Playing to the crowd

Most memorable stories of 2011

Over the course of a year, MPR News talks to hundreds of people from all walks of life. Some make a bigger impression than others. Our journalists each chose a story that was the most memorable to them.

  • Small town's church bell rings in mourning for itself
    This story started its life based on the church's link to the life of Walter Mondale. But it quickly turned into a reflection on small-town life, and all the communities that have seen a way of life ebb away. Editor Bill Catlin suggested the bible verse ending to this story, and I think it was a great way to conclude the piece. (Mark Steil)
  • In BWCA, new growth blooms even as hot spots still burn
    After weeks of covering the Pagami Creek Fire from the perimeter, here I finally had a chance to paddle into the BWCA and see the destruction up close. This was one of those stories where you think to yourself, "I can't believe I'm getting paid to do this." Charred shorelines directly across from untouched swaths of lush foliage. And even where the fire burned hottest, little spades of bright green grass were already poking through the black ashes. (Dan Kraker)
  • Sediment from farm runoff poses a threat to Lake Pepin
    This story took me to the farm fields of western Minnesota, where I don't often get to go. It took me to the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers -- surely one of the most dramatic places in our state. And it took me to a hotel in Red Wing where farmers and environmentalists tried to find common ground. It's a complex problem that conscientious people are working hard to solve. (Stephanie Hemphill)
  • Professor with terminal cancer uses illness to teach
    My profile of Monte Bute was memorable because of how publicly he's dealing with his rare form of terminal cancer. Instead of retiring, Bute has continued to teach, and uses his diagnosis as a teaching tool in his sociology classes. Bute emailed me this update on his condition in December: "I have been in remission for 10 months. While I appreciate this hiatus, I am also somewhat ambivalent. Remission from terminal cancer is, by definition, a temporary reprieve. I had made my peace with death, when suddenly I was expelled from the land of the dying. It is not easy to return to the land of the living and, once again, play an active role in the human comedy ... But perhaps that is the point: none of us have anything more than a temporary reprieve from our terminal condition." (Tim Post)
  • With her husband deployed, Jenny Munoz finds war is far from over
    What a luxury to follow a family through one of the most important years in their lives. Freddy and his wife Jenny let me and MPR News photographer Jeffrey Thompson tag along to record the highs and lows of their roller coaster ride of preparing for military deployment, and their pending adoption. What we saw was a love strong enough to help them weather the challenges they faced: learning how to be a new family overnight, saying goodbye to Freddy, single parenting and living apart for a year while Freddy's in the Middle East. (Jessica Mador)
  • Video: Deployment on the home front
    MPR News reporter Jessica Mador and I spent most of this year following the Munoz family as they juggled Freddy's military deployment to Kuwait with an adoption of two girls. It's so rare to be invited into someone's life and have the opportunity to witness such intimate and revealing moments. Freddy, Jenny and the girls were always so welcoming and open with us. It was a joy and a privilege to share the Munoz's story. (Jeffrey Thompson)
  • Target Field's beer vendors divulge a few trade secrets
    It was an absolute treat to spend a summer night at Target Field chatting with beer vendors. The weather was great -- even though the Twins weren't. The toughest part of the assignment was resisting my burning desire to chuck my gear, buy a frosty one and take a seat in the stands to watch the rest of the game. (Brandt Williams)
  • A child's view of domestic violence
    Valencia McMurray, 19, recounts a violent incident in her family when she was 6 and how it's influenced her years later. Valencia's father stabbed her mother 13 times in the presence of their four young children. Through police reports, court records and an incredible first interview with her mother about the incident, Valencia put together a story for our Youth Series about the effects of domestic violence on children, and her determination to avoid violence in her own life. (Sasha Aslanian)
  • Minn. SEALs killed in copter crash remembered for service
    The first week of August, Afghan insurgents shot down a Chinook helicopter, killing 30 Americans at a stroke. Two of the dead, it turned out, were Minnesotans. One was a welder, the other a privileged student of literature and Greek poetry. After hearing his story, I remembered seeing John Faas, years ago, running along the river in Minneapolis in combat boots, training to get into the Navy. It was as close to home as such a story had ever come to me. But it was the shaky voice of Nick Spehar's dad, Pat, that really brought home what kind of people are defending our country. We're a lucky place to have guys like him and Faas call Minnesota home. (Tim Nelson)
  • Tornado shows how a few seconds can save a life
    This story fascinated me because I often wonder what people were doing in the moments before a disaster occurs. I heard from several residents who were caught up in the May tornado in Minneapolis who recognized that something was amiss, but delayed taking cover while they checked the skies. Working on this story demonstrated for me that sometimes you don't have even a minute to spare when you hear the wail of a tornado siren. (Lorna Benson)
  • In Mpls., a push to curb Somali-Indian tensions
