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RYAN BAKKEN: Good luck, Chuck

Elsewhere in today's newspaper, Herald reporter Chuck Haga writes his farewell. Be sure to read it because his story provides the last piece of evidence that he's the best reporter, best writer and best columnist this newspaper has ever had.

Ryan Bakken
Ryan Bakken

Elsewhere in today's newspaper, Herald reporter Chuck Haga writes his farewell. Be sure to read it because his story provides the last piece of evidence that he's the best reporter, best writer and best columnist this newspaper has ever had.

Not that any further proof is needed.

For those of you who aren't newspaper insiders, there are differences between reporter, writer and columnist. This is an oversimplification, but reporters deliver the facts, columnists deliver the opinions and writers occupy the middle.

Chuck was a pro at all three roles, because he was equally adept at making readers laugh, cry and think. He also could spin a tale.

When he arrived in 2007 for his third and final stint at the Herald, he insisted that he not write columns, even though he was the most capable. He didn't want to step on a fellow geezer's toes and make him irrelevant.

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So, thanks for not exposing my mediocrity, Chuck.

That was not Chuck's only sacrifice when he returned to the Herald. He also shouldered more than his fair share of contentious issues, most notably the Fighting Sioux nickname beat.

As his cubicle neighbor, I had a front-row seat to the vitriol spewed by both sides of that issue and the toll it took on him. It was the price he paid for having his name attached to the stories. And, it was a heavy price at times.

Because of his experience and skill and no one else raising their hand to volunteer, the nickname issue was not the only difficult assignment that he handled. The latest was Spirit Lake Indian Reservation's issues.

Although his ability at handling those issues was impressive, I still will remember Chuck mostly for the entertainment he delivered in his column-writing. That came in a stretch from 1982 to 1987, during the second of three stints at the Herald.

He wrote more than 700 columns during that time, some serious but most light-hearted.

Two of his column's running gags involved his hatred of zucchini and his love of Hagaland, a self-named island that popped up in the Red River downtown during the dry years. When some terrorist planted the dreaded zucchini on Hagaland, Chuck claimed to be appalled by the invasion, but also was thrilled about the column fodder that developed.

Another memorable column was when he ordered six yards of black dirt for fill and discovered it was more dirt than he imagined. The dump truck came to his backyard and "left Vermont," he wrote.

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He was especially proud of writing about people who typically wouldn't be in the newspaper.

Chuck wasn't perfect. He could be high maintenance. He occasionally flashed a temper. Most of those imperfections were revealed when he was pleading the case for good journalism or for doing what was right. When it came to journalism, he was an idealist in an ever-growing realist realm.

He could have remained in the loftier precinct of the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper. But he wanted to come home to his family, most notably the three grandchildren that he brags about every day.

So, my hero and friend, enjoy your time playing cribbage with the grandkiddies. You've earned it.

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1125; or send e-mail to rbakken@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: CHUCK HAGA
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