Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | August 26, 2019

Southern comfort and pie

I have started out most of my recent blog posts with my version of a confession: Forgive me, readers, it’s been x days, weeks, months since my last post.

This one is brought to you by pie.

Regular readers of this irregular blog know pie is near and dear to my heart. It formed the foundation of my daily diet during the 2016 bike ride across America. It was the theme of a T-shirt my daughter, Jenna, made for us to wear at the end. And pie has also played a large part in my childhood memories.

shirt picMy Uncle Richard was famous for his lemon meringue pie. My mom made pies regularly (with crusts made from scratch, of course), as did my grandmother and many of my dear aunties (though my Aunt Theresa made a devilishly good German cherry cheese tort of some kind that was, I would guess, about 3,000 calories a slice. But it was damned good. Not pie, but it belongs in this paragraph).

One of my favorite pie stories from childhood had to do with pumpkin pies and our black Labrador Jet. (Mom baked three, put them on the porch to cool. Jet ate two, kind of torpedoing Thanksgiving. But that’s a Lab for you. No regard for traditions or holiday desserts.)

Which brings us to today. As I was toiling away from home (where I’m working now for the sports website The Athletic), I got a ding on my phone. It was our new neighbor, Linda. When we moved to Natchitoches a couple of weeks ago (after Melody took a job teaching at Northwestern State University here), we were lucky enough to find a beautiful furnished home in the historic section of this lovely Southern town. Everyone is super friendly. The place is charming. The food is good (and oftentimes better than that). And there’s even a brewery.

Anyway, neighbor Linda was gone for a week or so and we kept an eye on her house. We brought in the newspapers and packages, and generally watched over the place. You know, as you do for neighbors. But when my phone dinged this morning, it was Linda. “Can I stop by for a second?” she asked.

“Of course.” I’m always happy for company. I mean, when you work from home, a visit from the mail carrier is a welcome distraction. (And I’m eternally grateful for our little guy, Harry, who keeps me company, too — though he sleeps most of the day.)

I met Linda at the back door and she was carrying a pie! A blueberry pie!

Let me tell you what’s even more welcome to a person who works from home. Pie, that’s what.

“Listen, I want you to know how much I appreciate what y’all did,” she said. “This is how I show my appreciation.”

And with that, she handed me the pie (which clearly had just come out of the oven) — along with a lovely glass ornament!

pieListen, I’m never one to turn down pie (if you look at me, you’ll know that’s true). Though pie is not really totally to blame. Beer. Let’s say beer is the issue. And the endorphin rush I get from eating and drinking. Yeah, let’s go with that.

I mean, I get that some people experience that exercising high — and I do, occasionally exercise. But I mostly get my “buzz” through food and drink.

So after chatting with Linda for a few minutes, I brought the pie in, carved out a piece, poured myself a cup of coffee on this 96-degree day and went back into my work cave to do some editing (and to dash off a little blog post).

So, yes. We’re in Louisiana. We are loving it here. There’s history around every corner. Neighbors bake pies. And it snows “every couple of years.”

Pie coffee desk work

Pie and coffee go together with working from home, it turns out.

Harry likes pie too

Turns out, Harry likes a little blueberry pie, too.

Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | May 9, 2019

The journey continues

Melody pic from Keri Pickett

Thanks to photographer extraordinaire Keri Pickett for this wonderful portrait of Melody.

Today, my wife, Melody Gilbert, accepted a job as an assistant professor at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, La. For the non-Louisianans among us, we’re told it’s pronounced “NACK-uh-tish.” The university is 3-4 hours north of New Orleans and about the same distance east of Dallas. We’ll arrive in the heart of the summer heat, mid-August. But I’ll take that over Minnesota’s endless winter (it was mid-30s this morning, for crying out loud!).

When I named this blog back in 2011, Melody and I were moving to Bulgaria. After 20 years in Minnesota, we were “On the move.” It made sense. But it also has been the defining characteristic of our 33-plus years together. Shortly after we met, I moved to Florida and Melody followed me. It was the first of many moves.

Three weeks after our daughter was born, we moved to Southern California. Not even a year later, we moved to New York. Then it was Wisconsin before we landed in Minnesota in 1991. We settled here, raised Jenna and made a home. But that search for new experiences was always there, hovering, out of sight but never out of mind. Melody taught short workshops to journalists in emerging democracies like Kyrgyzstan and Romania, and we traveled elsewhere when we could.

Then in 2011, Melody landed a teaching position at American University in Bulgaria and our world expanded in ways rich and beautiful. Melody has always connected with students and the AUBG years brought so many new and interesting and wonderful young people into our lives. While I landed a teaching gig, too, Melody was the one who inspired our posse of international journalism students. She started a documentary program and launched at least a few along that path. Still others drew close, attracted to her passion for storytelling and always open heart. A truth her students in Louisiana will soon discover.

Paris pic

A Paris balcony at a time when I was still learning how to properly tie a scarf. Melody, ever gorgeous, of course, didn’t seem to mind.

If you’ve followed this blog, you know the rest of the story. We were going to stay in Bulgaria for one year. We stayed four. We visited much of Europe — Paris (above) and London, sure, but also Kosovo and Montenegro, Slovenia and Slovakia and so much more. And when it was time, we headed back to the U.S.

We tried Chicago for a bit. I rode my bike across the country with Melody sharing (and documenting) the journey. And we always knew our shared adventure would continue, we just didn’t know exactly when or how. So this is that next step.

And we couldn’t be happier. We’ll miss our Minnesota friends (but you’re all welcome, especially if you need a refuge from the worst of winter). We made this offer to friends who wanted to visit us in Bulgaria. A few took us up on it and none regretted it. So do come visit.

