituary from the family with the phrase that starts so many obituaries of suicide victims. According to the April 6, 2013 obituary, Megan “passed away unexpectedly.”

Truthfully, I was glad at that time that the News-Herald didn’t have to share the painful details. One of the most difficult stories for a newsperson to cover is the story of suicide. Reporting on death is never easy, whether that loss was caused by a car accident, a fall, a fire or by drowning. It is our job to share the details of a tragedy, to provide a historic record, but we know that by doing so we are adding to the suffering of family and friends.

Because of the stigma attached to mental health issues, we know the coverage of a suicide is even more hurtful. Along with the usual grief, there are so many unanswered questions. And often there is guilt, uncalled for because suicide attempters are very good at concealing their pain and hiding their plans, but agonizing guilt nonetheless.

Aside from cut and dried reports of a suicide death, reporters are hesitant to touch the topic. That is why receiving an email from John Bauer asking to talk about his daughter’s passing took my breath away. He attached the Grand Rapids Herald Review article and asked if we would reprint it. John wanted to share the painful path his family has been on.

In his grief, John Bauer is reaching out to others. He and his family talked about Megan’s life and death on the public television series Call Me Mental in a segment on suicide. In that video, John shares the terrible statistic that someone in the United States takes his or her life every 13 minutes.

In addition to sharing the story of his beloved daughter, John Bauer is gathering the tales of others who have been touched by the tragedy of suicide to be presented in a special multimedia exhibit in 2016. At press time he said he had heard from about 25 people who wanted to participate in some way.

There are others out there. Others who need to talk about their loss, who should not have to hide the way their loved ones died. John Bauer notes that it would be good if someday instead of saying a suicide victim had “died unexpectedly” obituaries could be similar to people who have perished from cancer or heart disease. John Bauer said his goal is to instead see obituaries share the truth—that a loved one died “after a long and courageous battle with mental illness.”

And better yet, John hopes that his exhibit, his call to talk about it, will lead to suicide prevention. He said if he can prevent one person from killing himself or herself the painful work he has undertaken will be worth it.

There are some who think that talking about suicide will lead to a suicide attempt. The therapists I’ve spoken with say that is not the case. In fact, they said checking in with a person who suffers from depression is more likely helpful than hurtful. Letting a person who struggles with depression know that they can call you anytime to talk is helpful. Sometimes despair strikes at unexpected times, at times when a person feels he or she should be happy. Having a phone number—or a list of phone numbers of people who care—close by can help.

Asking difficult questions like, “That sounds like an awful lot for one person to take; has it made you want to hurt yourself?” or “Are you feeling so bad that you’re considering suicide?” can actually be a relief to someone who is contemplating that extreme measure. Asking those questions can free a person to talk about it and to hopefully consider other options.

Suicide is not easy to think about, to talk about and certainly not to write about. But with efforts like the exhibit being put together by John Bauer, the discussion will be little easier.

****************

The life of every person is like a
diary in which he means to write
one story, and writes another.
James Barrie


Back-to-school cool

Just about everyone I’ve talked to in the last week has bemoaned the fact that summer is nearly over. The weather this year has not been kind to us on the North Shore. After the brutally cold winter that seemed would never end, things never really warmed up. We only had a few days of hot weather. More than once I’ve felt sorry for the folks hiking and paddling and sleeping in tents.

There is serenity and splendor in our backcountry, but there is sometimes a price to pay. I hope everyone who has enjoyed rough camping this summer—the summer that barely was—brought plenty of layers to stay warm.

In my own forays into the forest in the last week, I’ve already seen signs of autumn. Despite a short string of bright sunny days and slightly higher temps, the signs of fall are here. There are bright patches of red and orange interspersed with the brilliant green.

It seems like summer arrived and departed in the same week. I recall feeling this way as fall approached when I was growing up. I remember luxuriating in warm weather just before school started. I remember days spent swimming with cousins and friends in little pools in Rosebush Creek, which is now called Fall Creek, but will forever be Rosebush in my mind. I remember riding bikes down County Road 7, weaving in and out of the dotted white centerline—once we reached the paved section at Rosebush Creek. I remember roasting marshmallows and watching fireflies while sitting around a campfire—just days before that dreaded first day of school.

