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Published November 07, 2009, 12:00 AM

Former Fargoan, journalist Mashek dies at 77

Before he became a famed political journalist and interrogator of would-be presidents, John Mashek was the surprisingly popular new kid in his Fargo Central High School senior class.

By: Mila Koumpilova, INFORUM

Before he became a famed political journalist and interrogator of would-be presidents, John Mashek was the surprisingly popular new kid in his Fargo Central High School senior class.

Before he became a legendary White House chronicler, he was a North Dakota State University athlete and sports editor at the Spectrum, the campus newspaper. He helped the local American Legion baseball team with batting practice, and he liked to joke a young right fielder named Roger Maris turned him off of a baseball career.

Mashek, 77, died of a heart attack Tuesday, months after attending his 60th high school reunion in Fargo and two weeks before he was to return for a visit at NDSU. Friends and one of his four sons said despite his fairly brief stint here, Mashek considered this area home.

“It was a part of who he was – rock-solid, sensible people, and that’s how he tried to carry himself,” Mashek’s son Bill said. “He looked back on his time in North Dakota very fondly.”

Mashek was a political reporter for the Dallas Morning News, US News and World Report and the Boston Globe. He covered every presidential election from 1960 to 1996 and sat on two televised presidential debate panels.

After retiring, he wrote a popular blog for US News and was a fellow at Harvard University.

A native of Sioux Falls, S.D., Mashek had moved to Fargo with his family in 1948, right before his senior year. His outgoing nature, football field prowess and good looks turned him into one of the most popular Central High seniors almost overnight.

“He came in, and it was like he had been there all along,” said close friend Rod Fercho, who now lives near Houston. “In a short period of time, he was everybody’s friend.”

He aced the transition, classmates say, thanks to qualities that marked his reporting style: modesty, smarts and a knack for setting people at ease.

Mashek also played on a local American Legion baseball team, and through the years his love for the game was only rivaled by his passion for politics and the media.

Later, as an NDSU student, he pitched during batting practice for young Maris’ Legion team. He would take it easy on the younger players, but Maris would hit even his trickiest curveballs out of the park, he told his sons.

Also at NDSU, Mashek played football and baseball and edited the Spectrum’s sports section. He transferred to the University of Minnesota, where he got degrees in journalism and political science.

Because his family moved away from Fargo, too, he rarely had occasion to return over the years, but he kept track of developments in the area. A couple of years ago, he bragged to his sons about the Bison football team’s winning streak.

At the invite of organizer Angie Jore, Mashek returned in June to be the keynote speaker at his 60th high school reunion. He regaled classmates with stories about former presidents, including a furious talking-to he got from an imposing Lyndon Johnson in a White House corridor after a critical story.

Mashek was looking forward to a mid-November visit to NDSU, where he was to address journalism students and college Democrats and Republicans.

“He always considered Fargo as his home,” said Fercho. “He said he made more friends there than anywhere else.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529

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