Natchitoches is the oldest city in Louisiana, apparently, and boasts dozens of bed and breakfasts, a lovely historic downtown district and it’s Louisiana so you know the food (and music) will be great. We’ll figure out the rest when we get there.

Website page grab

She is a storyteller and a seeker of human truths. Proud husband over here, yo.



Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | February 24, 2019

Editors are weird. Here’s some proof.

blog post photo

He carries it well. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

I’ve spent most of my career doing more editing than writing. When you are “improving” other people’s work (that’s my emphasis; reporters may disagree), you spend a lot of time examining words. You look at unintended humor in the word choices of others. You try to save your publication or the reporter in its employ from error, embarrassment or legal entanglement (libel, maliciousness and the like).

And that’s what gave me the idea last year to accumulate a broad listing of what I’m calling “aptly named characters from the news.” I spent the past year and a half as a news editor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, but I was always on the lookout for interesting names. I tried to steer clear of things that might inspire mockery, but in some cases, like the photo attached to this blog post, it was kind of the point. I mean, if Brooks Pounders happened to be a svelte hurler, it wouldn’t have made my list. And since I’m a little on the chunky side myself (I know I’m being generous, but ridicule away), I celebrate Brooks’ achievement. If I may be so bold as to paraphrase Marc Antony, I came to praise Brooks Pounders, not to bury him.

And so it is with the rest of my discoveries, who I share with you now, in no particular order but with all the affection and respect possible for those who voluntarily speak with reporters and share their stories:

— Ashley Weed. She bought a flower shop in St. Paul. It’d be better if she were opening up a marijuana growing facility, but alas, the evil weed (the plant, not Ashley) is not exactly legal in the state.
— Dawn Sommers. She works for the Minneapolis park and rec board and was quoted in a story about a local pool being closed because of high heat in, um, the summer time.
— Erika Rivers was quoted in a story about the “Opt Outside” movement. She works for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. They monitor, you know, state parks and waterways.
— Speaking of waterways, Ryan Krick (that’s how Milwaukeans and I guess those from Appalachia pronounce “creek”) is an environmental health supervisor at the state department of health. He was quoted in a story about the health of swimming in various bodies of water, including, um, creeks, I guess.
— Laura Roads is a staff attorney for the state Department of Transportation.
— Michael Lander is a real estate developer in Minneapolis.
— Randi Church is president of the Messiah Lutheran Church Council.
— Jennifer Goforth is the chief engineer of electrification at General Motors China. Go forth. Get it?
— Kyle Baker is a partner in a North Side bakery.
— Jason Sole is head of the Minneapolis NAACP.
— Seth Whitelaw, a senior fellow at the Mitchell-Hamline School of … you got it … Law.
— Joel Stich is senior director of Health Care markets at Blue Cross. (A personal aside: My childhood doctor, Dr. Harry Cutting, cut out a birthmark on my shoulder that he worried would become cancerous. He did a good job on the cutting out part, but a less-good job on the, um, stitching up.)
— Jody Mathiowetz is a 12th-grade school counselor who helps students navigate the college entry process. I don’t know if math is part of her skill set, but it ought to be.
— Best name for a Minnesota politician: Jennifer Loon, the Republican from Eden Prairie. Loon is the state bird, of course. It’s also a frequent pejorative for politicians of all stripes.
— Ted Stroll co-founded the Sustainable Trails Coalition in Colorado that is dedicated to changing rules for wilderness areas, ostensibly so there could be more nature strolling.
— Benita Warns, a St. Paul resident, who was quoted in a story sounding the alarm about too much noise from that city’s new soccer stadium.
— Greg Boerboom is a hog farmer from near Marshall, Minn. He was quoted in a story about the effects of tariffs on pork producers, so perhaps was concerned about a boar bust?
— Another story about tariffs and their impact on Minnesota’s industries, including agriculture, had a perfectly named character, considering the state’s wild rice heritage. The business owner’s name is Chris Rice, but he’s in construction, not agriculture, sadly. (That was a long walk for that one, sorry.)
— I don’t know if he’s just kidding, but how does Dr. Andrew JK Smith introduce himself to patients? “Hi, I’m Dr. Smith. JK Smith.” JK? So not Dr. Smith? Might be funnier after that first shot of Versed before the cardiologist at Park Nicollet does a procedure. (Another long walk. Sorry.)
— Beth Warmka of Minneapolis braved the chilly temps to take in the Minnesota Twins home opener.
— David Woods, from the nonprofit Urban Roots, was quoted in a story about restoring tree growth in the wake of emerald ash borer destruction.
— And a Wisconsin man did not live up to his name during a police chase that reached 100 mph (and thankfully ended without incident). His last name is Mosay.

I know seeking amusement about people’s names is probably the lowest form of humor. I don’t regret it, though. Those nights are long, the editing task often thankless. We take our rewards where we can get them.

Feel free to add your own in the comments.



Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | February 17, 2019

Old friends, new job, new adventure

As you can tell from the headline — or if you follow me on social media or are a friend or family member — you’ll know that my second stint at the Minneapolis Star Tribune will soon come to an end. My employer from 1991-2011 and again since May of 2017 has been a great source of joy, frustration (it’s a job, after all) and friendship. Those deep connections led me to a new opportunity, which I’ll tell you about in a second.

The journey to this new job started in early December when I received a text message from Chris Snow, who is the director of hockey analysis for the Calgary Flames. Chris had a job lead and he wanted to tell me about it.

A bit of back story, first. The Flames, for the uninitiated, are one of the best teams in the National Hockey League and Chris is one of the reasons why. In fact, he was called one of hockey’s “40 under 40” in a story in the web-based sports website The Athletic.