I shouldn’t say dreaded though, because truly it wasn’t all that bad. There was always sadness at giving up the freedom of summer. Back-to-school meant no more sleeping in as long as I wanted. No more bikes or hikes to a cousin’s house to hang out, no more playing on a tire swing or climbing around in my grandfather’s old barn. No more lying in the tall grass imagining pictures in the puffy clouds. No more unlimited TV watching.

No, back-to-school meant more structure. It meant going to bed earlier and getting up earlier than I liked. It meant school lunches instead of peanut butter sandwiches or Lipton chicken noodle soup. It meant sitting still and paying attention and worst of all—mathematics! And it meant homework, further cutting into time to enjoy being outside—or watching my favorite television shows.

No one is cooler than Grover!

No one is cooler than Grover!

But along with the loss of freedom came the excitement of a new year and a new wardrobe. I remember being pleased with new dresses and shoes, but I most vividly recall my delight in a particular pair of jeans when I was entering the seventh grade. They were denim bell-bottoms, of course, but had a strip of ticking down the side. They may sound “lame” to the current generation, but they were the height of cool in my seventh-grade mind.

Returning to school was also wonderful because it meant seeing the many friends that I hadn’t seen much of—or at all—over the summer. It was nice to see everyone and to giggle and gossip between classes, at lunch, and to the teachers’ dismay, when we were supposed to be listening. Another great memory—of seventh-grade again, was when I reconnected with one of my best friends, Janie and saw that she was wearing the same cool blue jeans with the stripe down the side.

In addition to the fun of a few new outfits and renewed friendships, was the joy of new notebooks, pens, and of course a shiny new Trapper Keeper. It didn’t take long to fill the notebooks with scribbles and notes and eraser marks, but I always loved all those blank pages full of possibility.

Although I would never have admitted it at that time. That would not have been cool. Just as I would never have admitted that I enjoyed some of my classes. Math was always a struggle for me, but I enjoyed science and social studies. And I adored English, history and art classes. Book reviews for extra credit? That wasn’t homework; that was downright fun.

So all in all, school was not so bad. It was where I learned not only the educational basics, but that I could get through anything including math–if only with a C. It was where I learned that I loved to write. It was where I learned the importance of being organized and where I began my never-ending quest to become so.

It was where I made lifelong friendships that I still treasure. The Class of ’75 “kids” are meeting for lunch soon as we do the first Tuesday of every month.

Perhaps the worst part of the school year was heading indoors on the waning days of warm weather. Labor Day was the last big fling for all of us, as I’m sure it is for the teachers and students today. Have a safe and happy weekend everyone. Welcome back to schoo

***** ***** *****

The larger the island of
knowledge, the longer the
shoreline of wonder.

Ralph W. Sockman


Unorganized thinking

As I write this Unorganized Territory, I’m preparing to travel to Brainerd for the final session of the program I have been participating in this summer, the Blandin Foundation Editor & Publisher Community Leadership Program (E&P). It’s been an interesting experience although I’ve had a few “What was I thinking?” moments.

Two of the sessions have started on Thursday, which is the day we do our final proofreading, packaging, and sending to the printer. So it’s tough to be out of town that day. Frantically trying to get everything printer-ready before Thursday caused a few of those “What was I thinking?” thoughts.

The purpose of the E&P program is to allow editors and publishers to have some time away from their dayto day activities to look at the overall picture of the newspaper and its role in the community. The program is based on the Blandin Foundation’s 8 Dimensions of a Healthy Community, which are Life-Long Learning, Inclusion, Spiritual, Recreational and Artistic Opportunity, Environmental Stewardship, Infrastructure and Services, Safety and Security, Community Leadership and Economic Opportunity.

The Blandin Foundation asks participants in its E&P program and its other community leadership programs to take a hard look at these topics. Each participant is asked to evaluate how his or her community is doing in these dimensions. Are there life-long learning opportunities for all, from preschooler to the elderly? Are there adequate police and fire services so residents feel safe? Do community members care about the natural environment and work to protect it? Are all members of the community—regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity—included in making decisions that affect them?

