A common piece of advice for writers is “write what you know.” The wisdom of that advice — often attributed to Ernest Hemingway — is debated in literary circles, but I won’t get into that discussion today. The truth is, having been at the Daily Globe for 27 years now and spending the majority of my life in Worthington, I am often called upon to “write what I know,” or maybe more importantly, “write WHO I know.”
At the moment, I am taking a break from writing one such piece — a tribute to Mary Beth Blegen, who died Monday after a short battle with cancer — that should be found on the front page of today’s issue of the Daily Globe. This is the second such piece I’ve had to write in the last six weeks dealing with people I know relatively well, and in both cases, people who were role models and mentors to me. In fact, they were both people who I don’t ever remember not knowing.
The first was Ray Crippen, longtime editor of the Daily Globe, who died in December. Our association would have begun with church — St. Matthew Lutheran. Ray taught Sunday school for many years, and I also recall he was a church elder when I was going through the confirmation program. At the time, confirmands were required to go — alone — before an elder and make some sort of recitation. I can remember being relieved to find that Ray was my designated elder. I knew he was a good guy and would not fault me if I stumbled.
But then I also knew Ray through the Daily Globe, long before I came to work here. My mom wrote a column for the Globe and was one of its proofreaders when I was growing up. I was also a “paper girl” during my early teen years, so I had many reasons to stop in the Daily Globe office, where I would inevitably run into Ray.
As an adult, when I ended up back in my hometown to temporarily regroup, Ray offered me a job, even though my journalism training was negligible. And I took it, never intending to spend more than a year here before I decided what I really wanted to do. But Ray had faith in me. He shaped my skills. He turned me into a reasonable facsimile of a journalist.
More than 25 years later — almost six weeks ago now — I found myself writing his journalistic eulogy. I was honored to do so, and many of the words were written through the tears welling up in my eyes. I didn’t realize how much Ray meant to me until I began to write his story.
And now there is Mary Beth — a longtime Worthington teacher whose claim to fame was being named the 1996 National Teacher of the Year. But she was a rock star educator to her students long before that honor.
Here’s my disclaimer: I never had her as a teacher. Not sure why — she may have been dealing with health issues or her young family at the time— so I didn’t have the opportunity to experience her in the classroom. But I did know Mary Beth well, first through associations with my older siblings, and then through my own very memorable high school experiences.
Back then, she was married to choir teacher Dave Blegen, and between our junior and senior years the choir embarked on a trip to sister city Crailsheim, Germany — the first large-scale exchange attempted. That meant lots of fundraisers, lots of practices, and lots of time spent with both Mr. and Mrs. Blegen. We even built a float for King Turkey Day in their driveway.
Even though she wasn’t my teacher, Mary Beth was a strong female role model, and most importantly, she listened and made every student feel acknowledged and relevant.
When I came to work at the Daily Globe, Mary Beth wrote a weekly column that fell under my jurisdiction, so I interacted with her regularly. She wrote of her own foibles, but also about her students and what she learned from them. When our paths happened to cross in more recent years, I was always greeted with a warm embrace, an intent gaze and a bevy of questions that showed her genuine interest.
So again, I find myself writing about a mentor and a friend, the computer screen occasionally blurred by tears as I read the tributes to her that abound on social media and hope that I can do her spirit justice.
Writing about WHO you know isn’t always easy. It can be much easier to write about people you don’t know, as you aren’t laden with the baggage of your own relationship and perceptions. It’s difficult to keep your own voice out of the telling, to tell what they meant to you.
But I can do that here. So thank you, Ray. Thank you, Mary Beth. You were both big influences in my life, and I thank you for all that you taught me.