But long before Chris was a hockey analytics star, he was a sports writer for the Star Tribune. Back in August of 2003, we hired him to cover the Minnesota Wild a couple of months after he had graduated from Syracuse University. During the franchise’s first three seasons, we had veteran NHL reporter Tom Jones as the beat guy. When Tom moved back to Florida, we decided to take a chance on an impressive, engaging fella from New England who blew us away with his enthusiasm and smarts. I remember the exact moment I knew he was the right man for the job.

It was a warm afternoon (I’m thinking late May, early June perhaps) and I was reading through resumes and clips on the back porch of our home in St. Paul. All the prospective hockey writers were impressive and experienced, and many were excited about covering a team that had a passionate following in Minnesota. I don’t remember the exact words, but I remember the essence of the opening salvo of Chris’ cover letter. “I know you’re going to look at my resume and conclude I’m too young for this job. You’d be wrong.” It wasn’t exactly that, but it was short, to the point and brimming with confidence. I knew right then he would be great. I love brashness, but Chris also had the goods to back it up.

(An aside: This is the point in the story where my wife, who knows how to tell a story her own self, would urge me to get to the point. Preamble, preamble, preamble. Anyway, I just wanted to offer a bit of history before I leaped ahead 15-plus years.)

So in December, I got that text from Chris about a job. He had been talking to Craig Custance, the editor in chief for U.S. NHL coverage at The Athletic (there’s a Canadian editor in chief, too, of course). Craig had mentioned to Chris that The Athletic was looking for editors for some new jobs and Chris told him about me. And that’s when the wheels started turning.

I polished up my resume. Chris wrote a sweet recommendation letter (I mean, he works in analytics but the guy can still write!). Then Michael Russo, who replaced Chris at the Star Tribune as Wild beat reporter and then left in 2017 to become the flagship hire of The Athletic Minnesota site, wrote a letter. (This where I pause to say that I don’t think ANY paper in America can claim to have hired three better hockey writers than Tom Jones, Chris Snow and Michael Russo in succession.)

And soon I was interviewing for the job of NHL Enterprise Editor. After five long and interesting phone interviews over the course of five or six weeks, I was offered the job and I accepted. Boom. Life comes at you fast and you must seize opportunity when it arises. As with my first foray working for a fledgling sports-only entity at The National Sports Daily, I’m thrilled to be joining a team of some of the most talented and experienced and accomplished people in the business.

Unlike The National (read the story I linked above), it feels like The Athletic has a plan that attacks the business side of things as fiercely as it tackles editorial challenges. That’s my hope, anyway.

And while I am excited about this new professional challenge (I start March 4), I leave behind some really special people. Many of the folks I worked with the first time around at the Star Tribune were there when I returned. They have been good friends and will remain so. But even in the short time I’ve been back, I was lucky enough to work alongside and make some wonderful new friends. Young, talented, motivated, engaged journalists who have bright futures and unbelievable talent. My fondness for them is real and I hope we remain friends in the months and years ahead.

And I hope at some point in the future I get the chance to pay forward Chris Snow’s kindness. Because if there’s one thing I know about this life, it’s this: We are all in this together. Chris and I shared a working relationship for three years, but the heartbeat of our connection remains strong 10-plus years later. We’ve traveled wildly different paths and are separated by both many miles and many years. But friendship and professional kinship are powerful things. Nurture them and they will nurture you.

Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | March 3, 2018

Bragging about my wife


Excuse my bit of personal business on this, my personal blog. My wife is bad ass. And by that, I mean, she’s tough as nails. Indomitable (look it up).

She left Thursday to fly to Greece for the international premiere of her newest film, “Silicone Soul.”

Here’s a breakdown of how it was supposed to go:

  • 2 p.m. Thursday: Minneapolis to Detroit.
  • 5:30 p.m. (about): Detroit to Frankfurt, Germany.
  • 11:15 a.m. (Friday): Frankfurt to Thessaloniki, arriving ONE DAY before her Saturday night premiere.

Instead, here’s what happened:

  • 2 p.m. Thursday: Minneapolis to Detroit.
    Flight diverts to Grand Rapids, Mich., lands and sits at a gate, waiting for weather, traffic to clear in Detroit.
  • 6:30 p.m. Thursday: Flight finally leaves Grand Rapids, lands in Detroit. Melody misses her connection and frantically tries to make new flight arrangements (with the fast action and wizardry of her travel agent/stepmom Barbara Crane).
  • 8 p.m. (times approximate) The flight arrives in Detroit, but is stuck in snow and sleet before it can park at the gate. In the meantime, with Barbara’s help, she gets booked on the last flight out of Detroit, leaving around 8:45 p.m. She still has time (because she has not checked a bag) to race to the new gate in a new terminal and make the flight.
  • 8:45: She races (with three other passengers, she said) to the gate, which is closing and they won’t allow any other passengers on board. There are no other flights out of Detroit after that and she’s stuck.

OK, this is where I’d throw in the towel and accept defeat. The massive Bomb Cyclone is overtaking the East Coast. Much of Europe is blanketed with snow and gridlocked. Melody doesn’t have a ticket and it appears likely she’ll miss her premiere screening. Come on home, honey. Better luck next time.

But those of you who know Melody know that’s just not her style. She gets a wonderful agent on the phone from Delta who upon hearing her tale of woe and taking pity on her, helps her rebook. It’s going to be tough and tricky and there can be no margin for error. Here’s the plan.

  • 8 a.m. Friday (EST): Fly from Detroit to SEATTLE. That’s right, that is in the opposite direction that she needs to go, but it turns out that’s the only flight she can get on in the morning that’ll then allow her to connect to a flight to Europe. I would NEVER have thought of this. I mean, that’s nearly four hours in the wrong direction!! But it turns out, it makes more sense than I first imagine (I’m dumb).
  • 10:30 a.m. Friday (PST): Arrive in Seattle. So far so good.
  • 2 p.m. (PST): Depart Seattle for Frankfurt. Here’s where it gets good. Because while the flight from Detroit to Frankfurt is just under 9 hours of flying time, the flight from Seattle to Frankfurt is a little more than 9 hours (let’s call it 9 hours, 30 minutes). The Earth is round and that matters. (Doh!)
  • 8:50 a.m. Saturday (in Frankfurt): OK, things get a little weird here.

