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A couple of losses

January 12, 2013
By Cindy Votruba , Marshall Independent

When I was studying journalism at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, I was required to take the class Public Affairs Reporting. It was taught by an actual reporter, Larry Oakes. Oakes started working at the Duluth News Tribune back in 1982. He quickly gained recognition by winning the Frank Premack Public Affairs Journalism Award for a series he did on plea bargains in the court system. In 1985, he was hired by the Star Tribune and worked the Duluth bureau for 21 years. He also edited Minneapolis coverage for two years.

Oakes died this past Friday because of suicide at age 52. According to an article in the Star Tribune, he had been dealing with depression and was taking anti-depression medicine for the last five years, said his son, Mike. He was hospitalized just two days before his death because he was having suicidal thoughts.

Oakes was the type of writer journalists want to be like. He looked for the bigger story, double-checked his facts. He delivered powerful series. Although I didn't really keep up with his writing, I would see his name in print from time to time.

So when I saw on Facebook from another instructor of mine about Oakes' death, I was floored. And I didn't realize how young he was. I have to admit I thought he was a little older as I was 20 when I took that class back in 1992.

For Public Affairs Reporting, Oakes had us cover an arraignment, a city council meeting and another court case of our choosing. This was as close to real-world reporting as one got as a college student. We were supposed to concentrate on one item from the city council meeting. And around that time, a part of the movie "Iron Will" was set to be filmed in Duluth and one of the parts of the council meeting pertained to that. As for the court hearing, a few classmates and I carpooled down to the courthouse and searched for any kind of case that was going on. And the one we chose was a bit of a custody hearing battle. Granted it was kind of awkward, but we were stuck. I wrote the story as best I could. Now I'm not sure of what Oakes taught us, but I do remember his assignments and got a B+ in the class.

A person who I came in contact with during my tenure here at the Independent was Marge Robinson, who died last week at age 82. Thirteen years ago, she helped found the Fine Arts Council of Tracy. She also served as president of the organization for several years. A former elementary teacher at Tracy, she did so much for the community and its young people. She was known for her community service. She and her second husband, Dr. F.A. "Robby" Robinson received the Tracy Chamber of Commerce's "Outstanding Citizen Award." She also got the school district's Distinguished Service Award. She presented scholarships to Tracy area High School students. She helped organize volunteers for the Tracy Community Choir and community theater productions in the early 1990s.

She was a tireless promoter of the arts in the Tracy Area. I would get her hand-written press releases about Celebration in Song or Arts in the Afternoon, community theater productions or whatever event FACT was doing at the time. For awhile, the former Etc Building (now the Tracy library), was an exhibit gallery of sorts, along with the cafe and yarn shop. On a few occasions when I was doing a story on whatever exhibit was in the building at the time, Marge and I would get together for lunch. We'd sometimes be joined by others. And she wouldn't let me pay for my meal, it was on her. I followed the adage "don't argue with Marge" when it came to her buying lunch. For that, I was grateful for her generosity and friendship. Once the Etc. building closed, Marge had suggested meeting at the Tracy Bakery for lunch sometime. But that unfortunately never happened.

By the way, I attended my first-ever Celebration in Song on Sunday. It was a delightful afternoon.



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