‘What ever happened to . . . ?’
It was the year the United States of America celebrated its Bicentennial, Jimmy Carter was elected president; and future award-winning Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jon Tevlin graduated from Staples High School.
Although Staples was a town Jon had been familiar with (his parents both hailed from there), he didn’t call it ‘home’ until 1975.
That was the year his folks, Tom and Violet Tevlin, decided to move back to their hometown to care for Jon’s maternal grandparents, Chris and Velma Sorenson.
The family hasn’t owned the house in years, but when Jon visits Staples on occasion, a drive past the old home place always brings back memories.
Yes, there’s a lot of family history in Staples, Jon says.
Before they retired, Jon’s grandpa, a plumber, had owned Sorenson’s Plumbing in Staples and at one point his grandmother had owned Whimpy’s Cafe, located along old Hwy 10.
When Jon’s dad was younger, he ran the projector at the movie theater located above the old Batcher’s building. Along the way, he was also a ‘railroad cop.’
Both of his parents attended SHS and Jon learned years later that he and his dad had played the same position in football... half-back. “A reader sent me an old newspaper clipping about my dad. It was a nice story about him,” Jon shared.
Prior to his family’s return to Staples, Jon had attended Central High School in Minneapolis.
“That was a big change,” he said of the move, adding that leaving the Twin Cities wasn’t something he was in favor of at first.
“But I soon found out that people in Staples were really nice,” Jon said.
He went out for football that first year and that was where he met a lot of friends, Jon said, adding that Myron Smith was the coach at that time. Later, he joined the baseball team.
“Those are great memories,” he shared of his time playing sports for the Cardinals.
Thirty-some years have gone by since they wore matching uniforms, but Jon still keeps in touch with some of his high school buddies. People like D.J. Wilson, Doug Roberts and Tom Backberg.
In fact, Jon shares, Doug Roberts recently emailed him and “convinced me to buy a raffle ticket” for the new baseball field at Pine Grove Park.
It’s a good cause, Jon went on. “I played baseball there when I was growing up,” he shared. Plus, he loves that park, Jon said. “It’s beautiful...all of those tall pine trees.”
He wasn’t a part of any journalistic groups at SHS, Jon said, although he has fond memories of his English classes with teacher Stu Lade. “He was funny and really encouraging,” Jon said. Pat Baustian is another person who comes to mind as having been a great teacher during his junior and senior years.
Other highlights of his SHS days include going to prom and other dances.
Of course, summers in Staples were the best, Jon went on. He recalls playing tennis at the courts in town and tubing down the Crow Wing River with his friends. “It was a lot of fun.”
Those years in Staples have definitely had an impact on his career as a journalist, Jon said. It has given him a perspective about small-town life and although he is primarily a metro columnist for the Star Tribune, he tries to cover several columns every year which are outside of the metro area.
“I usually travel to some small towns during the winter,” Jon said.
After graduating from high school, Jon went on to study at St. Cloud State University for one year; and then, through SCSU, studied abroad at the University of London.
It was while he was in London, Jon said, that he decided to become a journalist.
As part of a year-long class assignment, Jon hung around the street cops there, known as the London bobbies. It was an eye-opening experience, he shared.
When Jon returned to the states, he transferred to the University of Minnesota, where he majored in journalism and political science. It was also where he met his wife, Ellen Hatfi eld. “We’ve been married 24 years,” Jon shared.
His first post-college job was in Bogota, Columbia, where he taught English for a year and learned to speak Spanish.
“That was an interesting time,” he said of his experience in Columbia. “It was during the heyday of the drug wars.”
Jon’s first job with a newspaper was at the New Ulm Journal, where he was a reporter. From there he was hired on at the Rochester Post Bulletin.
He and Ellen were still dating at that time and weren’t sure where they would live when they got married. “We decided that whoever would get the best job, we would move to that city.”
That proved to be Ellen; and they moved to Minneapolis. Until recently, Jon shared, she was the development director of the Twin Cities non-profit organization ARC, which helps people with disabilities.
Jon did a lot of freelance work at first, including as a columnist for the City Pages (an alternative newspaper) and writing stories for the Minnesota Monthly and Mpls. St. Paul magazines.
For the past 15 years, he’s been the Metro Columnist at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
“It’s a challenge every week,” he said, adding that he usually has five or six ideas he’s working on at any given time.
In regard to his columns, Jon said, “I try to mix it up. I try to not be too predictable.”
He likes to write features and although his articles might touch on a political theme, Jon said he is “more interested in how politics affect local people.”
It’s fun when his articles have helped to make a difference, Jon said.
There are two stories, in particular, that come to mind for him as he thinks back on the past couple of years.
The first had to do with an autistic man whose parents had died, leaving his finances to be handled by another party. “The people they gave the money to blew it,” Jon recounted, adding that the man had tried unsuccessfully to get help from the police. Jon wrote a story about the situation and two days later they arrested the woman responsible.
The other story, Jon shared, was about a man with cerebral palsy who was about to lose his job due to a forced retirement at age 65 (for people working under the Medical Assistance for Employed Persons with a Disability program). The man came to Jon and shared his story, explaining that if he retired, it would mean he’d lose his pension and the resources to continue living in his condo.
Jon’s column about this man’s plight was brought to the attention of the legislature and subsequently, at the last legislative session, a decision was made that people working under the MA-EPD program would not be forced to retire at a certain age.
“ That made me feel pretty good,” Jon said, adding that the man didn’t end up losing his pension or his condo. “I was even invited to the governor’s office after that,” he shared.
Having the opportunity to help the most vulnerable people is what he has enjoyed the most about his job as a journalist, Jon says.
“Any stories in the Staples area I should be aware of ?” Jon asks this reporter near the end of our phone interview, adding that he likes to keep track of smalltown happenings, even if his main focus these days is the metro area.
Jon’s dog, Trouble, however, is beginning to bark, reminding his owner that this interview should be wrapping up.
“He gets jealous,” Jon says. “He doesn’t like me to be on the phone too long.”
It’s always good to hear about Staples, Jon says, in spite of Trouble’s protests. In fact, he just might have to take a trip up to his old stomping grounds some time...catch up on stories shared at the ‘Table of Knowledge,’ or watch a game some day at the new baseball diamond at Pine Grove Park.