Melody met some women from Minneapolis in Detroit, where she spent Thursday night. They talked and laughed and stayed up all night. They even helped her affix stickers with screening times for Greece and Bulgaria (she is in the Sofia film festival after Thessaloniki) to her postcards promoting the film.

So, no sleep, no real food (she had a bag of chips and by the time she had gotten her arrangements made, the restaurants in the Detroit airport had closed. (Though, some nice people bought her a nice big tumbler of whisky when they heard her sob story).

Oh, and the heel of her favorite boot broke off in Seattle, but that’s another tangent that I won’t even entertain here.

I worked Friday night and returned home, tracking her flight from Seattle the entire way.

flight to frankfurt

She still hasn’t really slept since Wednesday night, so when she boards the flight for Frankfurt, I’m breathing a sigh of relief. She’ll get some food. She’ll be so tired that she’ll certainly sleep. As I track the flight, it looks like everything is going to be fine. Not true.

When Melody lands, I ask her how she’s feeling. “I’ve been better,” she says. “I didn’t sleep at all.” Uh, oh. She tells me she has a little stomach ache but that she figures it’ll sort itself out. It’s 2:30 a.m. in Minneapolis. I’m exhausted and I fall asleep. She’s got only a couple of hours to kill in Frankfurt before boarding the flight to Greece. She’s in the clear. Tired, but I know Melody. She’ll rally. She’ll be fine.

When I wake up at 7, I check my messages and my heart sinks. Her stomach pain has gotten worse. She’s gone to a pharmacist (in the airport?) and gotten something to calm her stomach, but she says via text that she’s sweating, doubled over in pain, doesn’t know what’s going on but is worried.

Now I’m feeling horrible. I fell asleep. I missed all these messages. She’s on the plane? Or is she in the hospital somewhere? How will I get to Europe? Who do I have to call? My mind is racing. I check the flight to Greece. She’s 15 minutes from arriving. I turn on the coffee pot and wait. What else can I do?

And just like that, it’s over.

“Hey, I landed!” she texts. “I slept the whole way and feel better now.”

I breathe a sigh of relief. It took her more than 40 hours, but she’s there.

“I can’t believe I made it! Will even have time for a shower (before her screening).”

Like I said at the top. The woman is indomitable.

Melody and her girls
Melody and her girls, post-screening.

She also lost an earphone bud and the heel of her favorite boot fell off.

Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | October 27, 2017

A little bit about what I do

Screen shot 2017-10-27 at 12.16.31 PM

My new LinkedIn profile; updated with fulltime employment.

In my last post, I announced with great enthusiasm my return to daily journalism.

I have many friends who work (or among my lucky retiree friends, have worked) in newsrooms. But it occurs to me that many people don’t have the slightest idea what a “multi-platform news editor/slot” does on a given day.

As I was grinding away one night earlier this week, I sent my daughter, her boyfriend and my wife a basic digest of my night. I think the subject field of the message was something like: “Just so you know what my typical work day looks like.”

Then I started thinking (yup, occasionally this happens), maybe other people might find this useful. And then I got to thinking some more (uh huh); you know, newspapers get a bad rap because people don’t really appreciate the depth and breadth of what they do, how they inform readers about their community, their world. This is important stuff, I thought to myself. Then there was this guy from the new website, “The Athletic,” who took a big dump on newspapers (and then apologized for it — once he hired a competent PR professional, I’d assume), and I thought (again), dammit, newspapers matter. People should just stop and appreciate how lucky we are to live in a country with a vibrant and free news media.

Look around the world. Reporters in other “free” countries are threatened, imprisoned or killed. Here, I would submit, journalists are misunderstood because people don’t know what we do or fully appreciate the value of what is freely available to them every single day. We can argue about quality, or political viewpoints, or rural vs. urban policies — or bike lanes, for crying out loud. But at least we can argue, write about it and then come home at the end of the day and know that we won’t be imprisoned for our opinions. I know, I know … blah, blah, blah …

Anyway, without further ado, adieu, here’s what a typical night for a typical news editor at a major metro daily newspaper might look like. (This is, more or less, exactly the note I sent to my loved ones, with a little light editing — and the elimination of a few expressions of light profanity. Well, light profanity for me, probably heavy profanity for everyone else. For those who want my unedited thoughts, see me. Preferably over beer.)


Screen shot 2017-10-27 at 12.14.44 PM

Tuesday’s newspaper. The Daily Miracle.

A typical day on a typical news desk.
By Mark Wollemann, Oct. 23, 2017.

  • First thing I did today is edit a bunch of outdoors copy for Friday’s paper (stuff about Minnesotans’ favorite cabin stories, a nature piece on migrating birds, a dispatch about favorite dog stories — awwww).
  • I edited some advance business copy about “keeping up with the latest tech” for tech-phobic old people (of course)
  • I edited a story about Microsoft teaming up with the Packers to launch a tech/venture fund initiative in Green Bay, one of several Microsoft is boosting in small cities in rural areas across the country. $10 million worth of seed money (5 from MS, 5 from Pack).
  • I edited a police report (we run a police “blotter” for our suburban zoned regions on Sundays). Highlight: “Animal complaint. Loose sheep were reported near County Road 15. The situation was resolved.”

