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Tribune reporters share their most memorable stories from 2020
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Tribune reporters share their most memorable stories from 2020

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A daring rescue.

Summer baseball.

A comic convention.

And flooding.

Typically, such things would have no commonality, but Fremont Tribune writers would compose some of their favorite stories on these very topics this year.

After the flooding of 2019, most area residents were ready for some normalcy.

But most readers would agree 2020 has been very unusual.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept across the country, Fremonters — like people around the world — have faced job losses and financial strain. Businesses have closed or struggled to stay afloat. The endurance of health-care workers has stretched to unprecedented limits.

Terms like “an abundance of caution,” “food insecurity” and “PPE — Personal Protective Equipment” have become well-worn.

Yet amid it all, Fremonters have demonstrated kindness, resilience, bravery and resourcefulness. And some sense of normalcy has remained whether through a baseball game or a comic convention.

As the world eagerly hopes for a better year in 2021, Tribune writers paused to consider just some of the stories they enjoyed writing this year.

Tammy Real-McKeighan

It’s tough to pick five favorite articles when so many wonderful people have blessed me with the privilege of telling their stories.

I was amazed by the Blackhawk helicopter crew members, who went on an against-all-odds, nighttime mission to rescue seven first-responders trapped the debris-filled water of the Elkhorn River. Running out of time and fuel, they wondered if they could save all the men. The story ran March 14.

Rose Jimenez worked incredibly hard as the child of migrant workers. I can’t imagine being a 7-year-old quickly thinning sugar beets in Nebraska fields and I admire her greatly. Her story ran Aug. 15.

Katie Duran, a young wife and mother of three, faced brain tumor surgery during the COVID-19 crisis when she couldn’t have family with her, yet emerged with a stronger faith. I won’t forget how she said her pre-surgery headaches were like having labor contractions in her head. Katie’s story ran Oct. 13.

It seemed like I was regaining a piece of my past as I wrote “Lessons from the Great Depression.” Hearing people share remembrances of “The Dirty ‘30s” was like listening to my dad talk about his childhood. I will forever love this Greatest Generation of people, who were so resilient and resourceful. This story ran April 4.

If a merry heart really “doeth good like a medicine,” then somebody ought to bottle Sieg and Brenda Krueger. These Fremonters have traveled the world and look forward to more adventures. I thought their story about ending up in the South Korean police car was funny. Their story ran Oct. 21.

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Noah Johnson

This has been an interesting year to kickstart my career in professional journalism. Through all of the things that have impacted Fremont this year, whether it be consecutive years of flooding, the COVID-19 pandemic or race and inequality, I’ve found that it has become vital to recognize the impact of these events on an individual level.

These stories represent some of the most important, personal stories I’ve been lucky to write over the year. While they only focus on one person or family, I’ve found that their message is reflective of the city as a whole.

Joe Roberts of Scribner is a regional manager with private medical transportation company Midwest Medical that was among over 1,600 employees and 500 ambulances deployed to New Jersey and New York to serve on the frontlines of the pandemic. This was one of my favorite profiles of 2020. Hearing the perspective of a small-town group of paramedics traveling to the epicenter of the pandemic was really powerful. This story ran May 2.

Keenan Smith, a red-shirt senior running back at Midland University, promised himself before leaving his home in California that he would get involved in any kind of social justice movement in the future. He looks back at when he took a knee at a football game. I’ve had the chance to talk with Smith a couple of times and after hearing about his passion for social justice, I knew I had to dig deeper and write his story. Keenan’s story ran Aug. 8.

Mark and Chris Legband share their fight with COVID-19. This is another example of the personal toll COVID-19 can take on a family. Experiencing the pandemic from the lens of a family who nearly lost everything because of it helps put the dangers of this virus into context. Their story ran Oct. 24.

