Live life in such a way that, when you pass away, journalists will have a hard time writing a concise lede about you.
It's a pretty poignant quote to have spilled out from between my ears while staring at a blank text file earlier this week. But it's only on paper now because of two local icons whom our community — and the world, I suppose — recently lost. The marquis outside Arnolds Park Amusement Park tipped off our staff last week that Paul Hedberg had passed away, and before the weekend came we received the obituary information for June Goldman.
Writing memorial pieces is one of the responsibilities I was looking forward to the least as editor, but it's likely one of the most important.
You see, I didn't know either Paul or June personally. Our paths never crossed to the best of my knowledge, yet after gathering notes and interviews for them both, I can't honestly say there were no connections to be found. I didn't expect to find too much familiar territory as I skimmed through the archives, but of course I learned that Paul once worked at KRIB in Mason City — once the most staple AM station of the Boyes household for much of the 90s and early 2000s. I learned June was born in Kobe, Japan — about as far from my brother's current home as mine is from Ames.
And the more I learned, the more I felt connected. The more I read, the more I realized their past influence on the community. But when it came time to write, suddenly I found it was more difficult than I expected to get their stories off the ground.
We have a number of phrases written on the whiteboard in our newsroom, among them the helpful reminder, "The easiest thing for a reader to do is to stop reading" and below it is an early editorial quote from the Spirit Lake Beacon, "Brevity is the soul of wit." They're both reminders for us writers that if we don't get to the point quickly, we'll likely lose our audience — which will defeat the entire purpose of having written the piece. So we almost always keep the first paragraph short. It's the elevator speech of journalism. We've got maybe three sentences to sum it up or folks won't stick around for the details.
When it came to Paul and June, I could hardly do that.
It's difficult to write a good lede in the first place, but the real issue for me this week was trying to explain in a few words what those two individuals did for this community. The nexus of their careers and their contributions could have been spun into a couple full-on paragraphs.
They had done so much and affected so many.
Eventually, I made it past that literary bottleneck, but not before my dilemma developed into the somewhat pithy proverb above. As much frustration as it might have caused for me as a wordsmith, the fact that their community service over the years could hardly be contained to just one paragraph spoke volumes about how they chose to use their time and energy year after year. Of course, such examples cause one to ask what the world would be like if we all did as they did.
Which leads me back to the duty and responsibility of the editor's chair. The local newspaper's purpose is not a single thing. It's not just to expose the undesirable in the community. It's also to promote and display the imitable and add momentum to the good which happens locally. Though I never spoke with either of them, it would seem Paul and June were worth imitating in many ways.
As one source told me, June would be quite pleased to see a young person take up the mantle and champion one of her many causes — and I'm sure some have done so in both big and small ways. So while I'm glad this paper can serve its purpose in memorializing the accomplishments of these two community pillars, my hope is that it does not end there. Instead, I hope the telling of their stories and their passings inspires the community to do more for one another, to serve rather than be served and to do so for the betterment of our neighbors, rather than for praise from them.
It is my hope that our community packs so much of that kind of living into our years that people in my line of work won't come close to telling our tales in just a few short sentences.