The story of the year 2015

This is the time of the year when news organizations start reviewing the top stories of the year. Most of them are predictable, and many don’t impact us personally. This is the nature of news, often a steady diet of calamity and buffoonery.

You’ve probably noticed that while I recognize the value of the big story, I’m more impressed by the little ones: yours.

Like any community, NewsCut has its share of cranks and boors who get up in the morning with a goal of disrupting a sincere discussion. That’s OK. The world needs its cranks and boors. But the people who comment here — you — show a remarkable ability to trust the rest of us with your most personal stories.

A wife has cancer and now mom has Alzheimer’s. A woman in North Minneapolis looks around at the holidays and feels she’s let her kids down. An oil patch worker loses his job but finds one in Chicago.

None of these will make the news, although they reveal the nature of us. We put one foot forward, then the other, and exhibit a quiet dignity and strength whether we succeed or whether we fail. That alone is uplifting and worthy of our attention and gratitude.

So at this time of the year — and since I’m taking the rest of the year off — I want to encourage you to write your story of the year below, the moment (s) that defined it for you.

Don’t worry, I’ll protect you from the cranks and boors.

I’ll start.

I was impressed yesterday with the show we did on immunotherapy ( you can find the podcast version here). It was sparked by President Carter’s recovery from cancer, thanks — it would seem — to a drug called Keytruda, which appears to be a “magic bullet” that allows the immune system to attack cancer, and then turns it off before it attacks something it shouldn’t be attacking.

  1. Listen Advances in the fight against cancer

    December 23, 2015

Is it a cure? Who knows? It’s early, though it seems like we’ve been trying to cure cancer forever.

Here’s the thing: My guests were cancer researchers Dr. Roxana Dronca of Mayo Clinic and Dr. Christopher Pennell of the University of Minnesota, who, like all cancer researchers, get up every day and go to work, hoping for success, but more often find failure. That’s the nature of success.

“I’m not the most patient person in the real life, but I learned that I can be patient in research and in the clinic,” Dr. Dronca said.

“My father was amazed I went into the field because I was not a patient child,” Dr. Pennell told me. “But the payoff is worth it. Ninety-five percent of the time it doesn’t work, but that 5 percent when it does is just phenomenally exciting. It’s worth it.”

If you merely look at today, you’re not going to see much coming out of the research lab. But if you look over time, you’ll see people who are alive today because of the failures leading to the successes of yesterday.

One foot. Then the other.

This is the image I got when I thought about my guests’ comments.


This is the moment, somewhere near Sleepy Eye, Minn., when I said to my then-86-year-old mother that she needed to fly the airplane. I said it right after she told me she always wanted to be like Amelia Earhart.

She didn’t become Amelia Earhart. She was a Depression kid and they didn’t make many Amelia Earharts back then. She married my father at the beginning of the war, became a hairdresser, then raised a family when he returned. I don’t know whether she wishes she’d been born at a different time for women; I never asked, though she scolded me once when I mentioned in a newspaper interview that she was a “housewife.”

Long before I was old and stupid, I was young and stupid.

We landed in Fairmont, Minn., and sat on a bench by the runway, listening to the quiet by the cornfields, and talking about her life growing up on the Plains.

Fast forward to May, when I was “home” (the Berkshires of Massachusetts) for a wedding and had a chance to give a ride to friends and relatives.


This is my niece, Julie Thurston, and she is the woman raising the children (along with my nephew, Tom, I must point out) I talked about in this post, the one who let her daughters go fly in a plane built by a guy who flunked shop in high school.

“I want them to experience all that they want to experience. I don’t want them to ever be afraid to try new things,” she said.

Her daughters have more opportunities for those experiences now thanks to parents who allow them, and old-timers who always wanted to be Amelia Earhart, who took baby steps while pulling a society where it didn’t want to go. Forward.

That’s one of the reasons Captain Chipo M. Matimba and Captain Elizabeth Simbi Petro became one of the big stories in 2015 — the first all-female crew for Air Zimbabwe.

Women don’t get the same respect, opportunities, or value they deserve. Not yet, anyway.

