Memory brushed our same years; a tribute to the life of Don Gackle

Greetings and condolences,

Ardie, Mike and Jill, Cindy and Randy, and family:

“Old friends, memory brushes the same years, Silently sharing the same fears…”—Simon and Garfunkel

I met Don Gackle 38 years ago this month because of a simple act of his kindness.

Two young Minnesota newspaper people, Nancy and I, were in Toronto for our first National Newspaper Association (NNA) convention. We were new parents and had left our first-born back in Minnesota with relatives. Entering a large banquet room, we saw no familiar face. Don and his North Dakota colleague John Andrist, spying this forlorn pair, walked over and offered us two open chairs at their table.

And we’ve been the best of friends (in ways far beyond newspaper connections) for almost four decades.

I’ve related that wonderful encounter on many past occasions. And I’ve been recalling it often since learning of Don’s heart failure and death Sunday at age 83 in a Bismarck hospital.

Donald C. Gackle, 1929-2012

Don was the consummate weekly newspaper editor and publisher. He was committed to his community of Garrison, N.D., for nearly a half century; he shared a similar commitment with his friends and family. He created an award-winning newspaper while building an impressive chain of weeklies. And he served his newspaper profession in ways ranging from his presidency of the North Dakota Newspaper Association to being one of the founding directors of its education foundation.

That dual commitment—to journalism and to Garrison—led to his induction in the state’s Newspaper Hall of Fame and to his community’s Citizen of the Year award.

Over four decades, we met often (at NNA; in Monticello, Minn., at Perkins as he drove to the Twin Cities; at other destinations in Minnesota and North Dakota, and recently, in Portland). Of late, our communication was by e-mail or cellphone.

Indeed, as the famous duo crooned, our memory “brushe(d) the same years.” We conversed candidly about publishing weeklies; raising families; parent-child, small-business succession; living purposeful lives; the inestimable value of friendship. How I now treasure our periodic sessions.

Don Gackle fully knew his final day was coming; with his heart condition, he lived with the reality that dying was imminent. He suffered a serious setback in California earlier this year, and then rallied after convalescence back in North Dakota, gaining enough strength to return home and return to writing his weekly column in the Independent.

In April, he poignantly wrote about his health, sharing with his readers in his “Here and There” column titled “Back for now but don’t know how long”:

“It’s been a growing experience, this latest bout with a ticker that’s been a concern for 40-45 years. And while the future is understandably unknown, the yo-yo, up-and-down health condition is sharply improved.”

He would live another three months, in his home, where an 83rd birthday would be celebrated.

“The past weeks, while not pleasant, have been rewarding. And I would hope I learned (and will retain) some knowledge from it. While a little difficult to accept, I have learned about my body’s limitations. And I’ve learned that I have to accept some loss of independence and hold on to family members and good friends for help (valuing them more highly and accepting their advice and help)…

“I have been overwhelmed by many of the cards, e-mail messages and telephone calls from friends. When I heard what some of them said and read what others had written, I was wondering if I really was the intended recipient. Some even brought tears to the eyes of a guy who was taught that ‘big boys never cry.’ Guess old men do.” 

That was the Don Gackle I knew: perceptive and open; celebrating his family and friends; proud yet humble. In his second to last column two weeks ago, he characteristically observed: “My name and face have been splattered about in this newspaper for a long, long time (too long?). Hate to think I’ve been too self-centered; that’s not a good trait.”

To repeat, I was fortunate to be among the legion that Don called a “friend,” one that had “silently shared the same fears.”

Though we were simpatico on so much of life and weekly newspapering, we disagreed—strongly but civilly—about politics. Don was to right of center, me to the left. Our discourse (mostly by e-mail over the last decade) forced us to hone our positions…and often we moved a bit off what would have been hard-line stances.

All would agree: Those extra three months Don had after his hospitalization in Garrison was a gift well used. He was vital, in print, right to the end, sharing his opinions on events of the day: the North Dakota referendum on property taxes, the Native American nickname controversy, his state’s oil boom, and what he saw as the sad decline of a faltering country he loved so well. 

He led a long and most purposeful life, superbly exemplifying what the Psalmist wrote: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

I’m far from alone in my praise of our departed Don:

Wrote Crosby, N.D., weekly publisher John Andrist: “Don was the best friend I ever had…There is nothing we would not do for one another. We were true brothers, probably closer than if we had been brothers by blood. God has no earthly gifts better than the love we shared.”

Observed Roger Bailey, manager of the state newspaper association: “I’ve described Don Gackle as ‘a rock’–one of the most important persons ever in our industry in North Dakota.”

My own memories are many–golfing at Disney’s Magic Kingdom (a course neither of us should have tackled); leading NNA members in his beloved “Whiffenpoof Song” on a bus in Houston; jumping into a cab, also in Houston, only to be told by the cabbie that you could see the restaurant out the window; singing songs with our kids and a visiting Irish child around the piano in his Garrison home.

Had Nancy and I been in Garrison for the Don Gackle memorial tomorrow, we would have told you of our fondness and respect for Don. Had I still been publishing the weekly Monticello Times, I’m quite sure a Don’s Column would have been composed.

And maybe that is precisely what this is: my tribute in words to the life Don Gackle. 