Those are just a few of the questions raised in the Blandin Leadership Program. And although the program offers community building exercises and shares examples of what successful Blandin participants have accomplished, there are few answers. There is no “one size fits all” model of a healthy community or how to create it. I think at some point every Blandin Leadership program participant worries that he or she won’t make a difference, as the Blandin Foundation asks. I think we all ask, “What was I thinking?”

For me, participating in the program meant taking a hard look at the Cook County News-Herald and meant asking for feedback. That is why the News-Herald, with help from Cook County Higher Education, conducted a newspaper focus group back in May.

I survived my PowerPoint presentation!

I survived my PowerPoint presentation!

The focus group was not as well attended as I would have liked, but those who were there offered invaluable advice. Some of it was difficult to hear. It was challenging to take criticism of our coverage of some troubling news stories, especially when many of the concerns were due to the headlines on articles.

Ask any writer—headlines are tough. It is extremely difficult to summarize a 500 -1,200 word article in five to eight words. It is hard to encapsulate the idea of the article in just a few words without sensationalizing the content. As I listened to some suggestions for alternate headlines that could have been used, I thought the ideas were great. But, as I listened to some of the complaints, I also couldn’t help thinking, “What was I thinking?”

When I compiled the results of the focus group and shared it with my friends and co-workers at the News- Herald, I was met with mixed reactions, ranging from “No way can we do that” to “That’s not a bad idea.” We’ve enacted some of the suggestions and are working on others. But as I distributed the suggestions and comments from the focus group, I could see my fellow News-Herald staffers thinking, “What was she thinking?”

Today, as I’m again hurrying to head off to the last E&P session, I am getting very nervous about the “final exam” of the program. I have to give a 15-minute presentation on what I’ve learned through the program and what actions the News-Herald will implement to help make our community a better place. I will be offering a Power Point presentation, only the second I’ve ever done in my life. “What was I thinking?”

It is especially hard because I don’t feel that I’ve done much in the way of community building yet. I am truthfully struggling with the balance of building community and allowing the community to have a voice. And as a newspaper, we cover not only the fun stuff—the festivals, the new businesses, the births and weddings—but also the tragic deaths, the accidents, fires, and court matters.

I keep turning to a George Orwell quote that is in rotation on my email footnote: Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.

My Power Point presentation addresses that. I will share my conflict and struggle to find balance. And I will admit that we have been taking baby steps.

We’ve tweaked our letter to the editor policy to put the responsibility to be respectful on submitters. We’ve resurrected our “Get Involved in Government” feature, providing a “Clip and Save” list of various government boards with information on when and where they met. We are trying to be cautious about headlines and pull-quotes, not highlighting something that doesn’t represent the article well. There are more things in the works—stay tuned.

I’m also thinking of starting a “Coffee with the News-Herald” monthly event, meeting with readers at the local coffee shop. I’m a bit nervous about that though—what do you think readers? Should we do it? Or will it be another thing that makes me say, “What was I thinking?”

Drop me an email at starnews@boreal.org to let me know what you think!

***************

After enlightenment, the laundry

Zen quote from Mirja P. Hanson Editor & Publisher Community Leadership Program facilitator


No trickle down economy on election advertising

Spoiler alert. There will be some whining in this Unorganized Territory. I’ll try to bring myself back around to positive thoughts at the end of this week’s column, but I really need to share a pet peeve. It’s because I’ve received a glut of political campaign press releases from all over the region, the state and the country—and it’s only the primary.

I’m guessing that faux news releases will really ramp up as we get into September and October. I wouldn’t mind these announcements if they actually contained real information on a candidate. But the majority of the “news” sent out by politicians is reports of alleged misbehavior by their opponents.

I’m somewhat used to that. I think we Americans know when a political ad is tweaked and comments are taken out of context and twisted. I am inclined not to vote for someone who uses that sort of campaign tactics. The advertisements and news I want to see from candidates is where they stand on issues.

