I started at the Daily Journal in March of 2018. At the time, I was working at a Caribou Coffee in St. Cloud after returning from three years teaching English in Shanghai. I’d just finished a master’s degree in public communication with a focus on journalism innovation from Syracuse University and had returned to the United States to more earnestly pursue a career in writing.
I applied to a lot of newspapers, websites and book publishers but it was Zach Stich at the Daily Journal who decided to give me a chance. I remember the very first story I wrote for Fergus Falls being about a showing of the movie “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” at A Center for the Arts. Since I was then hired to take over the Lifestyles page, it kicked off what would become nearly weekly conversations with the executive director of AC4TA, Michael Burgraff.
I looked forward to those conversations with him about what new events were coming to AC4TA, as well as the monthly meet and greets at Springboard for the Arts for their new artists in residence, the new exhibits at Kaddatz Galleries and Lake Region Arts Council (LRAC) and events at the Fergus Falls Public Library.
This year has brought about a lot of changes for many of us. For me, one of those changes will be leaving the Daily Journal.
When COVID-19 shut events down, I missed speaking to Burgraff at AC4TA and Naomi Schliesman, Dominic Facio and Michele Anderson at Springboard for the Arts. No matter what I had to report on during the week, I could reliably unwind by writing for the Lifestyles section.
I even managed to win an award for my writing — the Dave Pyle New Journalist Award from the Minnesota Newspaper Association (MNA), awarded to a journalist who has only been writing for one to two years for “high achievement and dedication to the craft of journalism,” according to MNA.
I have genuinely enjoyed my time writing for the Daily Journal. I have learned so much from the community of Fergus Falls. I remember Stich assigning me a story about accordions and giving me an address. That’s all I had to go on: an address and accordions. I showed up at the address, which was a residential address that only confused me more, and there I met Yvonne Martes and Helmi Harrington. Martes was donating one of her accordions to A World of Accordions Museum in Superior and Harrington, the founder of the museum, had come to Fergus Falls to pick it up.
It sounds like such a simple story on the surface: local resident donates accordion to Wisconsin museum. What I got, though, was a fascinating look at the founding of the museum, of how these two people came to meet each other and of what the instrument meant, personally, to each of them. It wasn’t simply about an event that took place in November of 2019 — it was about a culmination of events beginning in the ‘20s or so when Harrington’s mother began learning to play the accordion in Germany before World War II.
Those were the kinds of stories I loved the most. The ones that started out with a bare-bones premise and branched off into a wonderful new world for me. I hadn’t known anything at all about accordions before I showed up at Martes’ doorstep, and I came away with such an amazing story to tell. It happened a lot in this job, really.
Although I will be staying in the community, moving on to work for Otter Tail County, I will miss those moments where I’m staring at an address or a phone number, wondering what I’m getting myself into, what new things I might learn — about accordions, about World War II, about organs (the kind you can play and the kind inside of you; I’ve written about both), about art ... .
This chapter of my life and of the Daily Journal’s Lifestyles page may be coming to a close, but we’ll both still be here. We hope we’ll keep seeing you around.
Johanna Armstrong is the editor of the Lifestyle section.