Schnepf: Many thanks for allowing me to tell your stories

Through all these years of changes during a career that is ending, there is one thing that has remained constant in the world of journalism: storytelling.

The Forum building at 101 5th Street north in downtown Fargo. David Samson / The Forum


I have been fortunate to be a storyteller for much of the last four decades. Even more fortunate that it was part of my job for the last 34 years at The Forum — a journalism career that comes to end with my planned retirement as sports editor on Thursday, Dec. 31.

It was a career that began in 1979 at the Wahpeton Daily News, in a newsroom filled with the clanking of typewriters (yes, typewriters), the constant ticking of the Associated Press ticker-tape machine and smoke-filled air during an era when people could light up a cigarette indoors.

It is a career in which constant change has been the norm — leading to today when newsrooms are basically left silent because of COVID and stories are filed from the laptops in the homes of reporters.

But through all these years of changes, there is one thing that has remained constant in the world of journalism: storytelling.


Yes, the manner in which we present these stories has changed dramatically with the print versions of newspapers fading away into the electronic world of websites and social media. What will be missed is the teamwork of reporters, photographers, graphic artists and page designers somewhat magically creating a display that often wowed the devoted print readers over the years.

Yes, that may be disappearing. But storytelling remains stronger than ever. As one colleague once told me early in my career: “Everyone has a story to tell. It is our job to find and reveal some of those stories.”

Four decades of telling stories has certainly created a list too long to repeat. But here is a sampling.

There are stories that take us around the country, to places like:

  • Buffalo, N.Y., where North Dakota’s own Phil Hansen was making a name for himself in the NFL as a defensive end for the Buffalo Bills in the 1990s — playing with superstars like Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas and Jim Kelly.

  • Detroit, where in historic Tiger Stadium, the Minnesota Twins won the 1987 American League baseball championship enroute to their first World Series championship.

  • Boston, where Rocky Hager, who grew up on a farm near Rugby, N.D., and became one of North Dakota State’s all-time winningest football coaches, was adjusting to life in downtown Boston, trying to revive a football program at Northeastern University.

  • Spokane, Wash., where North Dakota State upset Oklahoma to become the first men’s basketball team from the state to win an NCAA Division I Tournament game.

There are stories in our own backyard, like:

  • A slowpitch men’s softball team, comprised mostly of guys who worked together at a plant in West Fargo, that enjoyed playing every week — despite losing every game it played that summer.

  • The North Dakota State women’s basketball team winning three of its five Division II national championships in the old Bison Sports Arena.

  • A five-part series trying to answer the question: “Will breaking track-and-field records ever end?” From old record-holders like a high jumper whose landing was a bed of straw to modern-day record holders relying on sophisticated equipment, training and venues, the series substantiated the theory that ‘records are meant to be broken.’

  • An Otter Tail County retired man who spent time in secluded ponds harvesting leeches — much-needed bait for anglers of the popular Minnesota fishing opener.

There are stories produced under the pressure of meeting late-night deadlines, like:

  • The 1987 Moorhead High School football team that won a state championship. It was the last of five state championship games played in the Metrodome, meaning it didn’t start until about 9:30 p.m. Somehow, I cranked out two stories of the historic event in time to be read in the next day’s sports section.

  • When reports were circulating that NDSU head men’s basketball coach Tim Miles accepted a job as head coach at Colorado State. In a mad rush to find someone to confirm the reports, I got a hold of — just before midnight — the dad of one of the Bison players, an acquaintance from my days in Wahpeton. To my surprise, my phone call did not wake him up. And somewhat to my surprise, he was more than willing to confirm that Miles told his players that he was leaving.

There is even a story that depicts the commitment the Marcil family (owners of The Forum) had in allowing us to pursue such stories.
As sports editor in September of 1998, our staff was kept busy monitoring Mark McGwire’s bid to break Major League Baseball’s single-season record for home runs — held by Fargo’s own Roger Maris since 1961. We flew sports writers Dave Kolpack and Mike McFeely on The Forum’s company plane to St. Louis, with hopes McGwire would break the record during the St. Louis Cardinals’ homestand.

It dawned on us as the homestand progressed to the final game of the series against the Chicago Cubs, McGwire might not hit his record-setting 62nd home run in St. Louis. It dawned on us that he may set the record during the Cardinals’ next series at Cincinnati.


Fortunately — mostly for expense reasons — McGwire set the record in St. Louis. But owner Bill Marcil Sr. was ready to send our crew to Cincinnati.

“By all means go,” Bill Sr. told me without hesitation. “We go to where the story is.”

And basically, that’s what we have been doing during my four-decade career. Many thanks to those who allowed us to do that. Many thanks to those who allowed us to write their stories. And many thanks to those of you who have read those stories.

What To Read Next
Get Local