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Awards and the path to them remembered
Em and Frankie
AN ICONIC IMAGE of Emily Schendel and her little dog Frankie at the old Independent-Scout office on Main Street in Gays Mills. The office was abandoned after the 2008 flood as soon as the Gays Mills Mercantile Center was completed.

RISING SUN - The cat is out of the bag. If you caught last week’s issue of the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout, you know that I won big at the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. I’ve received so many lovely words from the people I know who read this weekly publication and got the news promptly last week on Thursday. 

Even picking up my weekly beer allotment at Driftless Brewing Company in Soldiers Grove, I was greeted with warm congratulatory words. I am so thankful that all of you continue to enjoy my column and the newspaper as a whole. 

It’s funny to think that I’ve ended up on this path almost completely by accident–but that seems to be the way things go for me sometimes. As the story goes, at 16 or 17 when I got started doing all of this, I really had no interest in it. I liked to write at school or upstairs alone in my room, but never really thought much about having a talent. 

Charley had reached out to Karen Brandl, the English teacher at North Crawford, and inquired about finding a student intern. I somehow managed to be promoted into the position and set off on a ‘school to work’ venture. 

Immediately after my first day, I went home and reported to my mom that, “I don’t want to do it, he’ll probably just make me do stupid stuff like file papers or whatever.” Which translates from teenage speech to “I’m lazy and just want to hang out with my friends and do not need to have a job.” 

I can very clearly remember my mom sitting on her perch in the corner putting on her makeup before work, cigarette in hand telling me that I, in fact, had no choice in the matter and that I’d be going. End of story. 

And I went. And I did do mundane tasks at first like, yes, filing newspapers into their appropriate hanging folder and formatting content for the inside pages. And then, I was given the opportunity to write my first story on my own, and it was published. I remember the thrill of seeing my byline for the first time. 

It felt important to be able to say “I’m Emily from the newspaper.” I even once, long ago before Chasca and I were ever anything of an official couple, used my status as the small town reporter to impress him. I marched up to the ticket taker at the grandstand at the county fair announcing “I’m Emily from the newspaper!” wagging my camera, “and he’s with me!” 

It was all back in our days on Main Street. There really will be nothing like it again. It was a glorious time in my life and most of my memories that surround it are involved with the Crawford County Independent.  It’s amazing to think I’ve been at this nearly half of my life now. 

Winning awards has always been a thrill. But, I must admit, this year was extra special. Every award (aside from one honorable mention) up to this point has been a win for a photo. And there have been many great ones indeed–fires, gorgeous clusters of honey crisp apples and women welding, which I had to take with a welding helmet on too! But never anything for my writing, which, is really the bread and butter of what I do. 

So to hear that I had won not just one, but two awards for my writing this year, I was simply floored. 

However, I must admit, I was floored AND speechless when I found out that I won for this very column. The column, much like my job with the paper was something I had never considered before and it was Chasca’s Grandma Janet, who continued to encourage me to think about taking it on. I hemmed and hawed about it, coming up with excuses every time she’d mention it, which was early and often. 

It wasn’t until longtime columnist Howard Sherpe became unable to write his column anymore and the Crawford County Independent would have the vacancy that I realized my moment had come. No more excuses could be made, and ‘From the Valley’ was born. 

Early in my career, my job was doing the ‘Years Ago’ column and I spent a lot of time reading Pearl Swiggum’s various columns. I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from her. Simple observations about everyday life can be pretty darn entertaining if you can tell the story the right way and Pearl could. I keep trying to be a little bit more like Pearl every year. 

My column has also helped me get through profoundly difficult moments, as well as joyous times. Being able to use my writing as a vehicle to process my very own version of the human condition has been a blessing in disguise. 

I am very grateful for the support of all of you out there who continue to read and enjoy my column and the newspaper as a whole. Now more than ever, I appreciate this and you and I’m glad you continue to take on this adventure with me.  I am also very grateful for my early and often supporters who always knew better than I did about what I could and couldn't do. Thank you, all so very much.