Publisher’s Perspective

Chad Koenen

My first job out of college was at the Pope County Tribune in Glenwood, Minn. It was a mid-size weekly newspaper located just a few minutes south of Alexandria, Minn.

In those early days I was primarily the sports editor at both the Pope County Tribune and Starbuck Times, which was owned by the same individual and covered the same school—Minnewaska Area High School. While we had a decent sized staff for a weekly newspaper, I filled in quite a bit when needed during the down time of sports. That was  especially the case during the summer when I took pictures and covered community events throughout the area. 

The variety in the job was something I enjoyed, but around the time Dani and I got engaged, I was presented a chance to transition into the editor of the Starbuck Times, located just on the other side of Lake Minnewaska from Glenwood. The job meant fewer nights and the chance to have a more normal home life when Dani and I were planning a life together. The timing couldn’t have been any better and gave me the opportunity to have a fancy title of editor (ironically I am back doing sports since moving up to lakes country in addition to a number of other tasks that Dani and I complete on a daily basis). 

One of the most memorable moments during my 2 1/2 years at the Starbuck Times was the first Santa Day I covered for the newspaper. Since sports kept me busy during December and winter months, I was usually able to get out of taking pictures at Santa Day events and festivities, but that was no longer the case in 2007. 

I had big aspirations and plans for taking pictures at Santa Day, something that all these years later have evolved quite a bit to say the least.

During that first year I really wanted to get a picture of a child just screaming their lungs out when they visited with Santa. You know the picture I am talking about, a kid who has their face bright red in terror as their parent walks away slowly to try to get them to smile. All-the-while the kid was left behind to sit on some strange man’s lap with a beard of all things.

I don’t even remember where Santa was visiting that day, but I do know about five minutes after showing up I got the picture I was looking for—a kid screaming at the top of his lungs to get off of Santa’s lap. He even reached toward his mother who was standing by me. His mother let our a nervous laugh at the prospect that everyone in the area could see her son crying. 

His dad on the other hand thought the entire experience was hilarious and took as many pictures as he could on his little hand held camera (this was before cell phones replaced small cameras). He turned to me and said “I think this may make an appearance at graduation some day.”

I knew the family a bit so I asked if they cared if I ran a picture of their son crying on Santa’s lap. 

The dad didn’t even let his wife respond before he told me I can do whatever I want with the picture so long as I save him a copy of the paper that next week. 

When I gave my boss a copy of the newspaper to proofread later the next week he immediately questioned why I had a giant picture of a child crying on Santa’s lap in the newspaper, before I explained that the parents said it was just fine and I knew them on top of that. 

His words still ring in my ears today when I take pictures of Santa Day, “that’s fine and this is a really great picture, but when you get kids of your own your opinion of kids crying will change.”

Fast forward 15 years and my old boss couldn’t have been more correct. Don’t get me wrong, I will still run a picture of a child crying on Santa’s lap if the opportunity presents itself, but the entertainment of watching a child scream in horror of Santa (who lets be honest can be kind of creepy if you think about it) no longer exists. 

On Saturday I was taking pictures at a Santa Day in the area, one of four Dani and I attended throughout the day, when I asked some of the workers how many kids had cried already. Santa Day had literally just began and I meant it to break the ice a bit, but the volunteer said quite a few of the kids and couldn’t believe how many people were scared of Santa. 

Almost on cue the next child cried, like a lot. Rather than take a picture I just left my camera tucked on my side and waited for the next person to get to Santa’s lap.

Maybe I am getting soft in my old age. Or maybe I just sympathize with the family too much after some of my family members’ kids were also unsure of Santa back in the day (I have a nephew who doesn’t live around here who loves Santa, but won’t go anywhere near a Santa without blue eyes because the real Santa has blue eyes not brown or so he says). 

Regardless, I think we can all agree that visiting with Santa Claus is one of the more memorable parts of Christmas for a child, but I am also glad that Christmas is over so I don’t have to worry about taking a picture of a kid crying with the big guy in red. 

I have to be honest that I just feel bad for the parents and child now, even though deep down the unexpected nature of what will happen when a person sits on Santa’s lap keeps my job a bit interesting a few times each December.