Then I started editing stories for the daily paper. I edited, wrote headlines and photo captions for …

  • A story about how Minneapolis mayoral candidates are all talking about ways to build racial equity into city government, seizing on stats that show how minority communities are lagging behind in education, health care, jobs and money.
  • A story about Patterson Cos. naming a new CEO (don’t ask).
  • A story about how 3M and Caterpilar quarterly earnings report led the way for a Dow Jones rally on Wall Street today. Also, 3M predicting a boffo year for shareholders. Lots of work in the industrial adhesives, especially for tech devices.
  • A story about St. Catherin (local college — St. Kate’s) adjunct professors decided not to form a union to collectively bargain a contract.
  • A cheeky story about a Washington Post reporter “dissing” Minnesota in a tweet and Minnesotans tweeting back at him with their own Minnesota-style insults: “No hot dish for you!”

Then I turned my attention to “slotting” (being the last read on stories before they hit the paper and the website. These stories included:

  • An obit about the astronaut who helped repair the Skylab orbiting laboratory in 1973. Paul Weitz. If you get a chance, go read about him. Interesting.
  • The sad release of FBI documents about the Sandy Hook shooter.
  • The story about a breastfeeding mom on the Eau Claire, Wis., City Council who wouldn’t stop breastfeeding so the other council members voted to ban ALL KIDS from the council chambers, therefore banning the breastfeeding mom or at the very least her kid from the room.
  • The quest of Minneapolis to start replacing its gas-powered vehicles with electric ones over the next 10 years (it’ll cost more money to buy the cars, but they estimate it’ll save more money in the end).
  • A story about the National Park Service raising fees, in some cases by triple, in 17 national parks.
  • St. Paul’s police union pressing an African American mayoral candidate about guns and ammunition that was stolen from his house (and getting huge blowback from critics who called the effort blatant racism).
  • National and international wires briefs about China, Kenya, hot temps in LA
  • The suicide death of a once-promising high school football player from St. Paul whose life went off the rails.
  • Two random people shot in St. Paul as part of ongoing violence in that city.
  • Oh, and doping — actually doping — in the Iditarod dog sled race!! By a four-time champion. Can you believe that? Man, people are just not good.

And that’s just what I handled. I didn’t handle any Trump copy or much political stuff (other than the local politics stuff).

But it was a busy night and I still have another hour or so to go, so I’ll start burning through copy for the Sunday paper before I’m done.

This was a more-or-less typical day. Maybe I handled a little more stuff tonight than usual, but it’s amazing the breadth of stuff that appears in your local newspaper. And that doesn’t even include the 8-10 pages of sports, including the first night of high school football playoffs, college sports features, NBA and NHL games locally, Vikings stuff and the World Series. And it also doesn’t include anything in our features sections (theater, music, arts, food … not to mention crossword puzzles and comic strips!). Or the Op-Ed pages.

So, in short, I’m just saying — well, let’s just say Alex Mather doesn’t know what he’s talking about when he derides newspapers and their role in the community. Readers have access to all of this and so much more for, what, 35 cents a day. Maybe 50? Are you kidding me? Imagine how well-informed you’d be if you read even a fraction of what I’ve just outlined here.

I’ve never really done this, gone down and charted what we do in a day. But it’s pretty breath-taking.

That is all. I have to go to work. But support your local newspaper, people. Thanks!


Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | October 4, 2017

Back in the news biz

Strib ID badge

My last name has been misspelled on pretty much every ID badge I’ve ever had. This is a new one.

After almost exactly six years away, I’m a newspaperman again. Just as it did more than 26 years ago, the Minneapolis Star Tribune has seen fit to pluck me off the street. I’m exceedingly grateful — again —to share a newsroom with a collection of smart, conscientious, driven and interesting colleagues in a place that feels a lot like a second home.

My first day at the Star Tribune was Oct. 1, 1991. That was almost four months exactly since my previous employer, The National Sports Daily, had gone out of business, sending my little family and me into a forced adventure.

Back then, Melody, Jenna and I were living in a sweet Upper West Side high-rise in New York City (complete with doorman, swimming pool and famous neighbors like Paul Schaeffer, Claudia Schiffer and, apparently at some point, the family of Macaulay Caulkin). But when The National folded after a spectacular and star-crossed 16-month adventure, we knew we’d be flat broke in a matter of months, if not weeks, if we didn’t flee. And so, we fled.

If you are old enough to remember the TV show “Green Acres,” that was us. We didn’t move to “Hooterville,” of course, but Brantwood, Wis., wasn’t far off.

A quick aside: My mom grew up in northern Wisconsin (Up North), but she moved to Milwaukee to be near relatives and attend school, and she eventually married my dad, a tough Milwaukee kid who was eventually tamed (though he might still dispute that) by this fierce farm girl. They raised their three boys in the city, but we made frequent visits to my grandmother’s old farmhouse Up North. It was a playground for us. Snakes, rock piles, walks in the woods and, eventually, our family hunting grounds.

We traveled there so often it felt like a home away from home. So with that old house vacant and the middle son and his family soon to be homeless, my mom took mercy on us. We were grateful. The place had charm. Crooked floors, crooked doors, a wood-burning kitchen stove that had to be stoked in the middle of cold nights and open floor grates upstairs so that rising heat could warm those two small bedrooms. But it had a roof. Beds and blankets and sheets (and flies. Lots of flies). We had a telephone (that for a long time was on a party line). Heck, we even had an indoor toilet. But, yeah, no shower. No bathtub. My mom, you see, is Finnish and Up North Finns didn’t worry about such things in the “old days.” It was more important to have a sauna. And that’s how we bathed. Most nights, we’d build a fire. Then we’d warm the sauna and heat up the water. We’d fill steel buckets with water (including a big one that Jenna could use as a bathtub). The we’d get naked. Sweat. Wash. And then, eventually, drink a coffee (or a beer). Or both.

Those few months were heavenly in so many ways. Jenna, then just turning 2, was free in a way she never was in New York. We lost the big playgrounds and the sensory assault of Manhattan, but we gained mud puddles to splatter, butterflies to chase, stars and fluffy clouds to contemplate – and Friday fish fries to devour.