But those flights in May with two little girls reinforced my desire to honor those who pull us forward, which I’ve done to the consternation of people who think women cannot get opportunities unless they’re taken from men.

In the micro, it appears we’re getting nowhere, just as it appears we’re getting nowhere in finding a cure for cancer when the obituary pages are full of people who’ve just lost a “brave battle” with the disease.

But the world is full of impatient people patiently willing to fail for the payoff of one day’s victory, even if it comes in someone else’s time.

They’re the people who take one step. Then another. And they’re my story of the year. It’s you.

  • Joe

    Thanks for a good year Bob. Even if I can occasionally be one of the cranks and boors you address, I really enjoy the columns and conversation here.

    • // Even if I can occasionally be one of the cranks and boors you address

      I can’t say i noticed.

  • Jay Sieling

    This is a great tonic and a good reminder that we all live a ‘never ending story.’ You’ve given a great reminder for us all to examine our own stories – to be reminded of those ‘one day victory’ moments that matter. As I read your recap of the conversation with the cancer researchers, I thought of fishing. We are marking the fourth Christmas without my mother this year. She loved fishing, but seldom went. But the moments and the memories of when she did are forever moments. I can look back on the past and think of missed opportunities, times I could have or should have taken her fishing, but that is focusing on the failure, not the victory. I prefer, instead, to think of the stories she told me about family outings and picnics she had as a child that included fishing along a river bank. I think of the efforts she and my father made to take three young kids fishing from shore. It was only one time, but it sticks.
    All of that is why this quote from John Buchan resonates with me. It is about life as much as it is about fishing:
    “The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of something elusive yet attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope”
    Thanks for the reminder to focus on the occasions of hope, Bob. Too often we concentrate on the elusive parts of life.

  • Jim G

    The story of the year for my family started two years ago. Remember the winter of no end, merciless cold temperatures and the multitude of blizzards sweeping across the state. That winter convinced my California raised spouse that we were not going to experience the full joys of Minnesota winters any more; that is, if she had anything to say about it. Of course, she had everything to say about it.

    We are now living in Portland, Oregon. She moved out here in September while I stayed behind to sell our house. Since I arrived with the dogs on December 1st, the Portland Metro has had its most rainy December ever recorded. It’s now up to 24 days of measurable rain and counting. We have a grandchild due out here in February and a house to close on in January.

    This Minnesotan, born and raised, never ever considered life outside of my home state. All my friends have used the word “adventure” in describing our move. Our house in Minnesota has yet to close. We need that equity to finance our purchase in Portland. So far the word adventure describes our life here perfectly. Pray for us or more specifically…me as I adjust to rain instead of wind driven snow and frigid temperatures.

    • ChrisF

      Hang in there! I got (re) married in June and moved to my wife’s house in Lakeville with the intent to sell my house in Minneapolis. From June to December I spent nearly every evening after work and every weekend fixing it up from top to bottom, as well as thousands and thousands of dollars to plumbers and electrians. A few months in it became clear that even with all remodelling and repairs I would never hit the mortgage pay off so after all was said and done I rented the place. The silver lining is now my wife is thinking that eventually moving back to Minneapolis is a good idea.

    • BJ

      Ha I moved to Portland, OR when they had the longest stretch of consecutive rainy days back in 1995. Just know it is a libertarian state not a liberal state. Second amendment is a big deal. So beautiful.

      My favorite spot was Council Crest Park, trust me and check it out.

      • Jim G

        I will check it out. Maybe the floods of rain and mud come only once every 20 years or so. Thanks for the reference.

    • Rich in Duluth

      Good luck with your “adventure”. I have an old friend from my east coast days who moved out to Portland many years ago. He loves it there, but has complained about all the rain, lately.

      Oh, and the ocean is so close with that beautiful coast and that wonderful fresh sea food.

      • Jim G

        Thanks for the good wishes.The fresh seafood is abundant. I’ve never eaten so much salmon. Crab is great in omelets, although I’m beginning to wonder if eating crab adds to my crabby mood about this incessant rain. (You are permitted to groan as the 6th grade humor is intended… this retired 6th grade teacher is incorrigible.) However, good news is in the forecast! Starting tomorrow sunny skies with no rain continues for five days. I’ll have to get out, walk the dogs and enjoy the scenery which has been hidden from view. Best wishes to you and yours. Enjoy your snow, and Happy New Year.

