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Commentary: We will miss Swenson, the journalist

Minnesota lost a good journalist when Brad Swenson died Sunday. Family, friends, journalists and politicians will gather for a memorial service Monday in Bemidji.

For three years I was fortunate to work directly with Brad at the Bemidji Pioneer and then indirectly for another 10 years as associates at separate Forum Communications newspapers.

When I joined the Bemidji Pioneer as editor in November 1998, I found Brad could handle political coverage or opinion writing.

And handle it he did.

If a local or Minnesota politician came to town, Brad was there to cover the story or the politician would stop by the paper. In recent years when he was receiving dialysis treatment, the politicians stopped by the Bemidji hospital because Brad wanted the interview.

Politicians respected Brad's reporting and valued his analysis.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton called him "one of Minnesota's great journalists." Former House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said Brad was "very fair" and "very connected."

Brad's writing -- both in reporting and commentary -- focused first upon Bemidji and its needs and then northern and rural Minnesota. In recent years, his writing was frequently honored by journalists and the community.

Born and raised in Duluth, Brad graduated from Duluth East High School and the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Believe me, he was a proud Greyhound and Bulldog. I have lost a few hockey bets by picking the opponent at tournament time.

A night owl, Brad often worked late into the night, sometimes not starting his editorial until after the 10 p.m. news. He would complete the editorial and the editorial page in time for the press deadline. Then he might spend an hour or two editing "letters to the editor" before going home.

Brad came to Bemidji in 1980 and never left. He became committed to the community and became a part of it. Despite the long hours of a newspaper career, he served as a coach and leader in Bemidji youth baseball, was a Bemidji Sunrise Rotary member and in recent years joined the Sons of Norway.

He was a long-time sports fan and once worked as student sports information director at UM-Duluth. He loved to tell of tweaking the ego of famed Minnesota Gopher hockey coach Herb Brooks by listing the team on the scoreboard as "UM-Minneapolis."

I remember him coming each day, checking his sports bobble head collection and stopping to turn Sid Hartman's bobble head toward the sports department.

His obituary noted his passion for hockey and told of his split loyalty in Division I hockey, where he would wear a Bemidji State University jersey and a UMD cap whenever the two teams squared off at a Bemidji arena.

Health issues were a challenge for him over the past 15 years, but he bounced back many times from a broken bone or other health complications. Thank you to his good friends at the Pioneer and in the community who helped. They were his good fortune..

Brad could be a little grumpy or cantankerous at times. When I wrote my farewell column at the Bemidji Pioneer, I said I was going to miss all the characters in the newsroom. The next day he frankly wanted to know who the heck I was calling the character in the newsroom.

For more than 31 years Brad served the Bemidji Pioneer and the Bemidji region as reporter, managing editor, political editor, political writer and political columnist, as well as an associate, friend, member and leader.

We were all fortunate to have to have known Brad.

Boldan is the editor of the West Central Tribune.

Kelly Boldan

Kelly Boldan has been the editor of the West Central Tribune of Willmar, since joining the newspaper in October 2001. He has previously worked as the editor at the Bemidji Pioneer, also part of Forum Communications Co., and other daily newspapers, online Web sites, and weekly agriculture newspapers in Wisconsin, Texas and Minnesota. You can follow via Twitter at @KellyBoldanWCT or read about the Tribune's newsroom blog at: or the Tribune's blog at:

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