–Donald Q. Smith, 7/6/12


Costa Rica Rotary trip—second installment

Rotary Suri school projects

bring international reinforcement     

   by Donald Q. Smith 

If teen-age girls from a barrio of suburban San Jose, Costa Rica, earn a high school diploma, they are likely to have a better life.

And if their mothers learn cooking skills, their lives, too, will be changed.

Those have been the goals of two successful projects—both with Rotary Foundation funding—that have resulted from the combined effort of the Portland Pearl and Belen Rotary Clubs.

  Belen Rotary Past Presiden Victor Mata Chacon stands where a teacher might instruct women at the Suri School’s culinary kitchen, funded by Rotarians.

The teaching kitchen came first. Four years ago, a $54,000 project equipped a culinary room at the Suri School, just outside Costa Rica’s capital. The vocational training for women offers an opportunity to learn a skill that could lead to work in the restaurants or hotels of San Jose or as paid domestic help. 

“The culinary kitchen gives them an opportunity for better jobs,” said Maria Eugenia Mondragon (“Maru”), past president of the Belen Club. 

Her husband, Victor Mata Chacon (also a past president who will return to the Belen helm this July), said the quality of the installation, and the quantity of equipment, bring praise from outside food experts:

“Renowned chefs have come in to teach classes here. They say they don’t have anything like this in their kitchens. They should be very proud of it.”

On a visit to Costa Rica in March, my wife, Nancy, and I toured the school. We were joined by Belen Rotarians for a delicious chicken lasagna lunch prepared by women who study in “our” kitchen. On the wall near the entrance door is a plaque commemorating Rotarians’ contribution.

   Two vocational students at the Suri School provided lunch for Rotarians from Portland and the nearby Belen club; the clock on the wall in the teaching kitchen was a gift from Portland Pearl Past President Phil Rothrock.

   As you enter the teaching kitchen, a plaque salutes Rotarians’ contributions (from both the USA and Costa Rica) and the grant from the Rotary Foundation.

Club members in the two countries, linked first at a project fair that Central America Rotarians host to seek support, forged a friendship that led to a second effort: a computer lab for the 130 female students (ages 13-18) with a total Rotary investment of $18,500.

Nineteen workstations and two printers will be linked when the room opens this summer. Computers and related equipment have arrived and await installation after the ordered desks reach Suri.

   Computers and printers await desks (on order) for a new lab at Suri School. Supervising the joint Pearl-Belen project and matching grant has been Maria Eugenia Mondragon (“Maru”), past president of the Belen Rotary Club in suburban San Jose.

   On a tour of Suri School, Don and Nancy Smith (back row, center) met Belen Rotarians and visited the soon-to-open computer lab.

The visiting Smiths followed the Suri school visit by attending an evening meeting of the Belen club, hosted by Maru and Victor. I am the sixth Rotarian from PPRC to visit. In Spanish, I saluted our international projects, thanked Belen Rotarians for their friendship and hospitality, and invited them to visit Portland and be hosted by Pearl Rotarians. 

(During our visit, Belen Rotarians were also told that Pearl Rotary may again join hands with the Costa Ricans: PPRC has committed $500 to the East Portland/Belen matching grant application to equip an emergency room at a clinic near Belen. That application is now before the Rotary Foundation in Evanston, Ill.) 

Long after our return to Oregon (our stay in San Jose also included visits with two youth exchange students to my former club in Minnesota), I reflected. My international experiences with Rotary Clubs in the past have come through making up meetings or expanding connections through youth exchange. On trips, I have observed Rotarians’ service projects from Northern Ireland to South Africa.

   Suri has both a high school component for 130 teen-age girls and a vocational component for women. Rotary projects to install computers and the culinary kitchen address both age groups.

But this was a first–actually witnessing first-hand the results of matching grants initiated by my own Rotary Cub (in this case, Portland Pearl). After acquaintanceship with Belen Rotarians, Pearl Rotarians committed both money from its non-profit Pearl Fund and time to recruit dollars from District 5100 clubs. Today teen-age girls and women, through education at the kitchen and computer room, have opportunities that might not have existed without Rotary.

They come to Suri School from a community where unemployment, poverty, crime, drugs, teen-age pregnancy and single parenting could dictate their lives.

But today, mothers will find jobs…and some girls will go to university.

It happened, in the words of the 2011-12 Rotary International theme, because Rotarians “Reach Within to Embrace Humanity.”

  (Donald Q. Smith is the former editor and publisher of the Monticello, Minn., Times; he lives in Portland, Oregon, where he is a freelance journalist and member of the Portland Pearl Rotary Club. He’s a past president of both the Pearl and Monticello Rotary Clubs.) 

(March 2012)

Two Costa Rican y.e. students look back at their year in the USA through Rotary

From JFK assassination and Beatles,

to Monticello high school and snow–

a year in the life of a 1960s’ exchange student

   by Donald Q. Smith

Ice-fishing on a frozen Minnesota lake, Monticello high school basketball games, his first snowfall, the assassination of an American president, the British music invasion—all are indelible memories for Costa Rican Carlos Dormond.

Dormond, today 66 and a semi-retired accountant in San Jose, spent 1963-64 on the American Field Service (AFS) program, then sponsored by the Monticello Rotary Club. Raised in the small town of Turrialba, 50 miles east of San Jose, he arrived in Minnesota speaking only a minimal amount of English. He was tall and thin, and by his own admission, “I was very introverted.”

