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Larry Peterson - Straight Shots

Small decisions can lead to big rewards

Around this time every year, between busy periods at SWCC for Deb in wrapping up enrollment in programs she works with, and classes resuming this week, we try to get away for awhile so both of us can recharge.

With extra health precautions in place across the country this year, we thought it was the perfect time for a quick two-day trip down memory lane last week. Or, as I put it, the “What If Tour.”

We wanted to do something outside where we wouldn’t necessarily have to be in big crowds, and still have some fun. We enjoyed the extensive bike trails around Decorah in the scenic bluffs and river beds of northeast Iowa. There were also wonderful parks for hiking in the area. (Or, as I described a seemingly endless late morning hike Deb led me on in Palisades Park — The Hunger March.)

The “what if” aspect of our journey is an experience I had in Decorah in December 1979 that illustrates how impactful one small decision can be on the rest of your life.

After graduating from the University of Iowa a couple of weeks earlier, I had two job interviews lined up for sports editor at Decorah Newspapers and for sports and news reporter at the Atlantic News Telegraph.

My first interview was in Decorah. I already was familiar with the town as my sister and her husband both attended Luther College. I went there with my parents a few times during those years, and knew it was a beautiful area. I was pretty sure I wanted to start my career there, but I really felt either opportunity would provide a good start.

The publisher was a nice man and he told me he believed I would be a good fit for the position, but he advised me against taking it. As he explained it, my experience had been with two larger daily newspapers (Fort Dodge and Waterloo) and that I would probably not stay long at a weekly paper, being anxious to return to a bigger operation.

He was probably right. But as I told Deb, I would have never met her in Atlantic a few weeks later if that publisher had not been completely honest with a young man who welcomed the guidance. He could have done the easy thing and handed the job to me with confidence that the work would get done, but he chose to do what was best in the long run for both his publication and my future.

So, after that meeting and a subsequent job interview at the Atlantic News-Telegraph, I accepted the Atlantic position. It seemed to offer a chance to improve quickly in both news and sports coverage at a six-day daily newspaper, with a lot of freedom to develop my own feature ideas. Veteran editor Phil Chinitz, a U.S. Army trained stickler for accuracy and proper newspaper style, made it a perfect training ground for an eager 22-year-old.

It also happened to be an opportunity to meet a nice young woman in charge of programs at the Atlantic YMCA, who would become my wife two years later. We found out we both hailed from northwest Iowa and had a lot of other things in common.

While window shopping in Decorah last week I saw a sign in a window that described what happened to us in early 1980 in that southwest Iowa town both of us had just landed in: “You don’t know who they will be, the ones who open your eyes to life’s wild magic, but when you find them, it will not be hard to tell.”

It’s also the 30th anniversary this week of a key decision Deb and I made in the summer of 1990 to return to Creston after moving to Mason City for about a year. Joe Loudon resigned as News Advertiser sports editor and we realized that as much as there was to do in Mason City and nearby Clear Lake for a couple of young parents, we thought maybe the life in Creston was better for us for a variety of reasons.

One of those things was the sense of community and relationships we’d built in our first five years in Creston. A Class 3A school system seemed to be a perfect fit for our family, and the work schedule here was more flexible to be with our boys. Sometimes you don’t realize what your personal priorities are until you’re in the middle of the career climb.

So, as we drove through Mason City on the way home last week, driving right past our former home on Federal Avenue, we felt very much at ease with that decision to return to southwest Iowa three decades ago. We like going back to Mason City, but we consider Creston “home.”

That feeling was punctuated by the cool hometown connections with both bands performing Saturday night at Party in the Park. In particular, it was a heartwarming tribute by i-Berrys leader Roger Hulett, a Creston native, about the way his hometown responded to a brother in need. In this case, it was Roger’s brother-in-law Jay Bochart, stricken by a medical condition that has curtailed his mobility.

People built an addition to their house that included a main floor restroom and handicap-accessible shower, among other things. When Roger brought relatives to the stage — the Bochart and Angelo children — in a song dedicated to Jay and Brenda and the locals who responded when they were in need, it made us feel proud to be from Creston.

(If I was able to be on the job right now, it would certainly have been the subject of one of my feature stories, because the community needs uplifting inspiration like that right now. I think the world of that whole extended family.)

So, our little getaway last week down memory lane was a good reminder to never underestimate the power of a decision that may seem like a coin-flip choice at the time. We reminisced about how fortunate we were that our paths crossed 40 years ago, while enjoying nature surrounded by wonderful scenery in the town where I almost landed instead of Atlantic.

In times like these, it can be nice to be reminded about the blessings in your life.


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Twitter: @larrypeterson

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