        • ChrisF

          I visited Portland a couple years ago and wondered about fishing on the Willamette next time I’m there. Have you tried that?

          • Jim G

            No. I’ve only been here less than a month and all my fishing gear is in storage until we take possession of our house. I’ll have to investigate salmon fishing. I’m hoping my best high school buddy who has been out here for forty years will clue me into the northwest’s fishing hotspots. In addition, all the rivers and streams are currently close to flood stage so I’m not getting close to them with my rickety football knees.

  • Rob

    Bob, I admire the hell out of most of your perspectives, especially about women being underserved in regard to respect, opportunity and value. And it heartens me to know that in 2016, you’ll continue to use your benign power and influence to change this – and to continue bringing consternation to those who think women having more opportunities is a zero-sum game.

  • PaulJ

    I believe I might have found the “Philosopher’s Stone” this year. Very odd I know; and my niece says: what if it is true and turns out that it gets used for evil (like in Harry Potter). But, staying with the bright side, it’d be historically cool a give a sense of fulfillment to a childless old man.

  • From the linked blog post: “Fly the plane, Amelia,” I said.

    I actually got a tear in my eye after reading that.

    My story this past year is just of me and my newish wife (married in 2013) taking a great trip to Europe. The trip was great, but I won’t bore anyone here with the details.

    Bob, thanks for all your insights, your wisdom, and ability to “keep it real.”

    Have a great Christmas season and a very Happy New Year (that goes for everyone, cranks and boors included).

  • Fred, Just Fred

    At a time when an instant multi billionaire disguises a cynical tax scheme as a $46 billion donation, there are people out there that still have the fire of real charity burning.

    To the Minnesota couple that dropped $500,000 of their own money into a Salvation Army kettle, no questions asked, no benefit expected. My story of the year.

  • Jay T. Berken

    I have two stories from the same buddy, one that ended but not the memories and one that started and hopefully will grow strong and have a long life. My buddy’s dad passed away this last year of heart failure that has been alienating him for years. At the funeral, he told me to hug my dad because you do not know when you won’t be able to again. Little did I know at the time his girlfriend was pregnant. Last week they had a little girl, and he has not told me what, but the little girl has to go through “her first surgery” today. I hope the fast and speedy recovery for his little girl and a long and as “normal” of a life as possible. I am fortunate that I have a healthy spirited little girl and a father that I can still hug.

  • joetron2030

    The story of my year is the unexpected fracturing of my immediate family due to the somewhat unexpected dissolution of my brother’s marriage.

    The fallout is that my children no longer are in contact with the only grandparents and uncle they knew. They’ve also learned a hard lesson that sometimes even the people we love can behave terribly towards the ones they love.

    It meant some changes to our Thanksgiving tradition and the same is going to happen with Christmas.

    But, in the grand scheme of things, my wife and I wouldn’t change what we did to help my (legally soon to be former) sister-in-law get away from a terrible place in her life. She’s doing much better. And that helps to ease some of the pain of the past several months.

    • John O.

      Hang in there! I’m a firm believer in the concept that things happen for a reason. We may not always recognize this right away, but we learn to adapt and carry on one day at a time. Keep looking ahead!

      • joetron2030


        Oddly, I haven’t been too affected by it personally. It’s really been hardest on the kids.

        We keep hoping they’ll “come around” eventually. Until then, we continue to live our lives as best as we can.

  • John O.

    Best news story of 2015? Easy at this house: my daughter just called to let us know her long-time boyfriend proposed a few minutes ago and she said “yes.” I broke down. Film at 10. Maybe.

    Merry Christmas all!

  • Gary F

    As a member of the boor and crank society I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas and thank Bob for running a great site.

    • The Boor and Crank Society.ha! We need T-shirts!

      • John O.

        I’m in. Baseball caps would work too.