Midland University sophomore Emma Johnson was one of the first to test positive for COVID-19. She and university officials discuss what it was like fighting the pandemic. I wanted to share this story because of the unique challenges of dealing with COVID-19 while being a student presents. This story ran Oct. 8.

Katie died in 2014 just prior to her first day of kindergarten after contracting H1N1. This fall, the family’s second daughter Anna, prepared to begin kindergarten in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. For me, this story reflects the personal impact the COVID-19 has on a family as they prepare to navigate life amid the pandemic. This story ran Aug. 1.

Collin Spilinek

Closing a business can be tough, and after 28 years in the Fremont community, Shih-Ping Fu finally had to retire. His Chinese restaurant, Brass Wok, was a favorite in Fremont. Fu’s story brought him from China to the United States in the early 1980s before coming to Fremont to open shop in 1992. During his time owning the restaurant, Fu met many customers and became friends with them, remembering many of their orders by heart. Although he was saddened by the closing of his restaurant, Fu knew he couldn’t keep running the business anymore. The story appeared Sept. 18.

In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, surgical masks were in short supply, leaving medical professionals and nursing home employees in dire need. But several people in the Fremont community, including Edie Ronhovde and Mari Maxwell, took it upon themselves to start sewing homemade masks for Nye Health Services and Nye Legacy for their employees to use. The Fremonters used spare material and designs taken from online to make the masks, which took about 20 minutes each to make. Their good deed was greatly appreciated by the healthcare system. This story appeared March 25.

When the word Comic-Con comes to mind, most people think of the San Diego event that brings in more than 100,000 people every year. But Jim Rosenbach brought the experience to the Fremont community by having a small convention in his downtown martial arts training studio. The event featured Fremont Public Schools art teacher Jesse Kiefer, as well as Deryl Skelton, who has decades of experience drawing comics under his belt. With time spent with both DC and Marvel comics, Skelton, a Fremont native, had a plethora of stories to tell about his experiences. This story appeared Nov. 4.

While just running a mile may be a feat for some, for Adam Monke, it was a drop of water in the ocean compared to his 104-mile run from Fremont to Lincoln and back. The Nickerson native had the run to raise funds for the Fremont Family YMCA, which he was a longtime member of. With the facility temporarily closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Monke wanted a way to help out, and eventually found sponsors to make his trek. In talking about the run, Monke said he was looking forward to the waves of looker-bys. This story appeared April 15.

Although many high school students are involved in activities like sports and theater, 15-year-old Sophia Vacha undertook one passion that many don’t: running a business. Last September, the Logan View High School junior opened a martial arts school in Scribner. Vacha, a student of Jim Rosenbach in Fremont, first started martial arts at age 9. She has since won multiple awards along with her siblings. With some help from Rosenbach and her family, Vacha opened the school with more than a dozen students ready to learn from her. This story appeared Sept. 23.

Randy Speer

2020 has come to be defined by the events that didn’t happen during the ongoing pandemic, but once sports were able to start up, the Fremont area provided plenty of big moments in the regular and postseason.

While other summer baseball leagues across the country were forced to shut down, the Expedition League was able to get in a full season and with it came a surprising run by the Fremont Moo, who went on to claim the organization’s first league title. This story appeared Sept. 25.

Grand Island provided the first true test for Fremont, under first-year head coach Lee Jennings, and the Tigers responded to the challenge, knocking off their ranked rival for the first time in over a decade on a two-point conversion in overtime. This story ran Sept. 22.

The vaunted Fremont cross country program took two teams to Kearney looking for a sweep of the team titles. The boys squad achieved their goal while the girls faced heartbreak for the third straight year, finishing runner-up. This was fun because I wrote these in the passenger seat of my car in the back of a Walmart parking lot on deadline after driving all the way out to Kearney in addition to it being a state event. These stories appeared Oct. 24. Boys story Girls story

The Lady Knights turned to a relatively unknown freshman to power their offense in the state semifinals in a year where Bergan had to rely on its freshmen class. This story ran Nov. 7.

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