I want to hear whether or not they have some sort of plan to resolve the flood of children across our southern border. I want to hear constructive suggestions on what can be done to fix the glitches in the Affordable Care Act and the devastating mishandling of veterans affairs. I want to know what my representatives are going to do to work with the other party—not how they are going to stonewall one another.

Unfortunately, we don’t get that sort of information. And the straw that broke the camel’s back this week was yet another ad sent out to a mailing list of Minnesota newspapers telling us about the upcoming campaign ad to be launched on television— and the millions of dollars spent on that campaign.

At least once a day I receive an email announcing, “Thanks to our generous supporters the Joe Candidate campaign is airing two TV advertisements during the primary season. The initial ad began airing across the 8th District on August 16.”

Or, an email decries the falsehoods in an opponent’s ad and asks for the print media’s help in setting the record straight.

So obviously, these political machines realize that newspapers are an effective way to reach voters. But for some reason they don’t want to spend any of the hundreds, thousands, or millions of dollars they have raised in campaign funds to get their messages out in newspapers.

I don't know if I would have voted for President Hoover, but his ads were clever!

I don’t know if I would have voted for President Hoover, but his ads were clever!

The decline of the newspaper is vastly overstated. Time and again the newspaper industry has surveyed its readers and advertisers and finds that people are reading and that newspapers are trusted sources for information. As recently as 2014, a study conducted for the Minnesota Newspaper Association by Scarborough queried Minnesotans. The survey found that 89 percent of Minnesotans had accessed a newspaper in print or in digital format in the past month. The net print readership was found to be 71 percent. Even more important was the reasons why people turn to newpapers. The survey found that newspapers were the most important resource for 56 percent of readers interested in local schools; for 50 percent of readers concerned about crime; 52 percent of readers looking for “things to do;” and 49 percent of readers wanting to learn about local government.

There are more reasons why people read their local newspaper and I wish these massive political campaigns realized that. I don’t know how candidates and campaign managers think newspapers will be able to stay afloat to help spread their message without their support. There is no trickle down economy when it comes to campaign financing.

Fortunately the story is quite different for our local politicians. Many of the folks running for township, Tribal government, city, county, school, hospital board, sheriff, or other elected seat, place ads in the Cook County News-Herald.

We truly appreciate it. Not only do we believe that we are one of the best methods to reach the people in the community who vote, the ads help us cover the cost of reporting on the election. Their hard-earned dollars stay in the community with us and help us keep the 123-year tradition of the Cook County News- Herald alive.

Their funding helps tide the local newspaper over for a bit after the election. It helps us cover those folks once they are elected and serving on the county board or the city council or a township board. They may not appreciate that we report comments made by an upset citizen or when we carefully monitor their actions to make sure they are not violating open meeting laws.

But these candidates support us anyway, with their campaign ads and by being cooperative and providing real answers to tough questions.

It takes a village to run a newspaper. We’re thankful to all of the loyal subscribers and advertisers who help us bring all the news to the community. We couldn’t do it without you.

***********

Never argue with someone
who buys ink by the barrel.

Charles Bruce Brownson


Where are We in August?

Cook County News-Herald staffers love to get out and about the county. So we decided, while we are traveling the highway and bushwhacking through the forest, to take pictures to see if our readers can guess WHERE ARE WE?

We did not receive any entries that were wrong in our July WHERE ARE WE? which was a little bit different than past locations. It was not a scenery shot, but was instead inside a building and we had a good response from people who knew that the photo was taken inside Johnson Heritage Post in Grand Marais. Thanks to Carolyn Wilhelm for sharing the idea.

And congratulations to Donna Gestel of Grand Marais whose entry was drawn from the correct answers. Donna wins a one-year subscription to the Cook County News-Herald.

Try your luck! Take a look at the August photo.

Where is this flag flying? Where was the News-Herald staffer standing when this photo was taken? Take a guess!

Where is this flag flying? Where was the News-Herald staffer standing when this photo was taken? Take a guess!

If you think you know where we were when we took the picture, send us your answer. The location will be announced next month and a winner will be drawn from all the correct answers. Whoever is drawn will win a free one-year subscription to the Cook County News-Herald (a $30 value). Good luck!