    Racial tensions between American Indians and Somali-Americans in a poor Minneapolis neighborhood have escalated over the years, so it was refreshing to see neighbors from both groups come together to talk through their differences. The "friendship committee" wasn't a government-led program. It was formed by everyday residents who had to overcome their own prejudices so they could learn to live with one another. I was struck by the honesty of their conversations. (Laura Yuen)
  • One on One: Religious leaders debate political endorsements
    I've organized many debates over my seven years at Minnesota Public Radio News. This was probably the most spirited, and certainly the only one that concluded with the debaters singing "Kumbaya." Literally! (Curtis Gilbert)
  • Anoka-Hennepin sexual orientation policy rooted in 1995 school board action
    One of my favorite things to do as a reporter is to look back in time for clues about how a situation or issue dominating today's headlines came about. Interviewing former school board members and long-serving teachers in the Anoka-Hennepin district helped shed light on how a school board policy had become so controversial. (Elizabeth Dunbar)
  • Minnesota: Weak on Bullying
    This project took several months to compile and I was very happy to see it come together in a series of stories that generated much response from our audience. (Tom Weber)
  • Poet Robert Bly looks forward and back in new collection
    I have interviewed Robert Bly a number of times over the years, but chatting to him about "Talking into the Ear of a Donkey" was a different kind of experience. We spent part of the afternoon talking about the new collection, what it means to him, and the emotions and undercurrents in the work. When we finished he thanked me for coming, but I knew it was me who was the most thankful. (Euan Kerr)
  • Hunters take deer to test for wasting disease
    I love a story that gets me outdoors. And this one took me, and MPR listeners, to three unique scenes: hunting with landowners near Oronoco, on an informational tour with DNR officials and into a DNR warehouse to witness lymph node extractions. The end result was a story full of distinct sounds on an issue we'd covered for a couple years in southeastern Minnesota. (Elizabeth Baier)
  • Researchers investigating movement of black bears into new habitats
    A rewarding part of my job is meeting unique people like Dave Garshelis and Karen Noyce, who dedicate their entire careers to helping us all understand a fascinating animal like the black bear. A bonus on this story was meeting a surgeon and biomedical researcher who crawl into bear dens in their search for life-saving medical advancements. Holding a tiny, bright-eyed bear cub while its mother underwent a physical exam was also a first for me! (Dan Gunderson)
  • Criticism, contention mounts over health insurance exchanges
    This story was memorable because it was a behind-the-scenes look at the politics surrounding a cornerstone of the federal health care law. (Elizabeth Stawicki)
  • Boy From the North Country: Bob Dylan in Minnesota
    I think Bob Dylan is one of the more fascinating artists alive today, and I've been curious about how his upbringing in Minnesota influenced the creation of his music. In putting this project together, I got to meet lots of interesting people who knew the young Dylan and revealed new things about him that we hadn't heard before. It was exciting to find out just how significant Minnesota continues to be in his creative process. (Jim Bickal)
  • A return to traditional foods helps some fight hunger on White Earth Reservation
    I spent the summer traveling my home state, talking with people who don't always have enough food. What I found was both heartwarming and crushing. On White Earth, heartbreak wasn't hard to find. I was pumping gas when a man popped his head out the window of a pickup truck and hollered, "You looking for hunger? Go up the street to Hungry Hill." There, and throughout the reservation, I was struck by how often generosity and struggle coexist. (Julie Siple)
  • Pianos on Parade lends music, quirkiness to streets
    Who was it who said music cuts across all boundaries? In less than two hours, I met an unemployed furniture upholsterer, a retired architect, a budding teenage jazz pianist, and an accomplished jazz singer fresh off a plane from NYC, all because of a weathered, mint green, upright piano on a busy St. Paul street corner. "Pianos on Parade" provided the ultimate journalistic luxury -- sitting under a gorgeous summer morning sun, and waiting for the story to come to me. (Chris Roberts)
  • New credential, new training, same job
    It was a pleasure meeting Public Insight Network source Brian Finstad. He so eloquently expressed how this recession -- and past ones -- brought him through layoffs, retraining and back to the assembly line again. His sense of humor and wisdom drove home the fact that behind the unemployment statistics are real people -- each with a different story to tell. (Molly Bloom)
  • A tale of race and achievement through the lens of one school
    When I was a kid growing up in St. Paul in the 1970s, Webster Magnet was the "it" elementary school. It was an integrated enrichment magnet white kids in the majority white district voluntarily bused to. Today, the district's demographics have flipped. It's 76 percent children of color and much poorer. This story traces how the district continues to grapple with how best to serve its children of color. Where once the dream was integration, now the answer might be specialization. (Sasha Aslanian)
  • New census data: Some of state's poorest counties in NW Minn.
    A young, single mother, Amanda Vojak is one of the people who makes this story memorable for me. Amanda has a remarkable determination to provide as best she can for her three children, including a daughter with Down's Syndrome and epilepsy. Amanda and others I talked to for this story reminded me that poverty can happen to anyone. It also reminded me that there are lots of poor people fighting every day to pull themselves out of poverty. (Tom Robertson)

MPR News

Listen Now

On Air

Snap Judgment

Other Radio Streams from MPR

Classical MPR
Radio Heartland