I played guitar in the pit orchestra when the Pierre Players, a local theater group, performed a week-long run of the musical "Godspell'' some 35 years ago. I had to borrow an electric guitar and an amplifier. A local rock musician took time out of an evening to teach me how to adjust various amp and guitar settings to create "fuzz'' tones. He showed me how to bend notes. It was a technically challenging bit of guitar playing for me, so when I wasn't terrible at it, the whole thing was a rewarding experience.
News reporters exist to go places and witness events for other citizens who can't or don't wish to be there, I believe. Think of Mark Kellogg. I learned of Kellogg when I joined The Associated Press and read a quick history of the newsgathering cooperative. Kellogg, a Bismarck Tribune reporter, accompanied the Custer expedition to Little Bighorn in June of 1876. One online account says, "As a newspaper stringer whose reports were picked up around the country, Kellogg is considered the first Associated Press correspondent to die in the line of duty.''
I look at the obituary picture of the soft-eyed Marine in dress blues, and I think, "Gosh, he looks even younger than he did in junior high.'' The Marine is my friend Ross, a classmate from schools days in Chamberlain. He died a week ago at age 73, half a century after a tour in Vietnam as a pilot with the Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron. After Vietnam, he spent some time in Pensacola, Florida, as a flight instructor. Then, having served his country, he returned home to serve his community.
I watched an aluminum boat drift lazily past my dock this morning and thought, not for the first time, "I don't get fishing." Two guys sat in the boat, one on a kind of pedestal chair near the bow, the other on what looked like a more comfortable chair back near the motor. Both wore coveralls and hooded jackets (looked like insulated gear in the 38-degree chill) and baseball caps. Both held fishing rods, and in the light of the mid-morning sun the lines running from the rods to the smooth water glistened like strands of a spider web.
John Egan, the sports editor at my first real newspaper job, saw great value in the relationship between young athletes and a good coach. He's the one who told me every kid should have someone in their life that, as long as they live, they would call "Coach." We were talking sports, but it was understood that he spoke of any endeavor a young person undertakes with the guidance and support of a dedicated instructor.
Near the end of the 1970 session of the South Dakota Legislature, a guy asked if I'd manage his campaign for a statewide office. Think of that. Some would-be candidate saw me in the press box in the Capitol, scribbling away in one of those pocket-sized reporter's notebooks and thought, "Aha. That 26-year-old farm boy with the wacky necktie and the saddle shoes looks like he could run a successful campaign.''
My kids, adults now, grew up with "Sesame Street,'' which meant that Nancy and I did, too. The show first aired on Public Television in the fall of 1969, when we had a daughter almost 2 years old and a son just eight months. I remember thinking it was kind of a goofy show. As the kids grew a bit older, it was clear that they found many of the program's characters and features fascinating. They were learning a thing or two about numbers and letters and communication and how to treat people, too.
Today, or rather this date, almost always has me feeling disappointed in myself.
I'm going to try to apply an experience from my freshman year of college to Sunshine Week, the annual time set aside in the news world to remind citizens of the importance of open government and a free press. This is the final day of this year's Sunshine Week, although open government must be nurtured, encouraged and applauded every day of the year. Citizens in a democracy need to know what their government is doing if they are to make reasoned judgments on issues, programs and policies. Citizens deserve to know. They have a right to know. And so, Sunshine Week is a reminder.
Back in 1973, when the South Dakota Legislature changed rules and procedures to make it easier for citizens to follow along, a Democrat leader in the Senate said they were "throwing open the windows of the Capitol and letting the sun shine in.'' Harvey Wollman, of Hitchcock, said that or something very close. He was talking about opening the legislative process, anyway, and it was a significant step forward in open government. It made bills and votes and committee hearings much easier to track. It was a user-friendly change that benefited citizens.