  • Mike Worcester

    While I’m not a regular commentator I enjoy the exchange of thoughts and ideas and am disappointed I did not join until just recently. Thank you! 🙂

    • Welcome, Mike!

      • Mike Worcester

        Thank you 🙂

  • Jack

    Bob – I appreciate your thoughtful columns and your moderation of comments. This is my go-to place for news. I feel like part of a community who for the most part respects each other and can agree to disagree.

    You’ve made your blog much more “female-friendly” and as a female commenter, I greatly appreciate being able to make my voice heard in a friendly forum.

    Thanks for all you do!

    My story is one of gratitude for EMTs, ER staff, and super nurses and docs in the Cardio ward this year. Guys – listen to your bodies and call 911 if something isn’t quite right. They can save your life as they just saved my husband’s last weekend. Gals – overrule your spouse/significant other/friend and insist on calling 911. For all my friends that I leaned on in texts, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  • chlost

    Two big stories in the news of my world this past year. The first, happy-my brother was married, for the first time, at age fifty. We have added a wonderful sister-in-law and a niece and nephew to the family. The twist is that the new sister-in-law’s first name is the same as our sister, who died a few years ago. The second, sad-our son and daughter-in-law had a miscarriage, and the loss of a very happily anticipated child and grandchild was very difficult.
    In a developing story, on Christmas Eve, we received news that there may be a grandchild added to the family this next summer. Stay tuned, News at 8/2016.
    Bob, I really do enjoy your blog. It is refreshing to read stories of interesting people and events as well as comments which seem to have remained nearly troll-free.

  • MrE85

    On Christmas weekend I had a wonderful dream where my father was still alive, and offering me good advice on a repair project back home. Also in my dream was a beloved aunt, healthy and alive again after we lost her years ago to pancreatic cancer. I don’t know if we see these people again after we die, but sometime we see them in our dreams. A pleasant way to end the old year.

  • Leann Olsen

    I apologize for being late to the year-end party. A terrible year was capped by missing Christmas due to illness. I am up and about for the first time in almost a week. Again I want to thank you, Bob for bringing up my situation in your story. I don’t think your guest understood the challenges of living and parenting in North Minneapolis, but I wouldn’t necessarily expect that. May her advice brought comfort to many who were listening.
    I never mean to sound like a boor or a crank, but I know I do when I’m in the depth of my struggles. May 2016 be the year that I can end in celebration instead of fear.

    • We’re thinking good thoughts for you here. If there’s anything we can do, give a holler. Don’t be shy.

  • Jeff

    Nothing profound, uplifting, or inspirational but for my 60th birthday this year my SO flew us out to Las Vegas to see Garbage (the band) and Neil Young on two consecutive nights. Shirley was in top form and Neil tore it up for 3 1/2 hours nonstop including a 15 minute Cowgirl in the Sand jam. ‘Ol Neil turned 70 this year and is dating Daryl Hannah so I don’t feel so old.

    Hey, when do we get to vote for our favorite NewsCut story of the year?

  • Kat S.

    More often I enjoy reading and sharing News Cut and forget to comment, but I did finally think of the story of my 2015. It was overall a good year, if a year with an almost absurd number of changes and challenges. In fact, I couldn’t quite pin why I thought it was a good year, until I remembered. There’s a friend I talk with every day, have written a hundred thousand words with, cried with, giggled far too much with– and had never met in person, until November 10. For one day I got to hug her. And meet her children. And continue the conversation we’d been having every day by G-chat, and had dropped ten minutes prior so she could drive from the hotel. She’s one of many loved ones who supported me through a lot of strange things in 2015, and yeah, I guess that makes it a good year.

  • lindblomeagles

    I have to say I was really surprised, happily I might add, that the first All Female Crew was of African descent. Africa does not attract a lot of positive press in the United States. Still seen by many as a chaotic continent largely unable to take care of its own people, but steeped in such beautiful wilderness that it ought rightly be open to tourism, this global historic feat for women hopefully changes our perspective about Africa, and grows our study of nations and cultures that arose from complicated pasts associated to some degree with our own country’s founding. Great story Bob!