But as summer turned to fall, anxiety turned to fear. I was 30 years old. Unemployed. Living on a farmstead, but I was no farmer — and had no desire to become one. We were kind of broke, but not penniless. So where would my next opportunity come from?

The Star Tribune, it turned out.


Basically, what Minnesota looks like to Minnesotans. (Our old house.)

We arrived in time for the Great Halloween Snowstorm of 1991 and we weathered (pun intended) another 20 years of cold winters, beautiful autumns and rainy, flood-basement-filled summers. When we left in 2011 for our four-year adventure in Bulgaria, where we taught at the American University in Bulgaria, I never thought we’d be back. Even in 2015, when I was ready to move back to the U.S. to enjoy craft beers, bottomless cups of crappy diner coffee and random conversations in my native language, we chose Chicago (and even bought a condo there) because, well, it was something new and interesting.

Chicago sunrise, jpeg

Sunrise from the balcony of our condo in Chicago.

But Chicago, as much as we enjoyed it, just didn’t feel like home. And even though neither Melody nor I are native Minnesotans, it eventually became clear that Minnesota is home to us. Great friends, a familiar and lively culture, smart people and, yeah, professional connections.

We’re not quite old enough to retire, though we acted like it from time to time. So finding work became more important than ever. Before we moved back to Minnesota, I made contact with the editor of the Star Tribune and floated the idea of a return. He was receptive, though didn’t promise anything. Good enough. We moved back. And to make a long story short, on Tuesday (yesterday), after spending nearly four months working as a part-time copy editor on the night news desk at the Star Tribune (while also doing a bunch of freelance stuff), I was offered (and accepted) a full-time job.

I’ll be back to my newspaper roots in a way, working nights (and lots of weekends, most likely). I’ll edit stories, I’ll work wires, I’ll work the slot (the final read before stories are published), I’ll hopefully pick up some layout shifts and relearn our web publishing protocol. But instead of sports, where I spend the bulk of my 28 years in newspapering, I’ll be in news and working alongside some of the smartest, most professional and most interesting people I know. It’s great. I couldn’t be happier.

Better still, my dad and my daughter, couldn’t be happier.










Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | September 19, 2017

How it all began

Date: Aug. 28, 1985.
Place: Pine Bar, Wausau, Wis.
Time: Early evening.

I was sitting around a large, round table at the Pine Bar with a group of my newspaper colleagues from the Wausau Daily Herald. It was a Wednesday evening, around 6 o’clock. I didn’t want to go to this farewell party for one of our bosses, but on the advice of my buddy and roommate Tom Spousta, I went. I figured I’d drink a couple of beers, say my hellos and goodbyes and leave. It was an ordinary day.

The SHE walked in and I was gone.

I’ve told this story many times (but have never written it down). If you’ve been with us and we’ve been drinking, you might have heard this story. I’ve also told it when we haven’t been drinking. I’ve shared this story with friends and family over the years. Even the students in at least one of my classes at the American University in Bulgaria have heard this story, for heaven’s sake.

And so, on the 31st anniversary of our wedding (which falls on either Sept. 19 or Sept. 20, 1986 — which is another story altogether), I wanted to put it down.

* * *

early days

We’ll call this the early days. I know Melody looks the same (that hair, though!). Believe me, under all my current heft resides this skinny little guy.

When Melody Gilbert glided past my table and was introduced to “the gang,” I was instantly smitten. “Love at first sight?” Yup.

Melody was introduced to the gang and her eyes sparkled. Her smile dazzled. Her hair, well, it was bouncing and behaving. She was beautiful (and still is). But she also made the room come alive. She was a local TV reporter, I’d soon learn, and everyone it seemed wanted to talk to her.

Including me.

I was a 24-year-old kid with a sportswriting job and absolutely no game in this arena. I was clumsy around women, decidedly uncool, and my lack of a solid “pickup game” would soon become evident. But liquid courage and this gorgeous woman helped me conquer my many insecurities.

“I’ll be dating her by the weekend,” I boldly blurted out to the colleague sitting next to me.

“OK,” she said with a smile, as if to say: “Sure you are, Mark. Sure you are.”

I kept my eye on her (today, I guess, you might say it was a kind of stalker-y eye. I guess sometimes you’re a victim of your era, sometimes you’re a product of the era.).

Anyway, I saw that she had settled in at the bar with her colleague from work, Wendy, and they were deep in conversation. So I plotted my next move. What would a dorky, afternoon-drinking Wisconsin boy think of as his next move? You got it. I started ordering beers, reaching between the two TV women deep in conversation in an effort “to be noticed.”

Success! She noticed. But not in a good way.

This is the part of the story where Melody generally interrupts me and points out that she was annoyed with this intrusion. “Ewwww,” she’ll say. “Who is this guy?”

But I persisted, ignoring what were certainly stares of incredulity from the two “Newsline 9” TV stars.

Soon (obviously eager to escape), I saw Melody saying goodbye to her friends and I made my way to the front door. (Like I said, stalker-y.)

When she tried to leave the bar, I made my move.

“Leaving so soon?” I queried. (Like I said, no moves.)

“Yes,” she said brusquely.

“Where are you headed?” (I cringe as I write this.)


“What’s up?” (I know, I know.)

“I’m going to make dinner.”

“What’s for dinner?” (Just stop already.)

“Shark steak.”

“Is there enough for two?” (Ugh.)


And that was that. Off she went.

I returned to my table. Finished my beer and the rest of the night became a fog of beer and disappointment. In other words, Wednesday.

The next morning, I was up at 4:30 a.m. and at the newsroom a little after 5 (had to type in last night’s bowling scores — glamorous! — and put out the afternoon newspaper).

