Independence Day has two meanings for me.

It’s the celebration of our country’s founding, of course. But especially in recent years, it’s the day when I carve out a little time to do something I want to do, even if part of the day involves work at the newspaper, chores at home or family responsibilities.

I spent my Independence Day afternoon Saturday at the Sumner Rodeo. It’s a 65-year tradition at the small town about 35 miles northwest of Kearney that is put on by the Sumner Saddle Club … in other words, all local volunteers and sponsors.

Barrels, Lexi Christensen, Lexington2-crop

The family that oversees the rodeo are great folks. They let me go just about wherever I want to go to take photos. This is one of the few rodeos that is in a small outdoor arena and has one of its two performances in the middle of the day. Those are required conditions for my basic camera equipment.

I love the time to just do what I want to do in the way I want to do it. Such times have become increasingly rare.

I loved the drive up Highway 40 past green corn and soybean fields, grazing cattle, and carpets of green pastures that were the recipients of wonderful spring rains. With a pretty good south breeze, the tall grasses and swaying crops seemed to be, as Willa Cather put it, as if they were galloping across the landscape.

NFPW member Mary Jane Skala went to the Sumner Rodeo with me the past three years. In 2012, she had been in Kearney and working at the Hub for only a month when I invited her to go.

She sat in the bleachers so quietly throughout the rodeo, I didn’t know what she thought. Then in late June 2013, she asked me if we were going to the Sumner Rodeo again.

Bull, Conner Halverson, Gordon3-crop

Mary Jane now works at the Ghost Ranch retreat in New Mexico, but still writes her Hub column each Monday. Part of her message last week was that she would miss going to the July 4 rodeo this year.

The events, as usual, included bareback and saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, barrel racing, and team, tie-down and breakaway calf roping. The rodeo always ends with the signature event: bull riding.

Bull, Garrett Stricklin, Ainsworth3-crop

The bulls, broncs and even the wily calves mostly won over the cowboys and cowgirls on Saturday. One bull rider had the wind knocked out of him and a couple others had a hitch in their get-alongs after being bucked off, but no one – and no animals – was serious hurt.

Meanwhile, I caught up with some people I know, drank the best iced tea I ever had about mid-way through the rodeo and drove home with the galloping landscape as my escort.

I told myself along the way that I MUST create more Independence Days just for me. I really couldn’t remember the last time I went somewhere or did something that didn’t have a work or other have-to component.

And for the next two months, whenever I get tired or feel there are too many demands on my time, I will remind myself that the NFPW Conference in Alaska is ahead.

It will be my 2015 Independence Week!!

I was thinking of my NFPW friends Wednesday night as I sat under a huge white tent on the grounds of the historic Frank House on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus.

It was the first night of Nebraska Chautauqua week in Kearney at which one re-enactor was featured for most of the program. On Wednesday, it was author Willa Cather, portrayed by Cather scholar Betty Jean Steinshouer.

Mark Twain, portrayed by Warren Brown, is the emcee each night of the Chautauqua. It concludes Sunday night with Nebraska’s Chief Standing Bear, the Ponca chief who won a court case that for the first time declared that Native Americans have citizenship rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Twain and Cather knew each other, so they shared the stage at the end of Wednesday’s performance to answer questions, first in character and then as scholars of the two authors.

Willa Cather2

I went to the Chautauqua with Nebraska Press Women member Glennis Nagel, who had been my news writing teacher at Kearney State College in the 1975-76 school year and a mentor ever since.

Also with us was Jane Ziebarth Bovill, a UNK teacher education professor and one of my best friends at Wilcox High School back in the day. Her husband recently died, so this was a good event to ease her back into some community-UNK activities.

As I listened to Willa Cather’s words, I thought the NFPW members on the Nebraska pre-tour ahead of our 2011 conference in Omaha-Council Bluffs.

The Virginians who came along were especially excited to visit Red Cloud, the Nebraska prairie town where Cather grew up and met many of the people who would be the patterns for characters in the great author’s Nebraska-based books.

Cather was born in Virginia. She was an unhappy 10-year-old when her family moved to such an empty place. Eventually, she fell in love with the vast land and sky, and came to admire the immigrants and other pioneers who settled the prairie after the Homestead Act gave them an opportunity to own their own land.

I was surprised to hear Cather say her book “O Pioneers” is flawed, mostly because she tried to pattern it after other writers’ styles. Any flaws escaped me because it always has been my favorite Cather book, with “My Antonia” a close second.