Taking the risk of youth exchange was a challenging adventure, Dormond admits, for a teen-ager from a large family (he was one of 13 children) who had not previously left Costa Rica and had been educated in a small, rural school. “At that time, I had hardly gone out of my hometown and never out of the country,” he recalled.

   Carlos Dormond was age 18 in 1963 when he arrived in Monticello for his year on youth exchange.

His Monticello host family, Gen and Leo Baker and their son, Tom (of similar age to Carlos), was the godsend he needed for his introduction to a new language, foreign customs and the USA education system.

"I loved my family very much, they were so kind to me," Dormond told Nancy and me March 12 during our five-hour visit to his home in suburban Heredia (20 minutes north of the Costa Rican capital). He learned new words over breakfast and dinner; he often visited the Bakers’ family members, including a farm in rural Monticello. He loved American food ("Mother Baker every Sunday made the most delicious chicken dinners."). By the holidays, four months into his exchange, he had not only learned English: He had also gained thirty pounds.

His host brother, Tom Baker, remembered:

"Carlos was rather thin when he came to Minnesota but gained pounds on my mother’s cooking and returned to Costa Rica a bit heavier than when he arrived.  My mother was full Irish and grew up on a farm in western Minnesota. My dad was part German and part Slovak so we were a meat-and-potatoes kind of family. Carlos loved the homemade bread and pies that mom made, and often remarked how delicious everything tasted. He especially liked how we would put gravy on everything including the bread. 

And Dormond concurred: “I sent pictures home to my family and they did not recognize me!”

Today, nearly a half-century later, Dormond has instant recall of countless people and places. He stayed overnight on Mille Lacs Lake in the winter and caught walleyes. He was a devoted fan of Monticello High School basketball games, following his American brother Tom’s involvement. The first time he saw snow falling, he ran outside his East Broadway home: “I had to taste it,” Dormond remembered, using his fingers to depict grabbing a snowflake and putting it in his mouth. “I had to feel it.”

   Holding clippings from his ‘63-64 exchange year in Minnesota, Carlos Dormond recently reminisced with Nancy Smith at his home near San Jose, Costa Rica.

He would on a return visit try downhill skiing with some success (“It was thrilling, the wind in your face!”); during his exchange year, however, ice-skating was far too difficult.

Like about 500 students in Monticello (Grade 7-12) classrooms, Dormond heard the news of Kennedy’s death in Dallas from an intercom announcement by Principal David Reaney. It was particularly touching because the youthful president had visited Costa Rica earlier that year (a photo at the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica in San Jose of that historic trip was observed by us during our two weeks of travels). 

Conversely, there were happier occasions in the national news: Dormond was in the USA during the initial arrival of British music. The Ed Sullivan Show on TV—where the Beatles were first showcased—was regularly watched in the Bakers’ home. “Dancing was very different from Costa Rica,” Dormond said of the rock ‘n’ roll styles heightened by the British groups.

But he was growing in confidence, even asking a fellow Costa Rican girl on AFS, Ruth Ulate, as his date for the Monticello High School prom. Among his many photos from that year so long ago is an 8x10 black and white of Carlos and his date in the decorated gym, looking at each other in awe, their eyes saying, “Can we really be here?” 

Faces and names of his fellow students have stayed with Dormond for almost a half century. Four months ago when I found his e-mail address through Tom Baker, he instantly recalled both of us (of Nancy, he said, “She was a cheerleader”). Though he would graduate with the Class of 1964, he was assigned American history with sophomores in our class. When paging through his prized high school yearbook (then called the Tom-Tom), he showed a picture of himself and U.S. history/Spanish teacher Arlen Solie. “He was very good to me, explaining things in my language,” Dormond said appreciatively.

In May 1964, Dormond both had an American birthday celebration (his 19th) and obtained a high school diploma.

His recall of people who were friendly, kind and helpful resurrected many names—Keith Yeager, Jack Leeman, cousins Colleen and Cynthia Gillham, Mary Lynne Gleaton, Tom Jahnke, Bill Kiebel. Four sophomores that he knew well (Dan Carlson, David Senness, Kacey Kjellberg and me) had fathers in his sponsoring Rotary Club—Roy Carlson, Whitey Senness, Marty Kjellberg, Lynn Smith. He remembered, too, Rotarians George Phillips (president that year), Dale Lungwitz, and with special fondness, Arve Grimsmo, who served as a counselor to Carlos. Among his newspaper clippings is a short Ramblings’ column item from the Times, written by my father, after he accompanied the Bakers and Grimsmo to Minneapolis for Dormond’s Minnesota arrival. 

  1973 visit to Monticello brought Carlos Dormond to the Times for an interview.

About a dozen such entries in the pages of the Times have been mounted for preservation and were shared with us during a barbecue at the home of Carlos and his wife of 32 years, Ileana, a teacher of English. Included are articles written by my father and me, both Times’ editors (mine in the ’70s on his two visits back to Monticello).

Perhaps the most interesting is an unplanned occurrence at the conclusion of Dormond’s youth exchange year: As he traveled by bus on an East Coast tour with his fellow AFS students, he suffered an appendicitis attack and was hospitalized in Mt. Gilead, Ohio. He recovered, did visit New York City (and the 1964 World’s Fair) and Washington, D.C., reconnecting on the bus trip to Florida (before flying home from Miami). 

"I missed Niagara Falls, but I did make some good friends in Ohio!"

