West Fargo Pioneer losing a champion: Huber ending newspaper career
By Mary Nelson
A native of Oriska, N.D. and a graduate of Valley City State College, Karen originally had her sights set on being an English teacher. After two years at Upham, N.D., her career plans shifted and she worked a short time at the Valley City Times Record before joining the West Fargo Pioneer staff in 1980.
It was early on in this transition time that West Fargo became the Huber family place of residence. Karen and her husband, Al, moved to the community in 1972, then making brief detours to Grand Forks and Valley City, before settling back in again, this time for good.
When the Forum purchased the Pioneer Enterprise properties in 2004, Karen continued as editor and later assumed general manager and publisher duties.
Through her professional years, Karen wore many hats: reporter, feature writer, and editor of both the F-M Greeter and West Fargo Pioneer.
In the beginning she recalls the Pioneer was pretty much a one-person show, where she was kept busy coordinating not only the editorial copy but the advertising, as well taking pictures and even developing the old-fashioned roll style film that was being used at the time.
In later years, the advertising duties were channeled off to a sales staff resulting in considerably more free time to focus on enhancing editorial. “During the beginning, it really had to be a well-organized effort in order to make it all work, providing just the right mix of detail to all of these areas,” Karen stated. “Being able to successfully multi-task was key to the whole picture and an attribute that kept everything in check and balance.”
One of Karen’s biggest beats for over 20 years has been attending the West Fargo City Commission’s twice monthly Monday night sessions, which doing the math equates to hundreds of meetings, with her last one on Dec. 18.
She also filled in with school board coverage whenever the need arose and during the beginning, like a fledging professional feeling the need to report on everything, even attended planning and zoning commission and occasional airport authority and park board meetings. Some of that ended, when she realized there simply weren’t enough hours in the day to do it all and still have time to spend with family.
During this stint, Karen was witness to ongoing flux and change, following the action of four mayors and four school superintendents, two police chiefs and as many park district heads, and one longstanding fire chief.
Karen said there will be many areas high on her ‘miss’ list but at the top will be all the wonderful people she has had the opportunity and privilege to come in contact with through her West Fargo Pioneer connections.
Many started out as business colleagues, before budding into long lasting friendships. “West Fargo has some of the most kind, generous, welcoming people you will find anywhere,” Huber stated. “I found that out whenever I walked into City Hall, the police, fire, park district or school offices, or was being greeted by the individual who happened to be the subject of one of my countless feature story interviews I conducted over the years. Most of the latter were so looking forward to the visit and conversations, (here I always think of the late Goldie Houkom). More often than not, they had the coffee pot on and some homemade goodies ready to enjoy. For me that really epitomizes West Fargo and the wonderful caliber of residents that personify our small town way-of-life.”
As for what went into making the news on a weekly basis, Karen said the topics could focus on anything, but in many instances involved a unique city happening or controversy that ultimately resulted in positive far reaching community change. Included among them would be: watching two late, great mayor’s work their magic in areas specific to their expertise, Clayton Lodoen and Florenz Bjornson, resulting in the realization of the long-awaited Sheyenne Diversion providing flood protection for the city; Federal (Held) Beef vacating its properties, diminishing squelching the meat packing plants negative effects on the city’s lagoon system; the
Veterans Memorial Arena becoming reality after years of planning and fundraising; adopting a citywide smoking ban in bars and restaurants and after months of heated arguing both for and against; the gargantuan, unexpected growth on some of the community’s major thoroughfares, first on 13th Avenue (which many can remember for a long time as nothing more than a gravel roadway); and most recently on Veterans Boulevard, West Fargo’s newest great, grand adventure in phenomenal residential and commercial growth and development, the opening of which was appropriately labeled as “historic” by present Mayor Rich Mattern; watching the school district flex their muscles and proceed with building projects resulting in a second high school and ongoing elementary schools to accommodate the ever-increasing population; and not forgetting how important the “old downtown” area remains in terms of significantly impacting West Fargo’s commercial and residential neighborhoods.