Jane and I told Steinshouer that the granddaughter of Annie Pavelka, the immigrant girl who inspired the Antonia character, was a friend of ours in Wilcox.

I interviewed Phyllis once for the Hub and she showed me a family scrapbook that included a handwritten note from Cather to her father, Hugo. In part it told Hugo to thank his mother, Annie, for sending the kolaches home with her on the train after a visit to the Red Cloud area.

My great-great-grandfather went to Red Cloud after serving with the Union Army during the Civil War because his parents and at least two brothers already were in the area. They operated a mill on the Republican River and owned a store.

Great-great Grandpa Charles R. Potter moved to the Wilcox area to the northwest to open his own store on the Alma-to-Kearney freight route. The name, Freewater Store, distinguished his business from other road ranches that charged teamsters to water their animals.

I’ll never know if he or other Potter ancestors ever crossed paths with Cather in Red Cloud.

The Chautauqua provided a nice evening to be with two good friends listening to Cather’s and Twain’s voices talking about themselves.

Cather, Twain3

In her essay for the Chautauqua program, Steinshouer wrote that while Cather went to the University of Nebraska to study medicine, she quickly changed her career path after writing reviews of theatrical and musical troupes passing through Lincoln and Omaha, and seeing her name in print in the Lincoln Star Journal and Evening News.

It was an interesting twist Wednesday to learn that nine of her stories during that time were about the Big Tent Chautauqua Assembly along the Big Blue River near Crete in 1894.

The every-five-year, all-class reunion of Wilcox (Neb.), now Wilcox-Hildreth, High School was Saturday night at the Kearney Holiday Inn. It has been quite a few reunions since anyone thought it was a good idea to cater a banquet in the small, hot high school gym in the middle of June.

Some things about this reunion were the same as always, including that too many “locals,” graduates who still live in and around Wilcox, didn’t come. I know they think they see each other all of the time, but I always feel bad for the alumni who came home from afar expecting to see more familiar faces around their tables.

The great thing about an all-class reunion for a small community like my hometown is that you get to see people from other classes, church, 4-H and many other activities.

There were about 300 K-12 students at Wilcox when I graduated in 1974, which would be a small senior class in most big city schools, even Kearney. I started kindergarten in a class of 11 and graduated in a class of 17, including six of us who had gone all the way through together.

Because there were only five girls in my class, including my twin sister, some of my best friends were in the class just behind me. One, who had lived most of her adult life in Lincoln, found love a second time around a few years ago and moved to Red Oak, Iowa, was at the banquet Saturday.

I enjoyed my visit with Sheryl and many other friends. It still is strange to see them as adults and hear them talk about grandchildren and retirement plans. Yes, I did have to check some name tags to know who was walking toward me for a visit.

Once the reintroductions were made, we fell into conversations and told stories as if we were all teenagers again enjoying the rich full life of high school in a small town. We may not have appreciated those times then, but I’m sure there isn’t a one of us who would not pay for the privilege of going back for just one day.

The guest speaker was Larry Jensen, a longtime and much-loved math teacher at WHS in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He mostly told stories, without naming names so that it would spark a memory for some people without embarrassing anyone in public.

His wife also was a Wilcox teacher. They met when she came to do her student teaching. They went to all the school activities, some as sponsors, and Mr. Jensen – can’t call him Larry – drove a school bus route.

They have four children, all born after they moved to a larger Nebraska town to teach and for Mr. Jensen to work as a school administrator. One of the best things he said Saturday was they didn’t start a family sooner because all of the Wilcox kids seemed like their kids.

It is amazing how such important times in our lives keep us forever tied to people we may have only known for a few years as youngsters. A reunion is a time to catch up and reminisce, of course, but for one evening, it makes it feel as though our special time together was yesterday.

NFPW conferences also have those qualities. Our time together once a year doesn’t allow us to know all about each other, even though friendships have been forged that keep some members from different states in constant contact throughout the years.

Our relationships are as professional communicators who have shared some of our experiences, knowledge, highlights and heartaches. It’s wonderful how quickly we fall into that relationship and into friendships at the annual conferences. And also how quickly many first-timers become a part of that tradition.

I tell people I don’t care much for reunions, but there are two major exceptions. It would take extreme circumstances for me to miss a Wilcox High School Alumni Banquet or an NFPW annual conference, which is why I hope to see you in Anchorage this September.

One of the most interesting parts of being a journalist is encountering interesting people and wildlife.