That Carlos would make an impact everywhere he went in America (including the Ohio hospital) would not surprise his host “brother,” Tom Baker:

Carlos was always the gentleman and all the girls in high school adored him. He had such a natural charm about him that everyone loved. He was also very polite and I can honestly say I never saw him ever get angry. I could not have asked for a better brother than Carlos and will always treasure his friendship.” 

That year so long ago was life-enriching. He became incredibly close to the Bakers (“I had the very best family”); his American parents, now deceased, once spent a month with Dormond in Costa Rica in 1974. When he speaks of his them, the tone is almost reverential. Dormond remembered their visit:

"When the Bakers were asked how they liked our Costa Rica weather, Mother Baker’s answer was: ‘I think it is beautiful to have spring time all year around. But we could not live in a place that does not have the four seasons. We are always waiting for change and that keeps us alive.’ "

   High school classmates during the Sixties in Minnesota were reunited in Costa Rica—Carlos Dormond, seated, and Don Smith.

Dormond communicates with his host brother and had had hopes of attending the weddings of Tom’s daughters. He longs for a reunion with Tom and his family—either in Minnesota or preferably in Costa Rica.

His memories are overwhelmingly positive. One exception: a particularly mean-spirited fellow MHS senior who during Carlos’s early months would gesture Dormond with his limited language to approach teen-age girls with either foul language or sexually suggestive phrases. He has never forgotten those acts of unkindness.

Oh, yes, he would never again weigh under 150 pounds!  ”As I am tall, I could afford the weight I gained as I was too skinny before I went to Minnesota.”

And the year was clearly life-changing. In ten months in the USA, he mastered English; that still is invaluable in serving many American clients from the home office of his solo accounting practice. Disappearing, too, was the shyness of his youth. “I learned how to meet new people,” he asserted about a key benefit of the youth exchange experience.

Those five hours together on his turf provided a genuinely heart-warming, international experience for both Nancy (48 years had passed since she knew Carlos) and me (we last connected in Monticello during a Times’ interviews on two return visits–1973, 1978). Plus, we sampled foods ranging from chorizo to steak to cheeses to chips, dips and guacamole at the Dormonds’ hillside home, the lights of the Central Valley sparkling in the distance. Plantains (a banana-like local fruit) and fresh sugar cane (from their hillside garden) provided post-meal sweets.

   Carlos Dormond mastered English during his youth exchange year; his wife, Ileana, teaches English near San Jose, Costa Rica.

The walk down memory lane was traversed by each of us, occurring because 1) this Costa Rican teen-age took a risk; 2) an American family welcomed him; and 3) AFS and Monticello Rotary partnered to host. 

The adage about international experiences bears repeating: When a boy or girl from another country goes on youth exchange, more than one life is changed.


40 Years later, another Costa Rican

came to Monticello through Rotary

The year was 2003–four decades after Carlos Dormond began his year in Minnesota. This time the Costa Rican meeting Monticello host families and Rotarians was Pamela Vargas Leon, a seventeen-year-old sponsored by the Nicoya Rotary Club.

Pamela, too, attended Monticello High School and traveled the following summer to the East Coast with fellow Rotary exchangers who had come to Minnesota. Her hosts parents were Sue and Duane Schmidt, JoAnn and Dale Chamberlin, and Carol and John Roden. President of Monticello Rotary during her year was Pat Sawatzke.

  Pamela Vargas Leon, hosted by the Monticello, Minn., Rotary Club on youth exchange in 2003-04, is today a medical doctor near San Jose, Costa Rica.

When returning home, she pursued a medical degree, and after completion of university studies and a year of practicum, she’s now a full-time general practitioner. Today 26, she works at a clinic in suburban San Jose. She is engaged to be married to a restaurateur in the same area.

Nancy and I were reunited with Pamela at the March 13 meeting of the Belen Rotary Club that we were attending. In Spanish, she credited the Rotary exchange experience in ways Carlos had summarized: building self-confidence, the travel opportunity, learning English, and living in the USA, in homes, for a year. Each is important to her professional life today.

Unlike 1963-64 when Carlos Dormond was the only international student at MHS (and just the second ever to Monticello after Ivan Bermudez, Ecuador, the previous year), Pamela was among about a dozen at Monticello High School through a variety of student programs. Two were hosted by Monticello Rotary that year. 

Monticello Rotarians may also remember that “Pame” (as she was known then) raised money by drawing their portraits. She remembered: “I earned enough money to pay for the year-end trip!”


    (Donald Q. Smith retired from 34 years of weekly newspaper editing in Minnesota with the sale of the Monticello Times in 2005. He lives in Portland, Oregon, where he is retired and occasionally dabbles in freelance journalism. He is past president of both the Monticello, Minn., and Portland Pearl Rotary Clubs.)

And now you are 1; a letter to Grandson Miles

Dear Miles:

Has any one-year-old tackled a birthday cake with the determination you did?

Your grandfather thinks not. Your father and mother, Brendan and Mysti, and brother Maxwell were in stitches, laughing as the frosting of an entire cake went in every direction, including your face. Grandma and I, Aunt Andrea and Cousins Mira and Xavier, all in San Jose for the Feb. 10th event, also witnessed the memorable moment.

And you?

You grinned from frosted ear to frosted ear.

We should not have been surprised: “Miles Smiles” is a nickname you have deservedly earned during your first year of life.