Sometime in the late morning, as we’re putting the paper “to bed,” guess who showed up in the newsroom? Melody Gilbert! She was there, allegedly, to visit her friend Suzy. She was out for a run and was “just passing by.” Uh, huh.

Of course, I swooped in at the first opportunity (I’m pretty sure I literally swooped) and offered to show her around. There wasn’t much to see, but I made sure she saw it all. The various desks, computers, offices, the slot in the front door where the bowling scores were dropped off, the “backshop,” where the printers put type on pages before they were sent to the printing plant.

She was dressed in running shorts (I say they were yellow; Melody says pink. Or I say pink and Melody says yellow. Again, if both of us are engaged in telling this story, there are a few fits and starts.) and a T-shirt. I don’t remember much about the shirt. The shorts, though. Think 1980s fitness fashion. Yup. Yum.

Shortly after the tour, Melody and Suzy departed while my heart went pitter-pat for the next several hours. She noticed me? She must have! She liked me? I think she did. Will I see her again? When? Where? But the weekend was fast approaching and if I was to fulfill my pledge to be “dating her by the weekend,” I better hurry up.

That was Thursday.

Friday came and it was the first weekend of high school football games. Busy night. I think we published Saturday and Sunday mornings, so it was all about getting prepped for the big night of sports in Wausau.

I had to cover one of the local high school’s football games. When it ended, I raced back to the office to write the game story. I crashed through the outer doors of the Daily Herald’s office as Melody was coming out through a set of the inner doors (I know!). She was there again. With Suzy again.

Our eyes met. Sparks flew.

Me, out of breath from running toward the newsroom — and from my racing heart: “You’re here. Where are you going?”

She and Suzy were going to a local bar (it’s northern Wisconsin; it’s what we do).

“Wait for me,” I pleaded. “I have to write this story, but I’ll be there soon.”

It was a date.

I ran into the office. Banged out a forgettable story (I’m sure), typed in the boxscore and said “bye” to my pals putting out the paper (sorry, Spou). In 45 minutes, I was back out the door and racing for the bar — Scott Street Station, maybe?

When I arrived, Suzy slipped away, and Melody and I sat for the next three hours, deep in conversation. Music blared. Disco lights flickered. Smokers smoked (it was 1985, after all). And it was just the two of us. Falling in love.

* * *

Postscript: We ended up back at her apartment (of course we did, there was so much more to, um, talk about). Oh, stop that. Nothing happened. Melody wasn’t that kind of girl. I mean, she was the kind of girl to invite a stranger to her apartment at 2 a.m., but that’s all. No funny business.

Anyway, she was the weekend reporter at Newsline 9, which meant she had to wake up in the morning and get ready for work. So as she jumped in the shower, I took a look around her place. (Not in a freaky sort of way. Stop that!)

When I got to her kitchen, I stopped dead in my tracks. The shark steak dinner dishes were still in the sink. From Wednesday. (Remember?) Along with whatever else she ate the rest of the week. (It was Saturday morning, bless her heart.)

I was one of three boys raised by a working mom and dad, so I did what we were trained to do. I filled up the sink with soapy water and went to work. By the time Melody got out of the shower and saw what I was up to, any defenses she had just melted away. I was THE ONE. Still, no hanky panky, though. Like I said, she wasn’t that kind of girl. But we have been together ever since. And I couldn’t be happier.

* * *

Post-postscript: A little over a year later, we were married. It’s been 31 years and we’ll count them down as long as we’re lucky enough to do that. Three years later, Jenna came along and I guess you could say that this is our origin story. It’s kind of sweet and I like to tell it. But it’s always more fun when Melody interrupts with her own interpretation of events from those crazy early days. If you’ve read all the way to here, thanks. I hope you’re lucky enough to have a love like this in your life. We all deserve it.

recent pic

Still happy — and a little crazy — after all these years.

Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | July 17, 2017

OK, OK, OK …

When I was visiting my parents a few weeks ago, I told them excitedly that I had written a new piece at My mom’s response wasn’t curiosity or glee that her son had written something … anything. It was this: “Well, you haven’t written on your blog in six months.”

That’s my folks. Always keeping me grounded.

Properly chastised — and after a couple of more weeks of delay tactics — I figured I’d jump on here and update my loyal readers (which much surely number in the dozens) about what’s been happening since our return to Minnesota in mid-January.

The lime at night

Our building at night, with our very convenient bar/restaurant in the lobby.

After a couple of weeks of couch surfing/house-sitting at the homes of some of our friends, we took the plunge and rented an apartment in what has to be Minneapolis’ second-youngest neighborhood (next to the University of Minnesota campus). Our building is called Lime and the property company’s motto is “Everyday is Saturday,” or some such thing.

We’ve got a party room. We’ve got a pool. We’ve got a hot tub. Our lobby is a restaurant/bar. We’ve got a nice big second bedroom and a full bathroom (come visit, for crying out loud!). And most of the residents are younger than our daughter. Ha. Feels like we’re right back in Bulgaria, surrounded by young people. And it feels right for now.

Here’s a grab bag summary of the past several months:

Mark ID pic V3

I blanked out the Employee ID#, but I couldn’t fix the misspelling of my name. This is kind of fitting because during my previous 20-year stint at the paper, my name was misspelled in an entirely different way. Hail journalism!

• I’m back at the Minneapolis Star Tribune after six years away. I’m working part-time on the night news desk as a copy editor and enjoying the return to a newsroom. The newspaper is doing well, under new local ownership, in a spiffy new downtown location, and the vibe in the newsroom (at least from what I can gather in my 20-25 hours p/week) is super positive.