Many two-legged, four-legged, winged and furry creatures are real characters, with big personalities, interesting talents and skills, unusual interests, and different ways of looking at things. They can make me laugh and remind me not to pretend that I know much about anything.

I met one of these four-legged characters at horse farm Friday morning.

I had an interview with a 22-year-old man who is a farrier (shoes horses) by trade and also a bull rider in small area rodeos. It’s my turn for a Kearney Hub Monday profile on June 29, just ahead of the annual July 3 and 4 Sumner Rodeo.

I have shots of Zach riding a bull at the 2014 Sumner Rodeo. He plans to ride again in a few weeks and maybe compete in team calf roping. So, the timing was right to profile him.

He’s on the road almost constantly in his business – he goes to the horses, they don’t come to him – but was home on Friday morning and could do the interview. He needed to shoe his own horse for team roping that night at the nearby Overton Rodeo, at which he also rode bulls.

As we walked to the corral and barn, where I could get a photo of him shoeing his horse to go along with the bull riding file art, his girlfriend rode an ATV into the pasture to gather their eight horses. She does barrel racing at rodeos, but had to take Friday night off because her buckskin horse came in from the pasture a little lame, probably from stepping in a hole.

As Zach and I walked past a small shed, I heard “Baaaaaaa.” When I asked if he had a sheep, he replied that they were bottle feeding a young goat they had gotten to graze the farmyard. They started with two goats, but the other one died suddenly during a seizure.

He let the little white goat out and he followed us around until he saw the ATV coming over the pasture hill with the horses following. Once, he got into the corral, he blended in with Ashley, the horses and the couple’s two working boarder collies.

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It was like the goat didn’t know he was a goat. He was just part of a big happy family in which didn’t matter that everyone was unique.

I like that kind of thinking in our big, diverse world with so many interesting characters. It would be mighty dull if we all acted, thought and looked alike.

One of the best parts of NFPW conferences is visiting with people from other states. We are all professional communicators, but we do many different things in our work, play and family activities. We have introverts, extroverts, members who are shy and those who have never known a stranger.

And yes, there are some characters.

Because each of us is unique, I don’t expect us to think alike, agree on everything or enjoy the same things. That doesn’t exclude us from being friends and colleagues. It just makes the relationships more rich, full and interesting.

I hope all NFPW members are considering coming to Anchorage, Alaska, in September for our 2015 conference. We will visit incredible places, learn many new things and enjoy each other’s company.

And I guarantee that you’ll meet some characters who will enrich your life!

So what is your brand?

No, I’m not going to pretend to understand “branding” as a marketing tool, business or institutional image, or key element in developing a small business plan.

If you need expertise on those topics, read “Cynthia’s Communique,” the blog of NFPW Past President and Communicator of Achievement Director Cynthia Price of Virginia.

I’m more familiar with the use of brands in ranch country of the Great Plains and West to permanently identify ownership and, usually, place of birth for cattle. That’s important to people who want to trace the origins of food products and to cattle owners who use unique brands to help protect against theft.

The ear tags cattle producers use to match mama cows and babies, and to keep business records can be removed or fall out. A brand is much more difficult to remove, or explain to brand inspectors without an accompanying bill of sale.

As I spent Saturday from before sunrise until a beef brisket dinner in the early afternoon in a green-carpeted Gosper County pasture that is part of the Cross Diamond Ranch, it occurred to me that the brand worn by the cinnamon to rust, dark brown to black cattle also is tied to the producers’ reputation.

Roundup20

This was the largest of several branding days for Scott and Kim Ford, their ranch employees, neighbors and friends, with 230 calves rounded up in the pasture hills, separated for a time from their mothers, branded and given three vaccinations.

Branding25, Vade Jensen, Megan Nation

It was great to watch the well-coordinated veteran crew work with their equally talented, equally calm horses.

This was not the wild branding day that’s part of Hollywood fantasy. The roundup seemed mostly like a pleasure-pace ride through the pasture.

Yes, there was some wailing of mothers and babies during the separation period. But once the calves were sorted, it was amazing how quickly and quietly the men, women and horses worked.

Each calf was roped by a leg or two, slowly dragged across damp grass to the waiting cowboys. Two held each calf on its side until it could be branded and receive three shots, a process that usually took less than 30 seconds.

Does a brand hurt? Probably, even on a thick hairy hide. But I’m sure it’s far less painful than what is experienced by people who “brand” themselves with tattoos and/or piercings.