“There are so many more factors way too numerous to mention,” Karen added. “But it’s safe to say that it is because of the well-calculated foresight, vision and cooperation of city, school and civic leaders that West Fargo has truly evolved from being a small, bedroom community, into a valid, contributing player in the entire metropolitan scheme of things with all its residential and commercial amenities,” Karen stated. “I feel fortunate to have played a part in reporting that and recording it for posterity for others to be able to access and read.”
Karen said her role in all of this was made possible by Pioneer founder Donovan Witham willing to take a chance on her expertise, hiring her shortly after walking in the door. “Not only did he place his trust in me, but told me so often, backing me 100 percent, and meaning it, whenever it came to any tough decision making. Don and his wife, Betty, were true gems,” Karen stated. “They were like family and our relationship was truly special.”
The same could be said about fellow co-workers as the years unfolded. “It was an honor to be associated with such a dedicated team of true professionals. All the support, collaboration and commitment were contagious with every one claiming ownership of their responsibilities and carrying them through to fruition.”
Karen has also been uplifted by her free reign. “Through my entire career the many people I’ve had the privilege to work with have allowed me to be my own person and to do my own thing, both with the West Fargo Pioneer and Forum Communications. I really have valued the freedom to cultivate this stance. Never in my career was it my goal to emulate or to copy anyone else. I always strove to bring out the best in people and situations by being objective, fair, and more than anything – trustworthy and accurate – in whatever I set out to accomplish with only the best interest of the community in which I worked and lived in mind.”
With the day of digital media dawning everywhere, some people are predicting that newspapers will become a thing of the past. Karen weighs in — strongly disagreeing. “Newspapers are alive and well and it is gratifying to know that the loyal people in our West Fargo reading audience still like to hold the news in their hand,” she said. “The West Fargo Pioneer has been going strong since 1967 and I am confident that tradition will continue.”
On that note, Karen is looking forward to retirement, and all her newfound free time will afford which is sure to include some additional family time. The Huber’s have three grown sons: Darren and Kate, Minneapolis; Ryan and Carrie, and Jason and Jen, Fargo. Karen’s eyes light up when she talks about her grandchildren – Edward, Lily and Maggie –who incidentally live in Fargo, and adopted granddaughter, Kai, who lives in Moorhead.
While West Fargo will always be “home” and the community where they maintain roots, Karen and Al are looking forward to relaxation time at intervals this winter at their little condo retreat in Arizona City. “I am going to load up my Kindle with as many Stephen King novels as I can find,” Karen said, “and then try to decompress, unwind and take everything down a notch in an effort to get acclimated to a life without as much daily routine and hopefully no deadlines.”
Karen added she’s seriously been toying with the idea of writing a book about her “undocumented” newspaper experiences. She jokes that she has plenty of untold stories to tell, but they would have to be relayed as pure fiction to protect the identity of her sources.
Karen said that as a reporter she always had the tendency to ask too many questions and that same trait followed her as she carried on conversations with her own children. In fact, sometimes they would get so annoyed at the number and frequency; they would simply reply “Geez mom, are you writing a book?”
Her quick response was always, “I’m in the newspaper business. That is what I do for a living and the only way you ever find anything out is by asking questions.”
Lesson learned and well-taken, anyway a book may be forthcoming. She promises to autograph a copy when it becomes available but added a quick “don’t hold your breath.”
On a more personal level, as a close colleague and a friend now for also over 30 years, Karen, or “Hubes” as I called her when we started working together — has always been willing to go the extra mile. She is a consummate professional – always fair, balanced and accurate. In fact, Hubes is more than a colleague, she is like the sister I never had, and a true friend. I had the privilege of having Hubes write my retirement story at the end of 2004. After all, what are friends for?
The West Fargo Pioneer has lost one of its champions. Karen Huber is one of the best and she will be missed!
(Mary Nelson, who resides in Fargo, was editor of the West Fargo Pioneer when Karen was first hired at the newspaper. They worked together for almost 20 years as well as maintained a friendship that continues to the present.)