Return answer by mail, e-mail or fax to:

Cook County News-Herald

PO Box 757

Grand Marais MN 55604

starnews@boreal.org

Fax: 218-387-9500

Answer to the August WHERE ARE WE? must be received by September 15, 2014.


No losers at Fisherman’s Picnic

On Sunday afternoon, at the end of the Fisherman’s Picnic, as people walk away from the Grand Marais Lions Club information booth where the grand prize drawing is held, nearly everyone is on a cell phone calling a friend or relative to say, “You’re a loser.”

Mike Carlson, a Grand Marais Lion, presents the "big check" to EvaLyn Carlson. My granddaughter RaeAnne was with her when she accepted her winnings.

Mike Carlson, a Grand Marais Lion, presents the “big check” to EvaLyn Carlson. My granddaughter RaeAnne was with her when she accepted her winnings.

It’s a joke of course, but Fisherman’s Picnic ending with the big drawing that only one person wins does seem a bit anticlimactic. My mom always says the end of Fisherman’s is the end of summer. I don’t agree—I think we have a few more sunny days in store. But it is certainly the beginning of the end of warm days.

This year the finale was a bit more exciting than usual as my former minister and friend EvaLyn Carlson of Grand Marais was the lucky holder of the ticket for the $10,000 grand prize.

My granddaughter RaeAnne could hardly contain herself. She was thrilled that someone she knew won and she ran to where she had last seen EvaLyn to share the happy news. It was fun to get a picture of EvaLyn grinning widely, accepting the “big check” from the Grand Marais Lions.

But then, as it always is on Sunday evening of Fisherman’s Picnic, the party was over. People milled about Harbor Park and strolled down the still blocked off, but now deserted streets. A few people wandered over to the American Legion bingo tent for a last game or two, but that is about all that is going on.

It seems as if there should be something more. As I joined the wandering “losers” of Fisherman’s Picnic this year, I thought it would be nice if the Grand Marais Lions had one more musical act. I wished the stage wasn’t as forlorn as the streets. It would be cheerier if a band offered a last bit of music outdoors. It could be a nice and mellow group, playing some soothing songs to send people on their way.

I hesitate to make the suggestion to the Lions Club though. By Sunday afternoon, the Lions that have organized parades, softball tournaments and minnow races, erected kiddie rides, gathered prizes, listened to complaints, sold raffle tickets, given directions to vendors, fried fishburgers, supervised log sawing, found lost children, lined up bands, and so much more are frankly, exhausted.

I’m exhausted just trying to cover it all.

And the Lions are still not done. They have a lot more to do. They have to clean up and haul away the fishburger stand. They have to dismantle the stage and ticket-selling tents and tables. They have to organize the over 100 raffle prizes for distribution. They have to take down the kiddie rides. And they have to deal with News-Herald staff bugging them for results of all the various contests that took place over the weekend.

It takes several days to get everything cleaned up and put away. And then the planning starts all over again for the next Fisherman’s Picnic.

Why do they do it all? I think it is because the Lions are doing a lot more than throwing a great party. Although the Fisherman’s Picnic itself is a great benefit to the community, bringing hundreds of visitors to Cook County year after year, the organization does a great deal more.

The Lions serve our community in myriad ways— giving to youth through scholarships to local graduates, supporting school activities like Knowledge Bowl and Robotics, and contributing to improvements of the baseball field. They support the community’s health through support of vision screenings and the donation of glucometers to our clinic. They’ve contributed to projects for the elderly, like the walkway between Sawtooth Ridges Senior Apartments and the hospital. And they’ve worked to preserve our community’s history with donations to projects like the restoration of the Bally Blacksmith Shop.

We are all winners just having a strong Lions Club group in our community.

So, as the Superior Lumber & Sports ad declared last week, “Hey! If you see a Lion or Lioness in the street, thank them!”

Better yet, join them!

**************

Keep doing good deeds long enough, and you’ll probably turn out a good man in spite of yourself.

Louis Auchinclos


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