Branding33

Would you not vaccinate your young children because you didn’t want to upset them or have them holler for a bit?

Branding day is hard work. However, the serious, sometimes dangerous business still allows time to catch up with friends and share a good time with other folks who wouldn’t want to be anywhere else on a beautiful spring morning.

I appreciated being allowed to observe the event and take photos. No one yelled at me about being in the way, although a mama cow let out a bawl right behind me that nearly scared me to death.

I went to branding day to take photos and get information for a story-essay or something in writing for next Saturday’s Kearney Hub ag feature.

I was reminded about some of the many things I love about living in rural Nebraska. It’s where neighbors always come to help, farmers and ranchers love their land and their livestock, and some tried and true traditions carry on.

All those things are part of the Nebraska brand.

Memorial Day is a time to honor huge sacrifices made for the greater good by people in our lives and in our world. The focus is on our military veterans, and that certainly was the case this morning when I shot photos at the Kearney Cemetery program.

However, visiting any cemetery also is a time to remember “average folks” who contributed to good causes in their own, smaller ways.

Raising children, building a main street business, creating a sustainable farm or ranch, or being of service to your community, school or professional organization are big accomplishments made up of millions of little things done day to day, year to year. There are so many of those little things that they generally go unnoticed.

In recent years, Americans have done a much better job of thanking veterans and those currently in the military.

I’ve been on Buffalo County Hero Flights with groups of World War II and Korean War veterans. When I asked them at the end of their few days in Washington, D.C., what impressed them most, many talked about the war memorials. However, all of them said how much it meant to them to have people, especially children, come up to them, shake their hands and thank them for their service.

As I was leaving the cemetery this morning, I noticed an elderly woman wearing a yellow coat who was tending a small section of the cemetery like it was her special garden of military headstones. She went from one stone to the next with a hand-held broom removing the dust, grass clippings, fallen leaves and other debris from the base and top of each.

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When I got a little closer to her, I noticed she was doing this despite having one arm in a sling.

“I’m just cleaning up my neighborhood,” she told me, after pointing out the headstone with her late husband’s name on it.

I didn’t ask how often she comes to that patch of cemetery with her broom in hand, but I’m certain she’s there every Memorial Day.

Her dedication in making that little part of the world a little nicer as a gift to her husband and some other veterans made me think about how important little acts of kindness and support have been to me.

Nothing in my professional career has meant more to me than words of encouragement from people whose opinion I highly value.

Most such words have come from my Nebraska Press Women and National Federation of Press Women mentors, colleagues and friends. A note of thanks, a “how are you doing?” at a busy, stressful time or a “well done” works just as well as a brush to sweep away a burden or a cloud.

I’ll use the image of the woman in the yellow coat as a reminder to do better in returning such favors.

Rural Nebraskans know it’s almost impossible to have your hometown mentioned in national news publications or broadcasts unless a tragedy is involved.

Hardly anyone had heard of Pilger, Neb., until it was nearly destroyed last year by a tornado. Even then, the headlines beyond our state borders lasted only a few days. In tornado alley, your weather-related tragedy often is quickly knocked off the front page by someone else’s monster storm.

Sadly, my hometown of Wilcox, Neb., has been newsworthy this week because one of the pilots on the U.S. Marine Corps helicopter that crashed while delivering aid to earthquake victims in Nepal was a Wilcox native.

Capt. Dustin “Dusty” Lukasiewicz was featured in a video shot just a few days earlier about the Marines’ work in Nepal. He narrated the story of how they were delivering food and tarps to people in remote mountain villages and ended the video with, “We stand with Nepal.”

Dusty graduated from Wilcox-Hildreth High School in 2003. My nephew, Scott, was a K-12 classmate and the boys were close friends. I heard Scott talk about doing things with Dusty over the years, and they were groomsmen in each other’s wedding.

I called Scott Friday and got him to tell me some stories about Dusty. They played side-by-side on the offensive line on their eight-man football team, went hunting and, with another classmate, bought an old beat up pickup that they drove through pastures and on other adventures.

Both boys are grown men now with families of their own. Scott has a 2-year-old boy and baby girl born in late February. Dusty has a young girl and his wife is expecting their second child in June.

The news of Dusty’s death is a reminder of the dangers involved in military service, even when the work is humanitarian in nature, not war.

It also puts a focus on why the Marines are there. Every family in Nepal who lost loved ones, homes and their livelihoods is feeling the same pain as the families of the U.S. Marines lost in the helicopter crash.

