The people trying to save newspapers can do worse than reminding people that the Betty Ryans of the world help keep the “community” in the communities they cherish.
The reporter for the Lake Country Echo retired in December, but is still turning in stories as a correspondent from her Pequot Lakes cabin. They’re not earth shattering, perhaps, by city-slicker standards, but then again community media isn’t about the big city. It’s about telling people what’s happening in their town.
“What else would I do?” she asked me when I asked her why she’s still working into her 80s (she’s 81), something she’s been doing since her 20s.
Her first job after graduating from the University of Minnesota was at the Post Bulletin in Rochester in 1949. “I learned that if you’re a good writer, you can write when you’re drunk,” she says of a sportswriter on staff. “I never knew how he did it.”
In her years on the Echo, she’s glad she hasn’t been assigned to cover sports. It’s just as well. There’s plenty to tell people about the people they see regularly in the area, but about whom they know nothing. There’s the resorters who retired to the lakes, the citizens of the year (2006), the late bloomer in the community theater , or the folks who run the cellphone business in town.
Then again, some stories are earth shattering for those involved in them. The special needs kids who go to Camp Knutson may owe a debt to Ryan. Lutheran Social Services wanted to close the camp and sell the real estate a few years ago. Betty Ryan wrote about it, some influential neighbors read about it, and worked to save it.
“It was one of the times I actually felt I made a difference,” she told me when I visited her last week.
She covers government meetings in the region and considers it a noble service. “There’s nobody else going to the council meetings,” she says. “There’s lots of money involved. There can’t be shenanigans.”
Spend a few minutes with her and you get the news of the region, dominated by the effect of the vacationers, many of whom are regulars. Traffic is always the hot topic. Highway 371 reverts to a two-lane highway in Nisswa and MnDOT would like to expand it relocate it away from the downtown. Some businesses worry it’ll hurt the downtown but Betty brings a more practical view to the issue.
“When I’m driving through a town, I’ve never felt that I needed to stop and go shopping,” she said. “The only thing we wanted to do is get to the cabin,” she says of her years traveling with her late husband from Mounds View to their then-vacation home. “On Saturdays we’d go shopping.”
Ryan says she has no plans to end her newspaper career and is looking for the next story. “The next story is the best one,” she says.
Through the summer I’ll be profiling people in Minnesota who are in their 80s and above and still working. Make your suggestions.