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Remembering a longtime local newspaper legacy and community icon

Residents pay tribute to Shannon’s knowledge, wit and humble nature

The Albert Lea Tribune lost one of its longtime writers and columnists this week who is being remembered as a tireless community advocate and journalist and a lover of local history.

Ed Shannon, 89, died Monday at St. Marys Hospital in Rochester.

Shannon worked at the Tribune from 1984 through 2011, and prior to that worked at Land O’Lakes and Olsen Manufacturing.

Though he lived in Albert Lea for much of his adult life, he was born and raised in Baker City, Oregon. He and his wife, Elaine, had four children.

Ed Shannon enjoyed dressing up for Tribune Halloween parties, including in 2011. - Photo courtesy Brie Cohen

Ed Shannon enjoyed dressing up for Tribune Halloween parties, including in 2011. – Photo courtesy Brie Cohen

First hired as a writer — covering everything from law enforcement to car wrecks to features to play reviews and even a little sports — Shannon was most known for his historical features, weekly column and the daily Peek at the Past.

“Ed Shannon lived everyday to tell the stories of the people, places and things of Albert Lea and Freeborn County,” said Scott Schmeltzer, former Tribune publisher who now works as director of advertising at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. “Talking with Ed for a half hour was like taking a walk into the robust history of the area.”

Shannon’s column, “Between the Corn Rows,” appeared in the newspaper every Friday from December 1984 through 2011, with just three exceptions. Over the years, his 1,410 columns covered a variety of topics, including some that were historical in nature and others that included personal speculation.

Bob Brincefield, the first publisher at the Tribune after Boone Newspapers Inc. acquired the paper in December 1992, said his favorite memory of Shannon was “his lively and often humorous banter on his morning phone calls. Each morning, Shannon called the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office, the police and fire departments and funeral homes.

This drawing by Albert Lean Eloise Adams included the late Ed Shannon, middle left, and Geri Murtaugh, bottom right. - Provided

This drawing by Albert Lean Eloise Adams included the late Ed Shannon, middle left, and Geri Murtaugh, bottom right. – Provided

“The matters of public record were important to us, but his exercises were also entertaining,” Brincefield said.

The former publisher said Shannon’s influence on young staffers was important for the paper.

“When we arrived in late 1992, purchasing the papers from Thomson, we felt it was important to change the paradigm,” Brincefield said. “We needed to stop the Thomson metro approach and become a local newspaper. Albert Lea and Freeborn County were our beat, and we were going to cover it. Ed embraced the idea, and I always thought I had a partner in the newroom.”

Tim Engstrom, former managing editor at the Tribune who now is publisher at the Fergus Falls Daily Journal, said he used to joke that the Tribune would “come unglued without Ed.”

“He was known for his historical pieces in Geri Murtaugh’s weekly Lifestyle sections in the Sunday paper, usually splashed across the back page, but you wouldn’t believe all the little things he did, too: marriages, divorces, building permits, looking back at old issues,” Engstrom said. “I always found it amazing how well Albert Leans knew their history, but much of that was because Ed Shannon educated them on it.”

Engstrom said Shannon and Murtaugh worked closely together, often helping each other out during the workweek.

Murtaugh’s husband, Mike, said Shannon and his wife worked together for more than 20 years until she died from cancer in 2010.

Mike Murtaugh said when he and his wife’s daughters were in grade school, they would often go with their mother to the office before school. Oftentimes, Ed would take them to school for Geri so she could complete that day’s edition,” Mike Murtaugh said. “Ed was like a grandfather to Erin and Tierney in a number of ways.”

He noted he and Shannon shared an interest in area history, and Shannon would often pass along items related to the Murtaugh family, who had resided in the area since 1856.

“We are all fortunate that Ed did so much to uncover and write about our area’s history,” Mike Murtaugh said.

Tom Jones, who worked at the Tribune with Shannon from 1984 to 1997, said he recalled one time in the early 1980s when Shannon wrote a story on the bottle collection he had accumulated from the bottom of Fountain Lake and had it published in Western and Eastern Treasures Magazine under the name of Martin Von Kratz.

Jones said the day he started working at the Tribune in sales in November 1984, he was introduced to everyone, including Shannon.

“He said he had done that story on me, but the names didn’t seem to match up, and he later went on to tell me how he had come up with that pen name for the story, so I would often call him Marty,” Jones said.

He said he and Shannon shared a big interest in the history of Albert Lea, and he occasionally gave him ideas to research for columns.

“Albert Lea has lost a great friend,” Jones said.

Albert Lea Tribune employees pose for a photo on a prior Halloween. Shannon is pictured under the Albert Lea Tribune sign wearing overalls. - Tribune file photo

Albert Lea Tribune employees pose for a photo on a prior Halloween. Shannon is pictured under the Albert Lea Tribune sign wearing overalls. – Tribune file photo

Dustin Petersen, who was hired as the Tribune’s proofreader in August 2001, said he regarded Shannon “with a sense of awe, the stuff of a newspaper legend.” He said that belief was cemented by seeing him at work.

