I used to think 25 years was a really long time. Now, it seems like but the blink of an eye.
On Jan. 10, I marked my 25th anniversary as a permanent employee of The Country Today. It’s a milestone that I marked, quite fittingly, by covering the Western Wisconsin Agricultural Lenders Conference in Wisconsin in Menomonie and interviewing a local woman about her volunteerism with snowmobile trails.
The variety of this day was representative of my job as a whole; no two days are alike, and it’s never been boring.
In a drawer of my desk, I keep a handwritten log of each byline story I have had in the paper. I try to remember to update it each week, and one day if I get time, I might even convert it to digital form.
With dozens of pages secured together with rubber-bands, this basic log goes back to the summer of 1993 when I worked as the newspaper’s summer intern. I was just 21 years old and a few credits shy of graduating from UW-River Falls with a degree in broad area agriculture.
I can count on one hand how many weeks my byline has not appeared in the paper since January 1994.
Some of my very first assignments as a summer intern were to interview hardworking dairy farm families as they prepared to host thousands of breakfast guests. I also spent my fair share of time roaming county fairgrounds in search of exhibitor stories and results. One of my first interviews was with two gentlemen in Boyd about antique farm equipment.
Along with the usual assortment of meeting stories on crop pests, livestock marketing, dairy policy and everything in between, I’ve met some really unforgettable people along the way, including the late Arlen Strate, a Roberts dairy farmer who was battling cancer as he dealt with his wife’s progressing dementia.
Despite what surely was a very trying time, he was eager to share his story with The Country Today readers through me. I felt really honored.
I was inspired by the men who climbed out of their combines long enough to tell me about their good friend, John Leaman, who had passed away suddenly, leaving a corn crop in the fields near Ridgeland. These guys, some with crops of their own to bring in, didn’t think twice about dropping everything to harvest John’s corn for his widow.
I’ve done a few things I never thought I would do, including scaling a towering grain complex in Superior for a story about the grain inspection service and riding in the engine of a Union Pacific train for a story about rail crossing safety.
Thank you to everyone who has so warmly welcomed me into their homes and onto their farms, patiently answering my questions, some that, I’m sure, were kind of dumb.
Paging through my past Writer’s Notebook columns tells the story of my adult life, with everything from my wedding and the birth of my children to my parents selling their dairy herd and us shipping our son off to college last fall.
Many of my columns have focused on my husband, Dave, who has always been a good sport about my public exposure of everything from his infatuation with orange tractors to his farm cap collection.
Our forays into farming also have regularly made it into newsprint, from a “heifer rodeo” in 2004 to learning how to raise Berkshire hogs in 2015.
The Country Today has given me opportunities I likely would not otherwise have had, including tagging along with the Wisconsin Farm Bureau to Washington, D.C.; participating in the two-year Leadership Wisconsin experience, which took me on an unforgettable adventure in Nicaragua and Costa Rica; and hosting a fabulous two-week agriculture-themed trip to Alaska in 2017.
To be perfectly honest, when I started working at The Country Today full time in 1994, I didn’t think I’d still be in the newspaper business in 2019. I wasn’t sure then that it was the perfect fit for me.
But the job, and our product, grew on me, becoming part of my identity. The Country Today was easy to fall in love with, and I couldn’t have asked for better co-workers through the years. They’re passionate about rural life.
Looking back, I find it difficult to imagine a writing career anywhere but in agriculture, an industry for which I have a deep love and respect. The people simply can’t be beat.
One might think that, after a quarter-century of stories — an average of four per week — I would be out of story ideas. The still-growing piles in my home office would indicate otherwise. I couldn’t get to them all in a lifetime.
It’s been an honor to serve as eyes and ears for Wisconsin farmers and other rural residents these past 25 years. It’s true, time sure flies when you’re having fun.