As we celebrated all weekend at your Morrison Avenue home, I thought back to your first year of life. There are indelible images of the day you were born–of your Mom and Dad and Max welcoming you to the world, in a hospital room at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University in Palo Alto. Grandma and I got to hold you on the day you were born, a first for us among our four grandchildren. Most precious of all was your brother Max, in bed with your Mom, both of them holding you. Max was in awe as he examined this small human being, now integral to his life, too.

Such snapshots will fill the memory books forever. I took a heartwarming picture in your home of Max feeding you a bottle; your Mom, a year later, has one of the two happy brothers en route to the park–Max on a scooter, you in a stroller. 

That bubbly face of yours camouflages the challenge of your first year. In short, Miles, you have trouble eating. Food and bottles are not always fun times for you (or your Mom and Dad). You can put up a battle. Medical specialists have been consulted (you do frequent doctors’ offices). Tricks and diversions are implemented to get you to eat and drink. The good news is that you’re becoming a better eater–Grandma even had some successful feedings during the first birthday weekend. And you have finally arrived–on the growth charts.

Your first year has been eventful despite the medical concerns. A month after you were born, you were part of Max’s 4th birthday celebration (highlighted by Spiderman making a guest appearance); you’ve been to Hawaii; you were “on stage” for Aunt Megan’s wedding in Portland in August; your Minnesota grandparents (the Bentleys) spent Christmas week with you.

And you were one happy boy during the days surrounding your first birthday. Events included a visit on your birthday to Happy Hollow zoo and amusement park (you especially loved petting a miniature horse and riding the carousel). The cake event came later and was followed by a bath from Grandma Smith in the kitchen sink. On Saturday, you joined your brother and cousins for a visit to Uncle Colin (and Rupy) in Oakland; you loved crawling on the plush carpet in Colin’s apartment. Sunday found us in San Mateo to visit the Curry Up Now restaurant recently opened by Akash and Rana Kapoor (Akash was once a Rotary youth exchange student in our home in Monticello and is like a “son” to us and a “brother” to your Dad); their three daughters simply adored you.

We all adore you, to be sure. Mira, age seven, was often by your side during the 72 hours she was in California. She so reminds us of Megan and her attraction to babies. Xavier (nearing four) loved to hold you this weekend. This grandfather treasures the times when you and Max share a moment–like when he helped open your gifts and showed you a new book. And no one was giggling more than your brother during the birthday cake caper.

Yes, now you are one, Miles. Your life has just begun. What you will experience in your life will be far different than what I knew, being raised in Minnesota in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Technological advancements continue to impact American life in every way. In fact, the formative years your Dad and Mom would have known in the ‘70s and ‘80s seem quite different from the age you are experiencing. Music, games, television, toys–all have been revolutionized.

Yet there are constants, too. 

You are surrounded by family that loves you. We care deeply about your future. We will support you as you grow, go to school, make new friends, find a career.

And may you always bring the one characteristic we identify with Miles Jack Smith-Bentley:

Miles, keep smiling.

–Love, Grandpa 

February 2012 

Below, pics from Miles’s first year/birthday weekend

A sports column…of sorts
Headline—front page of Oregonian today: "Extreme makeover for Blazers"

Blazers have been in free fall for weeks (perhaps “biggest NBA disappointment” this year, “O” reporter assesses).
1) Camby (starting center) and Wallace* (forward/guard) traded, just before deadline; reports say they had turned on McMillan.
2) McMillan, during eighth year, fired. He had taken this team from the cellar to three straight playoff appearances (but he had “lost” this group, widely reported here). Or, I assess, “Sarge” was no longer in charge.
3) They finally cut the umbilical cord of five years (and just 82 NBA games played) with Oden, the first pick in the ‘07 draft. What an error…especially in comparison to the Thunders’ Durant—who Portland passed on.
4) The Blazers kept both Felton—a bust beyond measure who no one wanted yesterday and an apparent undermining force on McMillan, and Crawford, highly vaunted, but major disappointment in Rip City.
So much turmoil and uncertainty here, that the “O” this a.m. (neither online or in print) doesn’t have a starting line-up for the game tonight in Chicago. Former Monticelloan Joel Przybilla could start Friday night against the best team in the NBA, the Bulls! Or it may be the aged Kurt Thomas? (Or maybe one of the traded players in Blazer uniform?)
If you want more, go to:
Here is link to the front-page story today:
Nowhere in all of this does Joel’s name appear but I have to wonder if he’s the uindentified player in a major piece by John Canzano, the oft-controversial but accurate and reliable columnist.
This may be far more than you ever wished to know about the Blazers, but here’s the Canzano link:
*How is this for irony (or bizarre-ness…or typical Blazer front-office screw-ups): 
Blazers traded Przybilla just minutes before the trade deadline a year ago—to get Wallace. In the latter’s play, at times, it looked like a wise move. The former Bobcat displayed flashes of solid and sometimes spectacular play…while Joel had minimal appearances in Charlotte last season and then went into a pre-retirement mode in suburban Milwaukee. Now we are learning that Wallace was a major part of the Blazers’ fall—and was jettisoned on Black Thursday. And Joel is back in a red Trailblazers’ uniform…and is about to see far more playing time than he has over the last two weeks. 
   So “That’s why they play the games!” Blazers—after 40-point blowout loss in NY two days earlier—fire coach, ship out two starters, name a 34-year-old coach to lead the team…and promptly go out and hustle, play defense, shoot well and beat the best team in the NBA in ChiTown. Few would have expected that…except, perhaps, the rejuvenated players and their coach.
Scant base, no snow, few moguls …yet, another memorable trip (Ski Dogs ‘12)

   As spectacular a skiing scene as any in the world: Minnesota Ski Dog Alejandro Sanchez makes his way down the California side of Heavenly Valley at South Lake Tahoe.

     by Donald Q. Smith

The snow conditions were dire: No significant snow had fallen at Lake Tahoe for a month. The predictions of sun and warmth during our stay promised little improvement on the ski runs.

