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I’ve always loved spelling. When other kids went to school fearing the week’s spelling test throughout elementary school, I went into the test with confidence.

I was lucky because I didn’t have to study my words of the week much at all, to which I credit my voracious reading habit from a young age.

Believe me, I had plenty of shortfalls in other areas of my academic career, but spelling was one area that just seemed to click well for me.

Then came putting those words we learned throughout the weeks and the years into formidable sentences to form stories.

As I progressed through my formative years in education and into high school, I remember taking two classes that still stand out to me: one was an introduction to journalism class and the other was a creative writing course.

It was in those classes I was able to expand from writing essays on an assigned topic to writing about things I actually cared about.

The more writing I did on things I had a passion for, the more I began to realize that, hey, maybe it’s not actually too far-fetched of an idea that I could write for a living.

From there, I went onto Winona State University as one of the many undecided students until the beginning of my sophomore year.

I made the decision to pursue journalism and went through the rigorous course load, learning both inside and outside the classroom in small class sizes.

Though I enjoyed my time there as a student and it taught me many of the basics, there’s no way it prepared me for the time I’ve spent at the Union-Times newspaper, of which May 1 will be my last day serving the communities of Princeton and Milaca and those in between.

Last April, I realized my goal of becoming a professional writer when I was hired at the Union-Times.

Just over a year later, I’m ready to take the next step in my professional career. I have some options out there that I’m going to explore, particularly with my passion for motorsports journalism.

I also have some U.S. Army obligations this year and look to get promoted to the rank of sergeant, which is one of my goals this year.

I’ve also been approached about the idea of writing a book, which is something I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while and will give a little more thought to. At any rate, my writing will continue in some way, shape or form, that’s for sure.

I’m not from here, I don’t have family or friends here and I don’t live here, but sometimes having someone give their opinion from the outside is constructive.

Though there’s not enough space in this newspaper for the observations and ideas I have, I’ll leave you with three things to consider. I hope you, the readers, take them to heart and, whether you agree or disagree, ponder them.

1) Journalism isn’t as easy as it may seem. It takes work. And time. Late nights followed by early mornings. (I can’t believe I don’t drink coffee.) Some days are harder than others. This job requires a lot out of the people who choose it. We don’t take it lightly. Every day is different and offers a unique set of circumstances. Forget working 9-to-5. This job, done properly, keeps up with the news, whenever it happens to occur. We see people on some of their best days, and we also see them on some of their worst. We rely on people to open up their hearts to us and talk about themselves in a vulnerable time in their lives on occasion. I’ve been humbled to hear personal stories of tragedy and heartache. Those stick with me, and I make sure to thank all those who have shared those stories with me, a complete stranger and been entrusted to tell their story the best I can. In many cases, I feel as though I can’t come close to the reality of the situation, but if you’ve ever read anything and felt the emotion of the subject, then the writer has done a good job. I hope the readers of the Union-Times have been able to experience some of that in the stories I’ve written in my time here.

2) We are not your enemy. We’re in the business of delivering the news you need to know and telling stories. We care about what makes this paper’s community strong, unique and most importantly, the people who make it that way. We’re not out to embarrass anyone or make them look bad. We pursue the truth with dignity. Sometimes it’s not pretty. But sometimes it is. Those are the stories that keep writers writing. We like positive stories too. Actually, those are my favorite stories to write, the human interest stories and features about the neighborhood kid down the block, the senior living resident with an amazing talent, the veteran returning home. It’s a compliment to hear your story got clipped out of the paper and stuck to the fridge with a magnet.

3) Community journalism will always be important. So is that word, community. Princeton, you should care about Milaca. Milaca, you should care about Princeton. You may be different from each other, but you also have a lot in common. Your economies affect each other, some of your friends or family may live in one or the other or both. The fact is you will continue to share space in this newspaper, We try as best as we can to make sure the coverage is balanced, but you can bet your boots we hear it from both sides weekly. Princeton gets more coverage. Milaca gets more coverage. Why don’t you care about us? We do care. The newspaper business is event-driven. If Milaca has more events or newsworthy stories in one week than Princeton does, or vice versa, they’ll get more coverage that particular week. Balanced coverage is on the forefront of our minds in everything we do. Trust me on that. There’s stories and information packed into these pages you can’t get anywhere else.

This journey would not have been possible without the help of my managing editor, Tim Hennagir; director of news, Keith Anderson; Kim Young; and Luther Dorr, among others.

Tim Hennagir is the right person for the managing editor role, and I’m glad to have worked with him the last number of months. His past experience will pay dividends in the future of this paper and it’s already beginning to show. The government coverage he has provided has been outstanding and it’s now one of the paper’s strong suits. He has a passion for the nitty-gritty stories and that’s something readers should continue to expect.

I’m excited what having a true sports reporter will do for this currently small, but soon to be growing (I promise) staff. Sports deserves the attention of a full-time staffer.

I’m leaving this newspaper with a clear conscience. I’ve given it everything I had day in and day out. I believe in leaving things better than when you first came across them.

I’ve learned so much and I feel that I’ve been able to improve some things along the way, if not noticeable to the readers, then at least internally, be it production day processes, customer service or a better social media presence.

The decision to leave was among the top two hardest decisions I’ve faced in my 25 years, and I hate the ripples it will cause such a small staff, but like all the other thin times, this paper will bounce back. I’m confident the quality news content will carry it through.

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