by Sarah Squires, editor-in-chief, Winona Post
When I moved to Winona 14 years ago, I already felt connected. I had fallen in love with River City from afar, through stories my friend Lexi told me about her childhood and her group of homegrown Winona friends I came to know in college. Winona had always held some allure to me, and now, I was going to be part of her. It was as much of a romance with a town as I’ve ever experienced.
Getting to know a place as a reporter is an interesting experience. After all, Winona is more than bluffs and river expanses. It’s people, it’s history, it’s stories. And learning those stories while being honored to be their storyteller is a remarkable gift. While I’ve lived here for 14 years and learned so much, I’ll be the first person to tell you — no matter how long you’ve been in a place, there will always be surprises, something new and interesting. There are always more stories, and as I’ve learned them and shared them over the years, the love affair analogy comes to mind again and again. You’re a lover who surprises, enchants, one to never underestimate as totally understood. There will always be an unknown backroad or backwater, a particular sunset or sunrise, that reminds me that there will forever be more to discover and to love about this place we’re so fortunate to call home.
After finding myself in such a wonderful community, after meeting my husband and settling down, I started referring to myself as a “lifer.” It did not occur to me that I would leave Winona — this is honestly the first place that’s ever felt so genuinely home to me. But, as we announced last week in the Post, I am saying my goodbyes. I don’t often struggle to find the words to my heart and mind, but this has left me somewhat tongue-tied.
I’ve told friends and family this: I wouldn’t leave Winona to be the editor of another newspaper, and that thought has never crossed my mind. What pushed me in this incredibly difficult decision was an opportunity that I never really saw in front of me before. I’ll be taking the helm of the North Dakota Newspaper Association, and the job includes all the things that I love doing here, and more. I’ll have a focus on lobbying for government transparency, one of the most important aspects of any journalist’s mission. I’ll work with the legislature, and cover statewide news for our member newspapers. I’ll coordinate all the wonderful training and supports that the association provides to newspapers across the state, and I’ll spend my time dreaming of ways to support and help community newspapers during a time when communities so need their newspapers. It is, in many ways, a dream come true.
As excited as I am for this new chapter in my life, it is painful to imagine leaving Winona, leaving the little river spots that I have come to love so dearly. This is the home I never really had before, and it includes the friends and family who are the most important people in my life.
I’ve spent the last few weeks going through 14 years of newspapers — years of your stories, your struggles and your triumphs, and my own. It’s amazing that my life has been so intertwined with both this newspaper and community. I can glance at a front page from 10 years ago and think, “That was the week I was visiting my grandma in Florida. I wrote that story from the Pensacola Public Library using notes Leah sent me!” One front page reminded me I’d just had back surgery, and the school budget story I wrote propped up on pillows in a recliner. There was the time when I accidentally outed a few pet chickens in the paper after a chicken-napping, and then city inspectors popped up to tell the resident they were illegal to have. (Then there was the resulting campaign to allow chickens in Winona, which thankfully was won, and those pet chickens were safe!) Flipping through these pages is like flipping through the story of my adult life: Your stories have impacted me in ways I could never fully express; they’ve shaped who I am today. They’ve given me more empathy, more insight, more intelligence and skills and humility. I’ll forever be so honored to have been entrusted with them.
While I am saying goodbye today, my love affair with Winona will never be over. Saying goodbye during COVID is, of course, an I-owe-you for another day, and I’ll be back when things are safer to give all the hugs I’ve been holding in these last few weeks. And, my vacation days will be yours for years to come. If I can’t live here, I can’t think of a place I’d rather visit.
Until then, Winona. Thank you for all you’ve given me.