Yet, the man-made snow base on the intermediate runs of Heavenly Valley, Kirkwood and Northstar was most acceptable. And we had the right mix–veteran downhillers and some newcomers–of the Minnesota Ski Dogs International. We were determined to ski, have fun and create new memories for the Dogs’ 30-plus-year history.

Twelve in the ’12 pound opened on Super Bowl Sunday at Heavenly. Typical of our group, we set a lunch spot (Tamarack Lodge at the top of the gondola) and split into two groups. The experts headed for diamond runs (a bit elusive due to the scant snowfalls)…while the rest skied the blue, intermediate trails.

It was a warm, sunny morning. For the non-experts, the trails were groomed. The lake shimmered below Heavenly’s sparkling blue panorama, providing as spectacular a setting as any in the skiing world. At times at Heavenly, it feels like you’re descending from snow to open water.

There may have been disappointment in our top skiers since only a few expert runs were open (snow is not typically made on the steeps and in the woods). 

But for the cruisers (including me), it was more than acceptable. It was fast and furious and fun. We alternately skied off the Canyon, Sky and Dipper Express lefts, on runs that had the Dogs howling–Ridge Run, Orion, Big Dipper.

In fact, the day held so much tolerable to very good skiing that few stopped for the Super Bowl kickoff (though most had gathered at our accommodations at the Horizon Casino by the time the fourth quarter had started). Of course, had the Packers returned to the big dance as in ’11, or had the Vikings made their first appearance since the ‘70s, interest would have been considerably greater.

Besides, skiing was just fine. There were no lift lines. Tahoe areas are hurting economically since the California crowd is staying home due to what’s seen by Californians living four to six hours away as marginal ski conditions.

Day II was at Kirkwood, a vaunted area a half hour south of the lake. It has a reputation from many skiers as their favorite Tahoe area. For many (myself included), it was their first visit.

   The dozen downhillers, properly attired in their Minnesota Ski Dogs International t-shirts, paused after a lunch break at Kirkwood: Standing (from left): Warrenn Anderson, Glenn Nemec, Jay Griggs, Fabian de la Fuente, Randy O’Donnell, Alejandro Sanchez, Matt Mahaffy, Duane Gates, Joe Miller, Dan Forbes; Kneeling: Don Smith, Ervin Lutter.


If there was a disappointment on our annual trek, it was our Kirkwood day. Though intermediate runs were groomed, much of the area wasn’t open because of limited snow cover. A first-time visitor could envision what a foot of powder would mean on the wide open, but mostly closed terrain and bowls towards the top of the mountain.

 For our more hungry hounds, the day brought its memorable moments—especially for our adventuresome coming down an aptly name chute called The Wall.

 We did have one après-ski hiccup. After stopping for some beers, we loaded up skis to head back to the casino hotel. But in grabbing skis (there actually weren’t that many outside Bub’s Pub), we grabbed a pair by mistake..and didn’t bring Fabian de la Fuente’s rentals. That led to some anxious moments the next morning.

 Lost and found at Kirkwood was notified about the wrong skis in Fabian’s possession. When the missing pair situation was reported to the rental shop, Fabian was assessed $200 on his credit card. However, he was assured it would be refunded if they are turned in (which usually happens, he learned).

 Tuesday found us returning to Heavenly. Skies, gray and overcast, seemed to promise snow. But it never came. That prompted this light-hearted, chairlift exchange:

 “It’s real nice today–very skiable terrain.”

 ”Gee,” another Dog responded, “I hope we don’t get three inches of snow and ruin it.”

 We again fanned out and even discovered some new terrain off the Stagecoach Express lift on the Nevada side (Heavenly also has trails in California).

   Northstar’s East Ridge Run, here traversed by Duane Gates, has the panorama of the north bays of Tahoe in the distance.

Blackjack and dinner preceded a Dogs’ tradition: rolling the dice. Nine of us played for three hours–with only a pause for some well-aged Hungarian wine, carried from his Budapest home by Ervin Lutter. No journey would be quite the same without the hilarity and loudness that accompany the three-die tourney.

   The moods were many following a roll of the dice by Hungarian Ervin Lutter (center), flanked by Jay Griggs and Joe Miller.

The good news for Fabian: He won the largest pot in the Dogs’ memory: $108. It paid for half of his lost ski penalty.

Wednesday would be our last day; the Dogs could choose among more than a dozen areas near the lake. We opted for Northstar, a 45-minute drive to the northern region of Lake Tahoe.

We skied there on the Dogs’ 2011 trip–on a packed day that didn’t get us on skis until 11 a.m. because of a late start and an hour wait for the gondola. Tahoe had record snows last year (ironically, that was part of our decision for a “Dogs’ Do-Over” to Tahoe).