It’s a reminder for journalists that the stories we cover about deaths, storm damage, fires and other tragedies involve real people and not just characters in a story. The Bible’s instructions to treat others as we would want to be treated should apply to covering such hard news stories.

Until the bodies of the six Marines and two Nepalese soldiers killed in the shadow of Mount Everest are retrieved, brought to their hometowns and laid to rest, Wilcox probably will be mentioned in the national news.

And I’m sure the video featuring the Wilcox kid everyone called Dusty, with the difficult-to-pronounce last name, will be shown and watched online thousands of times.

Someday, it probably will be used to help tell two young children why their dad was a special man who served his country well.

On this cold, damp, cloudy November type day before Mother’s Day, I’ve spent much of my time watching a friend prepare to move to New Mexico.

If it weren’t for the scary forecasts for snow, heavy rain, hail and even tornadoes along all possible driving routes to her destination, the Ghost Ranch retreat in northwest New Mexico, longtime NFPW member Mary Jane Skala would be well on her way there.

Mary Jane is a Cleveland native who spent most of her career as an editor of suburban newspapers there and the last three as a staff writer for my newspaper, the Kearney Hub. We have known each other for decades as leaders of our affiliates and NFPW. We often roomed together at the national conferences so we could catch up.

Before she came to Kearney, I had visited her in Cleveland and she had spent a long weekend with me in Kearney on the way to a year in The West after leaving her editor’s job.

That year … and a little longer … took her to many wild and wonderful places. But it was volunteering at the Ghost Ranch that captured her heart and renewed her spirit.

So when the staff there contacted her several weeks ago about a paid position as volunteer coordinator, I think she knew in her heart that she would accept, even before the rest of her had considered all of her options.

She bought a new-to-her used SUV and started packing it with things form her small Kearney duplex. The couch, chair, mattress and box springs that had been in my basement and were moved to Mary Jane’s home in 2012 were donated to charity. They sure didn’t need to sit in my basement unused for more years to come.

However, other things that simply couldn’t fit in the SUV will reside here for however long they need to stay. It provides me some certainty that Mary Jane will come back to Kearney to get them, all at once or a few at a time, during her journeys between New Mexico and her family in Cleveland.

She has spent the afternoon getting a spare tire for the SUV that, for some odd reason, was not sent with her when she bought it; stopping at the Hub office to check email one more time; and returning to her duplex to clean.

She will stay in my spare bedroom tonight and leave early Sunday morning on what we both hope is a calm, sunny spring day. Her new job at the Ghost Ranch starts on Monday.

We’re both invited out to eat and to a movie tonight with two of her best Kearney friends. I might go to supper, but it will depend on some family plans I still have late this afternoon.

It was wonderful to have such a longtime NFPW friend nearby for three years after so many years of enjoying face-to-face meetings only at the conferences that are for so many of us like family reunions.

Mary Jane won’t be coming to the 2015 conference in Anchorage, but I’ve pointed out that the 2016 conference in Wichita will be almost a straight shot east for her. And that many of her newer Nebraska Press Women friends will carpool and caravan to the Kansas conference.

I’ve never moved very far away from my childhood home and never lived outside of Nebraska, so I can’t really understand someone like Mary Jane who loves to find new places to call home.

Maybe I never felt that I’d landed in “the place” somewhere new because I was blessed to have been in that place all of my life.

I hope all of you will be sending good wishes Mary Jane’s way on Mother’s Day for a safe journey and wonderful new next step in her life.

It might sound like an odd connection, but farmers and NFPW members do share similarities.

Yes, there are members from rural areas and even states where agriculture is, by far, the number one industry. Several of us have ag communications-related jobs at newspapers, other businesses, universities and in government.

And, although it is not acknowledged nearly enough in my opinion, if you eat food, you are beholding to farmers and ranchers.

The connection that isn’t so obvious is that farmers and NFPW members are optimists.

Why else would farmers who had their crops wiped out by natural disasters in 2014, plant seeds again in 2015? With the costs of production higher than the market price for corn, why are Nebraska farmers rushing to get seeds in the ground this spring planting season?

It only recently occurred to me that the giant statue of “The Sower” on top of the Nebraska capitol in Lincoln is more than a symbol of our agricultural roots. It also represents the optimistic pioneer spirit still reflected by our modern farmers each spring.

They plant seeds because they believe Mother Nature will be kinder to them. They hope that prices will improve later, at least to a level good enough to make it economically possible to plant again in 2016.