He said he remembers Shannon giving him a ride to work in the early days, and on the way to work Shannon would drive past multiple gas stations, monitoring gas prices. Shannon hoped to see gas prices under $1 per gallon again, though that didn’t happen with 9/11 soon following.

Petersen said he appreciated Shannon’s puns and missed him when he left the Tribune.

“Ed Shannon was an Albert Lea icon, and will become as much a part of its history as were his columns,” Petersen said.

Kelli Lageson recalled her early days at the Tribune in what was her first professional reporting job. She described Shannon as a kind person who was a great mentor.

“As a new reporter, I must have asked him countless questions,” Lageson said. “He just knew so much about Albert Lea and the surrounding areas. He was always happy to answer, or if he didn’t know, he would go look it up and get back to you.”

She said she remembers Shannon’s retirement party from 2011 and all the people who came who knew him and who expressed how much they loved reading his work.

“Ed took the time to listen to others and loved asking questions,” she said. “He also always had an interesting tidbit of history on almost any topic.”

Bob Knutson, a retired Minnesota State Patrol trooper who lives in Albert Lea, said he knew Shannon 25 or 30 years.

“He was a humble, just one-of-a-kind guy,” Knutson said.

While Shannon came in often to talk about news with Knutson and others from the State Patrol, Knutson said Shannon also always made a point to ask him how he was doing personally.

“As you go through life you meet a lot of people,” Knutson said. “Most of them are just that — people. Ed was an original. He was one-of-a-kind. Us in law enforcement, we always enjoyed visiting with Ed. He was a kind man. He was our friend.”

Knutson said he was impressed with Shannon’s knowledge of the community and how many people he knew.

“He knew so many people and so many things, but he was so humble,” the former law enforcement officer said.

Tina Stripe, sales and events coordinator at Wedgewood Cove Golf Club, said her greatest memory of Shannon was when the Chamber Ambassadors had the Tribune come out and take photos.

“Ed would take many, and I mean many, photos. Just one more,” she said. “He would end up snapping four or more photos each place we visited. He was always so gracious about it, wanting to make sure that everyone looked good for the paper.”

Jennifer Hemmingsen, who worked as a reporter at the Tribune in the late 1990s and is now the opinion editor at The Gazette in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, said she appreciated Shannon’s willingness to help others in the newsroom.

When she started at the Tribune, it was her first reporting job.

“He was always ready with a source, an idea or a kind word,” she said. “And he was so beloved in the area. When I got married, I think my grandma was more excited that Ed Shannon was coming to my wedding than she was about the wedding day, itself!”

She said she will always remember when the all-call went out for the Farmland Foods fire. She was sent out with another reporter to cover it, and when they got there Shannon was already on scene with his notebook and camera.

She said he must have heard the call on the scanner, and when she took another look, she realized he was wearing his pajamas with a light jacket or something thrown over the top. His wife, Elaine, was waiting in the car.

“It was late, and they’d been settled in for the night,” Hemmingsen said. “He may have been a big-shot columnist, not a lowly spot news reporter, but he wasn’t going to let that stop him from helping cover such a big story.”

She said it taught her as a young reporter that news isn’t a job you leave at the end of the day.

“What it showed, and Ed embodied, was a commitment to always put your responsibility to readers and the community first,” she said. “If there’s a historic fire, you go and you find out what’s happening so you can share that information — even if it’s late, and you are comfy at home, and it isn’t your beat. You don’t wait for someone to ask you or give you permission. Heck, if it’s a really big event you don’t even take the time to pick out an outfit. Without hesitation, you go to where the news is.”

In his later years at the Tribune, Shannon’s articles shifted toward mainly historical features. In a December 2011 article prior to his retirement, Shannon credited the late Bidney Bergie and Kevin Savick who often helped him gather information for his historical features, as well as the Freeborn County Historical Museum.

Linda Evenson, librarian at the Freeborn County Historical Museum, said when Shannon worked at the Tribune he visited the museum a few days a week.

“Most of the time was spent in the research library,” Evenson said. “He could search through newspaper microfilm, photographs, whatever he needed to find answers to his questions for the next article or column. His inquisitive mind would not rest until he solved the mystery. Ed’s columns and articles provided a fresh perspective on Albert Lea and Freeborn County history.”

After his retirement, Shannon continued to come to the library, volunteering his time and knowledge, she said.

“He was always looking for a new story idea, something new to learn,” she said.

Former museum Executive Director Pat Mulso said she first met Shannon in 1987 when she co-chaired the 1988 Freeborn County Heritage Book with Bergie. They got to know each other well during that project and then renewed their friendship in 2005 when Mulso became the museum’s executive director.

“After he retired he spent even more time with us,” Mulso said. “He was one of our treasured volunteers, and we thought of him as part of our museum family. We looked up to him for his knowledge of our community and the enthusiasm he had of the research required to answer some questions we would ask him.”

He and Mulso also connected over family history work.

Bev Jackson-Cotter served as executive director at the museum starting in 1987 and said she also enjoyed working with him.

“He was another of Albert Lea’s treasures,” Cotter said.

Shannon’s funeral service was slated for today at St. Theodore Catholic Church.