• I’m locked in on several freelance gigs, and I’ve tried and dropped a couple of others. I’ve got a website. I need to add to the work samples and client roster, but you get the idea. If you know someone looking for writing and editing help, hook me up. Clients don’t need to be in Minnesota. I’ve worked with clients in Miami and Chicago and even Central Wisconsin. I’m writing stories, providing research and reporting services, and doing a little “ghost writing.” I’ve also had a couple of interesting editing gigs; short-term but fun. I like the variety and I’m hoping to build on it so that in “retirement” (whenever that comes), I can work (a little) while we roam the earth.

• I’m back on my bike regularly. Nothing nearly as intense as last summer’s cross-country trek. But I’m enjoying it. Melody and I even took a spin to Sunday brunch with our friends Dan and Mary (and their son Gus), and then to the farmer’s market in Minneapolis. We leisurely pedaled back home with our take of vegetables and flowers on the warm and sunny afternoon. I haven’t done much leisurely riding in the past several years. It was nice.

Mark and Mel from the roof

Melody and Mark from the roof of our building. Sweet sunsets, guaranteed.

• As for Melody, she’s been busy, busy, busy as usual. She’s working on multiple film projects, applying for grants, teaching workshops and in a couple of weeks, she’ll be heading over to Kosovo to do a workshop and work as a film festival judge at Dokufest, a major international documentary festival in Prizren. She’s also heading over to Moldova in late September, where she’ll be running a weeklong storytelling/filmmaking workshop for the second year in a row there. Like me, she continues to look for meaningful work while we figure out what we’ll do when we grow up.

We’ll get out and travel together again soon. But for now, I need to keep working here while Melody’s work takes her overseas and all over the U.S. So if you want to see us in the same place at the same time (and not via Skype), you might want to come and see us in Minnesota. It’s lovely in the spring, summer and fall — and the winter’s not so bad, either. Especially when you have heated, underground parking and a bar in the lobby.










Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | January 25, 2017

An appreciation of a dearly departed friend and of Facebook

The next person who tells me that Facebook is a waste of time is going to learn about Ron Wade, may he rest in peace.


Ron Wade

I’ve been a Facebook user for more than eight years. I have heard, over those years, that Facebook “is the devil,” to paraphrase Bobby Boucher’s Mama in “The Waterboy.” It chews up valuable time. It connects us virtually but not personally. It’s frivolous. It’s a productivity killer at work (this one might be true). It’s a poor substitute for human contact (probably also true).

But let me tell you what Facebook is. It’s a great way to stay in touch until you take the time to make that human-to-human connection.

My wife, Melody Gilbert, and I made just such an effort a couple of weeks ago when we moved from Chicago to Minnesota – in the dead of winter. Instead of making the trek straight to the Twin Cities, we decided to do a loop – a large loop.

We visited Florida first. And tried to touch base with as many friends and longtime “virtual friends” as we could.

We had lunch with a former colleague, who I had last seen maybe 15 years earlier. We spent a night with a long-ago friend and former business partner of my wife’s. We got together last year, thanks in large part to the miracle of social media. We remain good friends.

We visited with a former colleague of Melody’s, met with a longtime friend and bookclub pal, and stayed a second night in the home of another couple we knew briefly more than 25 years ago. All of that happened thanks to Facebook.

On our way back to Minnesota, we traveled through New Orleans and made a stop in Memphis. While there (and after a visit to the stunning National Civil Rights Museum), we had drinks and dinner with a guy I had met once, maybe 15 years earlier. He visited Minneapolis, where we lived and worked at the time, to interview for a job at the my newspaper (the Minneapolis Star Tribune). Though he didn’t get the job, we connected – and through the joys of the internet – remained connected and eventually became “Facebook friends.” In only our second face-to-face meeting, we shared an evening, a few  laughs, and the knowledge that we’d see each other again.

Which brings me to Ron Wade and our stop in Saint Louis. Ron was a former colleague, but I hadn’t seen him since he left Minneapolis (I think sometime in the late 1990s). He went to Philadelphia, and then Saint Louis, where he stuck, a longtime and passionate Cubs fan trapped in enemy territory.

In spite of our brief work history, I knew Ron well enough to connect via social media when that became a thing. He was always a warm and smart and generous soul at work and he remained that on social media. He liked, commented on, or shared pretty much everything we posted. The people who follow Ron on social media probably know us as well as our family members do. I was excited to swing through Saint Louis and catch up with Ron – in person. On Saturday, Jan. 13, we arrived – in spite of a freakish ice storm that seemed to scare most Saint Louis drivers off of the area roadways.

Ron invited us to come to the newspaper for lunch. He was afraid most of the restaurants in town would be shut down by the storm. When we pulled up, Ron situated us in a Post-Dispatch parking lot and ferried us into the newspaper’s empty cafeteria. Before arriving, he had picked up a rack of succulent ribs, a slab of brisket, some cornbread and other goodies from his favorite rib joint. We settled in, gobbled up the food and shared a couple of hours together.

It had been years and years since we had connected, but because of Facebook, we didn’t have to spend much time on small talk. We talked about his passion for music. We shared with him our reaction to the powerful Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. We discussed our move back to the Twin Cities, home for us (and for Ron, too, in many ways). And gave him a big hug before we had to leave so Ron could get back to work.

We headed off for another Facebook-generated visit to my former boss, the man who brought us to Minnesota in 1991. On the way, Melody said to me: “Ron doesn’t look well.”

I said: “I know, he looked a little beaten down. But he said it was just a cold.”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I think it’s something else.”

The next day, we set off for the Twin Cities but Ron was never far from our thoughts.

This morning we got word that Ron had passed away. He was sick. Very sick. And there was no lingering. He’s gone. In a matter of minutes, an outpouring of love lit up the Facebook realm of anyone who knew and loved Ron (if you knew him, you loved him). He will not be forgotten.

So the next time someone tells me how frivolous Facebook is, I’m going to tell them about the lovely afternoon we spent with Ron Wade.

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