MATTERS AT HAND: An unheralded hero of the 1997 flood

Thanks to Dwight Kalash, the Herald was able to publish during the Flood of 1997. This fact escaped notice in Kalash's obituary, published in Tuesday's Herald -- probably because so few know about his contribution. Kalash was well-known locally. ...

Thanks to Dwight Kalash, the Herald was able to publish during the Flood of 1997.

This fact escaped notice in Kalash’s obituary, published in Tuesday’s Herald - probably because so few know about his contribution.

Kalash was well-known locally. He served as city prosecutor in Grand Forks for 22 years and as municipal judge in Thompson, N.D., for nearly as long

He was among my closest friends for far longer than that. We met as freshmen at UND, in 1965. I think it was in a political science class, where we were seated alphabetically.

My repository of Kalash stories is a large one. Here is the one that I want to tell today:


Soon after the city ordered an evacuation of our neighborhood, the phone rang, and Kalash said, “You’ll come here.”

We packed up a few clothes - ridiculously few, it turned out - and loaded the cats in our van.

We would have left the second car at home, but at the last minute, there was another phone call. Jim Durkin, who was the Herald’s managing editor at the time, called to report a problem downtown. I drove there, and Suezette headed to Thompson.

That night, the Kalashes provided shelter for us, our four cats, another couple and their child and a dog, and for themselves, the youngest of their three sons, and their dog. I figured there were 40 legs under their table.

What’s most remarkable about this is that only days earlier, Dwight had gotten a disturbing report from doctors at Mayo Clinic. His medical condition - underlain by multiple sclerosis - had grown worse.

But his generosity had only grown greater.

In the morning, Kalash was able to bring Mike Maidenberg and me together. By happenstance, Mike and Kitty Maidenberg had taken shelter in Thompson, too, with Howard Kossover and his family.

Somehow, Mike learned my whereabouts and showed up at the Kalash home. So, publisher and editor were able to get together. We sat on the patio of the Kalash home.


It was a beautiful morning - but not a good time.

Spirits were low. But coffee was in good supply.

And we were determined.

We agreed immediately that we would publish the Herald, even if we had to use a mimeograph machine to do it.

It didn’t come to that, of course.

We were able to piece together a plan and, using the Kalash family phone - a land line, with long-distance charges attached - we made contacts that made it possible for us to carry out the plan, arranging time on the presses at the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

We reached out to our staff, many of whom had headed for safety somewhere else, one as far away as Nebraska. We asked them to come on home. Almost all of them did.

We also sought help from other newspapers; and within a day, reporters had arrived from Duluth and St. Paul to help us out, especially by filling in while our own people looked after their own families and property.


I don’t think we ever paid Kalash for the phone calls.

It might be that we would have been able to make plans and carry them out from someone else’s deck, but it was Kalash’s space that we used.

Despite this important contribution to the Herald’s success, we managed to print a picture of someone else with his obituary. The picture was of Gerald VandeWalle, chief justice of the North Dakota Supreme Court - a fellow attorney, at least.

I know how the mistake happened, and I know the person responsible. I know how embarrassed and contrite the person is.

The truth is, it was an unfortunate but a completely understandable error, an error of the kind we get used to and accept as inevitable in our business.

It’s not for nothing, after all, that the motto of newspapering is “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”

Not always, though.

Thanks to Kalash’s generosity and his complete commitment to the community, the Herald was able to publish.


Things went spectacularly right that morning. We were able to publish the Herald, drawing national attention and winning the Pulitzer Prize.

The Kalash family earned their share of that distinction.

Thanks for that, Dwight. And sorry about the picture. 

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