Figure this: Snow levels this year are a fraction of what we had a year ago. Yet what was our worst experience then became the site of our best now.

That’s because there was plenty of man-made base on the main intermediate runs. Another warm, sunny day provided spring-like conditions. And Northstar was a ghost town. We walked right on the gondola and never encountered a lift line.

We set the new Zephyr Lodge (with its dramatic view of the Sierra Crest) for lunch and parted in our customary groups. Everyone had fun. It may not have been “epic” (Glenn Nemec saves that adjective for only the very best days on the slopes). But it was certainly more memorable than Northstar a year ago.

The experts found some challenges off the Backside and Martis Camp lifts. The intermediates cruised on runs like Castle Peak and a variety of blues off the East Ridge.

   The ’12 pound had four Portlanders (from left): Don Smith (aka, “Lead Dog,” “Smitty”), his son-in-law Randy O’Donnell, Dan Forbes, Matt Mahaffy. The backdrop is the Cornice Express lift at Kirkwood.

The annual excursion ended with steak dinners at a site we found in 2011, again on the night before flights home from Reno. And another tradition occurred: Possibilities for next year’s Ski Dogs’ journey were debated. Big Sky in Montana and Whistler in British Canada, both not visited in more than a decade, had considerable support. So, too, did what would be new: Telluride in Southern Colorado.

I’m thinking had we proposed another Tahoe trip, that too would have had some votes.

   (Editor’s note: Donald Q. Smith is the retired editor and publisher of the weekly newspaper, the Monticello, Minn., Times. He’s been writing ski columns for forty years, now in retirement and living in Portland, Oregon.)

   Reunion of uncle and nephew, at Heavenly Valley on opening day of the Ski Dogs’ 2012 trip to Lake Tahoe: Fabian de la Fuente and Alejandro Sanchez.


   Another Dogs’ tradition: “Wish you were here” messages to missing skiers, this year on a soiled napkin held by Warrenn Anderson (looking on: Jay Griggs).

   We are officially the Minnesota Ski Dogs International…thanks in part to the annual appearance of Hungarian Ervin Lutter (left), pictured with Lead Dog Don Smith.

2011 Portland fall raises the senses

   Northwest Oregon, and particularly our neighborhood in Northwest Portland, has had a fall for the photo-memory books. It’s nearing mid-November, and because we’ve yet to have serious rain/wind, leaves in all the colors and hues imaginable are still on the trees. While news media report on the reasons for this ocular sensation, my photographic jaunts have yielded these two gems–a canopy of red on Thurman, an unbelievably diverse clump of maples at a bus stop on West Burnside.—DQS, 11/11/11

A tribute to a priest (and Irish friend) 


   Writer’s note: A tribute open house for Father Harry Walsh will be held Saturday, Nov. 12, 2-5 p.m., at the VFW Post in Monticello, Minnesota. His parish and music ministry over the past quarter century will be celebrated. So, too, will his contributions to his community, often in volunteer roles. Though not a parishioner at St. Henry’s Catholic Church, Harry and I forged a friendship. Similar relationships were important to both Smiths and Nancy’s family, the Lyrenmanns.—Don Smith.


Though not our pastor, Fr. Harry Walsh ministered to the Smith family in many ways.


I remember so well a cogent, assuring and gentle phrase he gave to my Mom (Margaret), shortly after the decision was made to sell the East River Street residence and move her to Mississippi Shores. The stroke suffered by my Dad (Lynn) had resulted in a nursing home residency for him. Their home on the Mississippi of four decades had to be sold. It was not an easy time.


In a quiet conference room at the nursing home, Harry appropriately observed: “You had a wonderful home, Margaret; but without Lynn there, it’s become just a house.” It helped make the sale acceptable.


Harry brought his music to Dad at the nursing home, always playing one of their mutual Irish favorites, “Danny Boy.” And as recently as this past summer, Harry played with Ketzel Domke and their group at Mississippi Shores for Mom and other residents.


Harry, in his role at St. Henry’s, was dear to Nancy’s family, the Lyrenmanns. Both Buzz and Jean have departed—Harry presided at his funeral; Jean loved to tell others about her trip to Ireland with her parish priest.


Harry and I have shared a strong bond for a quarter century, mostly nurtured over breakfasts at Perkins in Monticello. Were I not 1,600 miles away in Portland, I would be with him and his friends on Nov. 12 in Monticello.


As they say in Ireland, Harry, “All the best!”


—Donald Q. Smith, 11/6/11



10/26/11, Portland, Oregon, USA
On a cold, calm and colorful morning, sunrise from behind Mt. Hood and over the city is captured, digitally, from Hilltop Condos in northwest Portland.

10/26/11, Portland, Oregon, USA

On a cold, calm and colorful morning, sunrise from behind Mt. Hood and over the city is captured, digitally, from Hilltop Condos in northwest Portland.

Reinforcing, refreshing chronicle celebrates weekly journalism

by Donald Q. Smith


Name recent topics that have made the news from the Wall Street Journal to National Public Radio, and from a California television station to an educational institute at nearby Stanford University. 


Washington’s political stand-off on raising the debt ceiling, you would no doubt cite. Or the two-day intrigue when the debate among Republican presidential candidates was followed by President Obama’s jobs creation speech to Congress. Or, internationally, the compelling news from Tripoli of the fall of Gadhafi.


