Several years ago I covered the higher education beat for the Mankato Free Press. Loved covering that beat. If you like energy, new ideas and optimism, a college campus is the best place to be.

Newsroom managers like for reporters to be out in the community, meeting new people, cultivating new sources, digging up great stories and generally providing the kind of coverage that makes the newspaper better, lively and vibrant. And doing all those things was a ton of fun on the higher education beat. I covered my share of budget cuts and tuition hikes, but I spent most of my time being impressed by the work of students and faculty from around the world.

I covered Minnesota State University, South Central College, Gustavus Adolphus College, Bethany Lutheran College and Rasmussen College. Occasionally I’d get out to Martin Luther College in New Ulm, too. (Though, truth be told, they got kind of mad at me when I covered the unveiling of chapel renovations; guess my language in that piece was a little too creative for their tastes. Sorry guys!)

This month in Mankato Magazine, we celebrate education. And we do it from several fronts. We kick it off with our cover story on Annette Parker, president of South Central College.

Parker came to Mankato with big plans after being recruited. Her earlier years were met with some frustrations, but by all accounts now Parker is moving the institution forward. And if donations and partnerships with industry are any measure, things are heading in the right direction.

Parker was a pioneer of sorts. She was among the first three students bussed to a different school when hers was desegregated. She worked in a General Motors plant out of high school instead of going straight to college. She was the first woman to compete at the national level in an automotive manufacturing skills competition, taking the silver medal. And today, a woman who saw racism first-hand as a child is in the top position at one of the state’s largest technical and community colleges.

Also in this issue, writer Grace Brandt sat down with a few fellows who earned their high school diploma the nontraditional way: through a community education GED program.

These guys have a story that is every bit as inspiring as Parker’s. It takes a lot of courage to go back and finish what you started. These guys deserve a pat on the back.

Finally, there’s a bittersweet story by writer Diana Rojo-Garcia I’d like to draw your attention to. Whereas most of the country celebrates Pride in July, Mankato does it in September. The annual celebration, which has grown dramatically in recent years, will take place for the first time in a long time without the charismatic Jessica Flatequal.

Jessica was a friend of mine, and I remember calling her every year to interview her about Pridefest. She never let a chance to help people or improve the lives of those who needed help pass her by. She was truly one of our community’s greatest champions, and someone we could all be proud of. The LGBTQ community will continue with Pridefest this year, but it will be without their bowtie-wearing, always-smiling, fearless and fiercely kind leader. Diana sat down with Flatequal’s wife, Maria Bevacqua, who is carrying on without her.

You don’t want to miss that one.

Robb Murray is the Features Editor for The Free Press. He can be reached at 344-6386 or rmurray@mankatofreepress.com. Follow Robb on Twitter @FreePressRobb

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Features Editor, Mankato Free Press Associate Editor, Mankato Magazine

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