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I’m sure there are tractors in many Nebraska fields this Sunday morning as farmers rush to get work done ahead of a forecast for a rainy week ahead. It’s a double-edge sword. You never speak ill of rain during growing season, but if it could wait just a week or two longer, all the corn seeds would be in the ground.

Then the farmers move on to soybeans.

The same optimism for the future of NFPW and our affiliates is obvious every time we approve a budget and schedule future conferences. Why would we set conferences years in advance if we didn’t believe we would be a viable organization with members who would attend?

In the meantime, we plant seeds by inviting other professional communicators to join us, enter the professional contest, learn from the conference workshops and build networks with other members.

The plantings also include encouraging high school students to enter their contest and offering to mentor youths who think they might be journalists, public relations specialists or communications educators in the future.

They will need nurturing, of course, just like a farmer’s crops. The rewards are watching them grow, and seeing a harvest in the months and years to come.

So, plant a few seeds along your way for your profession, your affiliate and NFPW.

I’m that happy tired that always come after a fun, interesting, networking Nebraska Press Women convention weekend.

Barb Batie and Jill Claflin hosted us in Lexington for the necessary board and general membership meetings, workshops on leadership and that took us a step farther in our affiliate’s strategic planning journey, good food, and good fun.

We had two high school students from Grand Island attend the lunch to accept first-place awards in the NPW High School Contest, Jill announced the names of our college and high school scholarship winners, and awards were presented to our professional contest winners at the Saturday night banquet at Mac’s Creek Winery.

However, it was the Marian Andersen Nebraska Women Journalists Hall of Fame induction ceremony that truly reflected who we are after 69 years as NPW.

One inductee, Pulitzer Prize nominee Beverly Deepe Keever who was the longest serving Western journalist during the Vietnam War, was presented her award on March 9. She had come home to Hebron from Hawaii for her mother’s 100th birthday, so four NPW members presented her awards there.

A short interview video I shot then was shown at lunch Saturday.

The other inductee was Joan Burney, who was the 1993 NFPW Communicator of Achievement.

She laughed when the highly inept NPW Kazoo Khorale she founded played in her honor.

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We laughed back during her speech when she summed up our many years together by saying, “You’re all crazy.” Clearly, she knows that knows that some of her spirit has rubbed off on all of us.

Joanie obviously was touched when shown the plaque with her photo and a short description of her many accomplishments as a columnist, author, and humor and inspirational speaker. It will hang on a wall with the other 15 Hall of Fame members – the first six were inducted at the Nebraska luncheon that was part of the 2011 NFPW Conference in Council Bluffs – in the building that houses the University of Nebraska-Lincoln journalism department.

She smiled when handed a Nebraska-shaped engraved plaque to hang on her wall and a photo of mine featuring snow geese flying across a nearly full white moon in a bright blue sky.

Then, our Mary Pat Finn-Hoag had one more surprise. She gave Joan an over sized “Congratulations” card that had handwritten messages from all the NPW members present, plus her two sons and daughters-in-law, and a granddaughter already writing for her school newspaper who came to Lexington to help her celebrate.

Joanie and Mary Pat both wear their hearts on their sleeves, so some tears were shed.

Card, Joan Burney, Mary Pat Finn-Hoag3

Perhaps my favorite moment, the one that summed up who we are and have been to each other over the years, came during the break right after the Hall of Fame presentation.

There was Joanie and longtime member Mary Ann Blackledge of North Platte, both former presidents in the day when they sometimes paid for NPW expenses themselves because the budget was so tight.

It also was a time when women of that generation ahead of us Baby Boomers were overcoming obstacles to be taken seriously in the newsroom, even when they knew they would be paid less than men doing the same work.

And when Joan and my NPW-NFPW recruiter the late Marianne Beel, a Sandhills rancher from Valentine, found their voice as writers after already having rich, full lives as ag producers, mothers and volunteers for almost everything in their communities.

So for a long, amazing moment Saturday, Mary Ann and Joan just looked at each other. I’m not even sure they spoke. They each gave a knowing look of people who had become soul mates simply by coming to NPW conventions for years to be with people who understood them.

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Technologies and media have changed. Those of us who looked up to these leaders of NPW when we joined as rookie journalists now are the leaders.

Many of us on both the state and national levels feel bad that we can’t see each other more often. However, when we do, we laugh, cry and share those looks of understanding.

It’s who we are.

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