Embarrassment of riches

This summer reminds me of the first time I retired many years ago. After a satisfying 32 years of teaching I was looking forward to new opportunities.  Like  most retirees I had a long list of things I was going to “get around to” after I retired.  A good share of those things are still on that list.

One thing led to another. I was taking some advanced photo classes at Metro when I saw a help wanted advertisement for a  reporter/photographer at the Enterprise. Soon after starting to work at the paper I took advantage of an opportunity to teach photojournalism at Metro Community College as well.  A friend and fellow Metro instructor commented that my wealth of photo opportunities as news photographer was “an embarrassment of riches.” I had never heard that phrase before, but it fit my situation perfectly.

Young man performs demonstration
Science dude Peter Lux performs science demonstrations during YMCA Summer Care Mad Scientist week.

My career at the Enterprise has been rich with experiences and friendships as well as photo opportunities. As you may have noticed, my photos are still showing up in the newspaper.  The beauty of my new arrangement is that my photo assignments are pretty much by invitation.

Don Johnson laughs while a caravan of vehicles parade past the entrance to Fort Calhoun High School to recognize and thank the retiring superintendant for his years of service.

On the last day of June, the Fort Calhoun staff asked me to come down to photograph a teacher parade to honor retiring superintendent Don Johnson. I of course gladly accepted the invitation. One of my first beats as a reporter was covering Fort Calhoun Schools and Johnson was middle school and high school principal at that time. In my opinion Don was always the epitome of what a good leader should be.  I could give a dozen examples, but what always impressed me was that no matter the time of place, if there was a significant project underway Don was there leading the charge.

Dana campus landscape
Flower trees frame student center and Durham bell tower.

The last day of June also commemorated the ten year anniversary of the closing of Dana College. Preparing my column gave me an opportunity to look through my time capsule of Dana images from 2010 to the present. While Argo and Elkhorn residence halls were demolished  and others need to be renovated or removed, it is still a lovely campus. After so many false starts it is good to see that the Durham Center and Trinity Chapel have been renovated and occupied, and athletes are once again playing baseball on the ball diamonds.

While so many events have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 Virus, Arlington, Blair and Herman still were able to hold their annual fireworks displays. For me, setting up to photograph a fireworks show is kind of like Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates. When I press the button for a long exposure I never know for sure what I’m going to get.

I was particularly happy with the results from the Herman show. My intent was to capture the spirit of that small town community celebration and I think the photo on the front page of the paper communicated that pretty well.

Quilters and gardeners find delight among the colorful flowers and quilt displays at the annual Wolfe Family Country Quilt Show and Garden Walk.

Another summer event that I regularly attend is the Wolfe Country Quilt Show and Garden Walk.  On the third Saturday of July for eight of the last nine years, the Wolfe family has hosted this beautiful show as a free gift to quilt lovers and gardening enthusiasts.  I’m not much of a gardener and know nothing about quilting, but strolling through the farm yard gives me an opportunity to make images that capture the mix of people, flowers and fabric. Thank you Wolfe family.

Wolfe Quilt and Garden-4H

I don’t know about “embarrassment” but I do know that I am thankful over the years to have had a wealth of opportunities to make images in Washington County.


News Photographer recollects Dana Closing

Ten years ago this week on June 30, 2010 the Dana Board of Regents and Dana Corporation abruptly announced that the 126 year old Lutheran institution would permanently close.

As photographer for the Enterprise newspaper I had regularly visited the campus to photograph the annual Sights and Sounds of Christmas, picturesque seasonal campus landscapes, and occasional sports, concerts, homecoming and other Dana events. One of my favorite subject for photo compositions was the Little Mermaid that greeted students along the walkway to the Durham Center. I have photographs of that little bronze statue in winter spring and fall from just about every vantage point that you can imagine. The statue was removed after the college closed.

The bronze statue of the Little Mermaid was a gift of Folmer and Vera Nyby in 2005. The statue was removed following the campus closing.

During the days following the closing announcement, I was on campus to document the impact on the students, the faculty and staff and the community.

Mickelsen Hall.
Sculpture and inscription, Mickelsen Hall.

While the news  of the closing came as a  shock, it was not without warning.  Everyone associated with the school thought the campus had been saved when the Board of Regents announced in March that the campus would be sold to a non-profit. The Dana Corporation  had pledged keep Dana’s faculty and programs in place while working to double the enrollment to 1,000 students. Following the announcement of the sale, I was on campus to photograph and report on the reaction of students to the proposal.

Lindsay Fibranz and Brittney Naseman head back to their dorm in March 2010 after learning the college would ge sold to a for-profit corporation.

Students Lindsay Fibranz and Brittney Naseman said they saw the change as a positive one, but they would like more details.  At the meeting they were told that the change would lead to more students, and the old dorms would be fixed up.  “For the future of the school, I think it’s good,” Lindsay said.

While not everyone in the community was comfortable with the idea of the school becoming a for-profit institution, pretty much everyone agreed that it was the best option available.  The transition appeared to be moving along as expected until the  news on June 30, that the plan was rejected and the school would close immediately.

Peggy Neidecker leaves Mickelsen Hall with a box of her personal effects. following the closure announcement.

Over the 2010 Fourth of July weekend I wandered the eerily quiet campus takin photos of campus landmarks.

Administration Building

One week after the announcement, managing editor Doug Barber and I drove to Midland College in Fremont to attend an information session and open house for  prospective former Dana Students. As we walked from the parking lot, I remember two distinct sensations.  The first was that the Midland  campus could not compare to the natural beauty of the Dana campus. The other was that Midland was buzzing with life, energy and activity and Dana was not.

Beau Vest speaks with Dana athletes considering attending Midland. The former Dana wrestling coach was hired to coach at Midland.

That afternoon on the Dana campus, students in search of school options filled the Durham Education Center where more than 50 colleges were represented. Smiling Dana students whom I recognized as former Blair High School students greeted the former Dana students and offered dana@midland tee shirts.  By the beginning of the fall semester nearly half of the former Dana students were attending Midland.

Dana students pick up packets to begin the process of applying to a new school

In addition to leaving Dana faculty and staff without jobs, the school closing left the Danish American Archive Library (DAAL) without a home.  On the following Saturday an army of more than 100 volunteers and a fleet of cars and trucks transported the critical contents of the archive to temporary storage at Professional Forms Inc. in Blair.  The Archive also lost as much as $4,000 in endowment funds held by the college.

Bob Krogh and Sandra Ort Jensen tape a box of documents for transport.

Less than two weeks after the closing announcement and one day before the school was officially closed, the Blair and Dana Community gathered at First Lutheran Church to bid the college farewell.

The Blair and Dana community gathered at First Lutheran Church Sunday evening to bid farewell to Dana College.

On that Sunday evening, members of the Blair and Dana College community  filled the Life Center at First Lutheran Sunday evening to sing, tell stories, pray and just be together in the wake of the closing.  As the service concluded, ushers lit candles  and former chorus members were invited to come forward and lead the gathering in an emotional rendition of Hail Dana.

The following day, Dana College was officially and permanently closed.