How about weekly newspapers?


Yes, our profession competed for newspaper space and air time during the late summer of 2011. How? The publication of a 243-page book with the quirkiest of titles, “Emus Loose in Egnar,” prompted both coast-to-coast reviews of this hard-cover about small-town papers and interviews with its author, Judy Muller. 


Muller’s professional background certainly qualified for her mission, stated in her prologue: “Journalism is not dead. It is alive and kicking in small towns across America thanks to the editors of weekly newspapers who, for very little money and a fair amount of aggravation, keep on telling it like it is.” Like so many reporters and editors, her start was on a New Jersey weekly newspaper. Her career has brought her to the heights of broadcast journalism (ABC, CBS, PBS); she has Emmy awards and a Peabody that attest to her credibility. She’s also an educator–an associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California.


"Emus" brought Muller back to weekly journalism through a year-long quest to unearth, as the book’s subtitle proclaims, "Big Stories from Small Towns."


She tells the stories of committed editors who investigate and reveal the power of pot growers in Mendocino County, California; the evils of strip mining in rural Kentucky; racism in a small Texas town; and in the longest chapter, a protracted local and statewide fight, covered in competing newspapers, over a never-occupied Montana detention center. Her template is wide, including Alaska, Martha’s Vineyard, and the Waltner family’s Freeman, S.D., Courier (in a section on small town obituaries).


Crusaders who have successfully exposed local crime and corruption play a big part in Muller’s meanderings. She reveals community journalism’s true heroes, too–award-winners who by their weekly work  counter the false belief that the 7,500 weekly newspapers across America never investigate the bad side of their coverage areas or seldom editorialize about small towns’ darker sides. Some names, most of us know, like the Gish family in Kentucky’s Appalachia. But most cited have reputations built and recognized solely in their communities and then, presumably, shared with their colleagues in state press associations.


Two broad conclusions are offered by Muller, both in chronicling the work of editors she covers and in the commentary she adds. Colleagues in the weekly profession will stand up and cheer.


First, she clearly believes–make that champions–small-town American newspapers which are so vital to their communities and appreciated by their readers. They succeed, Muller observes, “mostly because absolutely no one else does what they do: document the births, deaths, crimes, sports, local shenanigans, and many other events that only matter  to…souls in their circulation area. Taken together, however, these “little stories” create a mosaic of American life that tells us a great deal about who we are–what moves us, angers us, amuses us.”


Secondly, though “Emus” is far from a business treatise, Muller theorizes that many, many weeklies are surviving (and some thriving) economically, thus belying the prevailing assumption that print journalism is dead. In her own words, “Emus” is not about the emphasis on profits that so dominates big-city dailies and even group ownership of weekly newspapers. Rather, most of her subjects toil at independent newspapers which have “a different kind of bottom line, one that lives in the hearts of weekly newspaper editors and reporters who keep churning out news for the corniest of reasons–the belief that our freedoms depend on it.”


"Emus Loose in Egnar" is a good read, but probably not "engaging" for most readers (as a reviewer in the Wall Street Journal opined). Weekly journalists who measure their waking hours in the city council chamber, at the high school football field and seated across from from the sheriff at the county courthouse will find considerable reinforcement.


Muller’s intended audience, however, is much wider. And perhaps she’s succeeding, given the reviews and in-person interviews in national media.


One might quibble that readers buy our papers for what Muller terms “the holy trinity of local news”–high school sports, obituaries and the police blotter. My 34 years of experience as editor of a Minnesota weekly found that the sports news is mostly read by the athletes, their coaches and too-quick-to-criticize parents. Obits, for sure, are essential ingredients to weekly news columns (and not only of prominent people, as Muller rightly observes). Crime and court news? I found Muller’s emphasis here far greater than I placed as an editor.


It was an intriguing police blotter item from a Colorado weekly that provided her creative title. A rancher was raising emus, large ostrich-like birds, unbeknown to many of his neighbors. One night his fences failed and these curious creatures began roaming. That led to several weeks of calls to the sheriff’s office, incidents duly reported in the weekly log printed in the Dove Creek Press.


Muller certainly knows the territory (remember, her career began in small-town journalism). Today she lives in both Los Angeles, her base as a journalist and educator, and Norwood, Colo., where the weekly Post reveals the “big stories” and day-to-day happenings for its readers.


"This is really hard-core and courageous journalism," she said in an interview for a LA TV station. "…These are really brave people; they stand up to powerful interests and tell the truth."


Yet, Muller fully realizes that what may be saved, and savored, by a weekly’s readers are the school honor roll, the feature story on a treasured hobby, the picture of the homecoming queen and king. Muller is certain: “As long as there are refrigerator magnets and scrapbooks, there will be weekly newspapers.”


And perhaps, in a future career move or maybe in retirement in Colorado, Muller’s byline in a weekly newspaper will again appear.




 (Donald Q. Smith retired from 34 years of weekly newspaper editing in Minnesota with the sale of the Monticello Times in 2005. He lives in Portland, Oregon, where he is retired and occasionally dabbles in freelance journalism. This review was published in the Fall 2011 Grassroots Editor, a quarterly “journal for newspeople” by the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors.)


"Emus Loose in Egnar: Big Stories from Small Towns," Judy Muller, University of Nebraska Press, 2011, $24.95