Years ago, a Hall of Famer put this editor on right journalism path
Wednesday, Aug. 9, 1989, may be the most important date in my journalism career, for it's the day I met Tom Thoma.I know the name “Tom Thoma” is a virtual unknown here in New Hampton, but if you will allow me to indulge a bit, I want to write about the man, who more than anyone, put me on the path I still travel today.On that warm August day, I traveled from Mankato, Minn., to Mason City.The task at hand was an interview for a sports writing position at the Globe Gazette, and while I've taken part in numerous interviews since that one on Aug. 9, 1989, that is the one that kick-started my journalism career.Thoma was the sports editor of the Globe, and I liked him almost from the start.It really wasn't an interview; it was a conversation.His first question to me was a bit strange.“You a Vikings’ fan?”I was and am, of course, so I answered in the affirmative.“Well, that’s too bad for you,” said Thoma, who as I quickly found out, was one of the biggest Green Bay Packer fans in all of Iowa.I thought, “Well, there goes that.”Either the interview pool was shallow or Thoma was really desperate, but he did end up offering me a job and over the next 10 years, I had the time of my life — both working for Tom and with him when I moved over to the news side.During that time, I learned Tom's story. He graduated from Mason City High School in 1967 and from Drake University in 1971, but before departing for Des Moines, he choose North Iowa Area Community College first, receiving his associate of arts degree from the college that everyone in Mason City refers to as its two-syllable acronym, NIACC.A few months after he graduated from Drake, Tom was offered a job at the Mason City Globe Gazette and thus began a remarkable 45-year career in journalism. I'm pretty sure there isn't a job Tom hasn't done at the Globe.Working for Thoma was a blast. Let's face it, it can be a stressful job, and over his long career, my former boss has faced more than 10,000 deadlines and I’m probably being awfully conservative with that number.Yet, he had and continues to have that rare ability to know when it's time to put your nose to the grindstone and when it's time to have a little fun.I can still remember my first frantic Saturday night at the office.Deadline was fast approaching, and I asked Tom if I could do anything to help.He looked up at me and said, "Do you know where Holy Family Catholic Church is?"Although I had lived in Mason City for less than four days, I actually knew where that church was so I answered yes."Go up there and say a little prayer for me so we make deadline."In all seriousness, though, Tom taught me much of what I know today when it comes to newspapers. Get the facts right, tell a good story and, if you've had a bad day, have a better one tomorrow.In some ways, it’s a metaphor for life.I’m facing some monumental challenges — most of which are self-inflicted — in my life right now, but on Sunday afternoon, I received a reprieve for a few hours.I drove to Mason City, where I had the honor to introduce my mentor as he was being inducted into the NIACC Hall of Fame.I was able to tell a few stories about this soon-to-be 68-year-old man who still goes to work every day with the idea that if it’s a bad day, tomorrow will be better.Many of Thoma’s former Globe Gazette colleagues were there to celebrate, and that group included two former “part-timers,” the kids we hired who took phone calls, wrote up game roundups and laid out the “agate page” each night at the old “Double G.”Many of our part-timers were NIACC students who have gone on to great things in their chosen professions, and last week when I talked to Thoma on the phone, I could visualize his smile.“They were good kids,” he said, “and we were lucky to have them. Of course, you were just a kid, too, Fenske.”As an added bonus, I was able to catch up with four of the other inductees who I had the honor of covering while they coached or played at NIACC.But the best part of Sunday was without a doubt being able to stand up in front of a room full of people and say a few words a longtime colleague, mentor, and most importantly, a friend.As we were heading out separate ways after the “Day of Champions” ceremony, I thanked Tom for putting me on this path so long ago, and he looked at me and smiled.“Thanks for the nice words today,” he said, “but I still hope your team loses tonight.”In the end, my team won, and his lost. But to be honest, I won a long time ago, when a Hall of Famer named Tom Thoma took a chance on a kid from Minnesota.