The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 25, 2013

NPR reporter tapped Waseca roots for his work

By Tim Krohn
Free Press Staff Writer

WASECA — David Welna’s path to decades of international and domestic reporting grew from the national tensions of the ’60s and ’70s reflected in his hometown of Waseca.

And from a broken TV.

“We did not have a functioning TV for most of the years I grew up,” Welna said of his parents’ refusal to replace a broken television.

That led Welna to devour books from the library, read the two local newspapers, listen to WCCO radio and begin writing for the high school newspaper. 

Welna, a 1973 Waseca High School graduate, is National Public Radio’s Washington-based congressional correspondent who’s spent years reporting from South America and later the U.S. He spoke to a group Thursday at the Waseca County Historical Society.

Welna’s expanded view of the world grew as the turbulence of the civil rights movement and Vietnam War enveloped Waseca, along with the rest of the country.

Welna helped organize youth groups for debates on civil rights, promoted the wearing of black arm bands to school to protest the war, and as class council president won a battle with the School Board to allow students to wear jeans to school.

He was also touched by locals who had received national attention, including the Kunst brothers who set out to walk around the world.

But while the country and Waseca were changing during his formative years, other topics were not breached, including homosexuality and the treatment of Native Americans.

After graduating from college, Welna went to South America, where he reported and met his wife, before moving to NPR’s Chicago bureau in 1998. To develop a series of stories on changes in agriculture, Welna traveled to the familiar soil of his hometown.

There he interviewed a father who broke down in tears because his son would not be able to take over the farm, interviewed an organic farmer, and talked to very successful farmer Jim Zimmerman.

 Welna remembered Zimmerman for his  connection to one of the most tragic events in Waseca history. In 1959, Zimmerman’s wife and six children were killed when their car was hit by a train. Zimmerman later married a widow with six children.

“I carry these stories around in my head wherever I go,” Welna said of the past and more recent events from his hometown.

“Waseca has changed, but I hope it can preserve its special history.”