Farewell to a friend from New Ulm
It happened again last week. I had to say goodbye to a good friend. It is something that seems to happen all too frequently lately. Maybe that is a sign of getting old you have a lot of old friends.
But, this one died much too young.
You probably didn’t know Bruce Fenske. He was the long-time publisher of the New Ulm Journal, a sister publication to the Faribault County Register, as we are both owned by Ogden Newspapers.
In fact, besides being the publisher at New Ulm, he also was the regional publisher of the other Ogden newspapers in Minnesota, in Marshall, Fairmont and here in Blue Earth.
In essence, then, he sort of oversaw what we were doing here at the Register. Of course, we rarely had any reason for him to be concerned about us.
One of the things he was involved in, however, was helping to hire me to become the Register’s managing editor about 10 years ago.
He sat in when I was interviewed by Register publisher Lori Nauman for the job. The interview included a lot of conversation between Bruce and me.
You see, Bruce and I had been friends for a long time before I came to live and work in Blue Earth.
In fact, you could say that I had gotten him a “job” long before he helped me get one here.
Back in about 1998, when I was president of the Minnesota Newspaper Association, I called Bruce and asked him if he would be interested in serving on the association’s board of directors. He said he would be deeply honored to do so.
And he meant it.
He served for nine years on the board, and he became the MNA’s president in 2006. And, he was a very good one. Bruce continued to thank me for calling him that day in 1998 and getting him involved in the newspaper association.
But that is the way he was. Always wanting to help out in any way that he could. He served on numerous boards, committees and organizations back in New Ulm. In fact, he was referred to as Mr. New Ulm many times.
Bruce was the epitome of what a newspaper publisher should be. Sure, he worked his day job to make his newspaper operation the best it could be. But, besides that, he worked hard to make sure his community was the best it could be. And he wasn’t afraid to get involved in everything necessary that would make that happen. He deeply loved his community and was its biggest promoter.
His own personal story is unusual. Working at the New Ulm Journal was the only job he ever had.
It started when he was still in high school in New Ulm, and became a paperboy for the Journal.
After graduating from college in 1973, he was hired as an advertising salesperson at the Journal. Some of his unusually creative (meaning strange and hilarious) ads are still the stuff of legend in New Ulm. He was promoted to advertising director in 1977, and just three years later, in 1980, Ogden Newspapers bought the Journal and promoted Bruce to publisher.
He was only 29 at the time.
I did used to kid Bruce about that, reminding him I became a publisher at age 22, when I bought a little weekly newspaper in North Dakota. The difference, of course, is that I moved on several times after that. He stayed at the Journal his whole career, until last year, when at the age of 65, he retired.
Sadly, he only had a year to enjoy retirement, and didn’t quite make it to his 66th birthday.
Also sad was the fact that his beloved wife, Barb, who was our friend, too, also died way too young, six years ago.
There may be a lesson in all this, but truthfully, I struggle to find it.
Perhaps it could be a lesson gleaned from Bruce’s photo on the cover of the funeral folder handed out last week at the ‘celebration of his life’ service.
The photo was of Bruce sitting on the dock at his much-loved cabin on Lake Francis near Elysian.
The sun is setting behind him, across the lake. It is a cool picture.
And in the photo he is wearing a T-shirt from one of his many volunteer projects with a Thrivent Insurance Action Team.
The shirt has the Thrivent Action Team slogan on it, and reads “Live Generously.”
That description fits Bruce Fenske’s life to a ‘T.’
So long old friend.