My traveling companion and I fly to Vancouver tomorrow to start a cruise to Alaska. When we reach Ketchikan Monday morning, I will enter my 50th state.
The cruise is a gift from our wonderful family, who will accompany us on the cruise. To celebrate our 40th anniversary, which was Sunday, they’re cruising with us to my 50th state.
To mark the occasion, I’m publishing my reflections on the first 49. I ranked them from 1 to 49, based on the length and depth of my experience in each state. Where my time in a couple states was about the same (and that happened a lot), I gave the edge based on family time, with big family events and special times together counting most. Other factors I considered for all states were how much I worked there (full-time job, stories, training, teaching); sports watched there; national parks, historical sites and other attractions visited; interesting transportation experiences (airports, train trips, cruises, canoeing, kayaking).
Unless you’re one one my sons, you’re not likely to read this whole long, self-indulgent geographic memoir. I wrote it primarily for them. I’m publishing it here because maybe a few other family members will browse to recall some shared travel. I can’t imagine that I have any friends interested enough to read the whole thing or even to browse very long. If you’re not family and you keep reading, you’ve been warned.
The only memory I have of our visit to Montana was that we went to the Montana part of Yellowstone National Park when my family visited in the 1960s. Mom was one to track such things as states visited (she eventually made it to 50, too), and she made sure we got into Montana while we were in Yellowstone. I remember Old Faithful, the bears and Morning Glory Pool, but I don’t remember specifics of our jaunt up to the Montana part of the park, except that we did.
My traveling companion and I made plans to visit Little Big Horn with our sons in 1992, when we lived in North Dakota, but a snowstorm (what are the odds?) changed those plans and we never made it. When we visited the Idaho panhandle in 2008, we should have driven on into Montana to give her a toe-touch and me a more memorable toe-touch. But I’ve been to Montana, so even that hazy memory counts.
On a 2007 solo business trip to New Hampshire, I decided I should check Maine off my list of states, too. I took a quick drive up into Maine. I took the first exit and drove down to the coast. I sent my usual traveling companion a photo of waves rolling ashore. If I could find that photo, I’d have posted it here. My traveling companion and I discussed plans for a more meaningful trip to Maine a few times when work took me to New England, but we didn’t pull it off. Yet.
47: New Hampshire
I gave a Newspaper Next overview in Portsmouth for the New England Newspaper Association’s operations leaders group in 2007. Spent just one night in the state. In 2012, my traveling companion and I took a side trip into New Hampshire for lunch on our way from Vermont to Connecticut.
46. Rhode Island
My traveling companion’s first visit to Rhode Island (and my second) came earlier this year.
I flew into Providence in 2008 for a Newspaper Next workshop in Mystic, Conn. And in March of this year, when my traveling companion and I were staying in New Haven for a few weeks, we took a day trip down to the Rhode Island coast in Westerly. She had never been to Rhode Island before. We ate a nice lunch at a place called The Cooked Goose. She bought a “flock to the Goose” shirt.
We took a sunset cruise on Lake Coeur d’Alene.
We also did a toe-touch in the Idaho part of Yellowstone when I was a kid in the 1960s. We lived in Utah for five years, so you’d think I would have made it to Idaho more often. But our vacations went other directions: the canyons in southwest Utah, Yellowstone, Estes Park and Lake Tahoe.
My more memorable Idaho visit was a 2008 trip to Coeur d’Alene for a Newspaper Next presentation to a regional group of advertising and marketing directors. We stayed in a nice resort and enjoyed an evening cruise on Lake Coeur d’Alene.
I don’t remember my first visit to Alabama, when I was a baby, and Mom drove my brother and me there to pick up Dad, who had finished the Air Force’s Squadron Officer School there, when he was stationed in New York.
In 2009, my traveling companion and I drove to Alabama when I was visiting Biloxi for a Mississippi Press Association conference. We got some boiled peanuts from a roadside stand and gave her a ‘Bama toe-touch. More recently, we spent three to four hours this July driving through Alabama on our way from Virginia to Baton Rouge. We’ll repeat that drive later this month when we make the move.
I’ve visited Arkansas briefly three times. First came a 2004 (I’d guess) visit to the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith for a day of workshops. I returned to Fort Smith in 2007 to present a Newspaper Next overview to the Arkansas Press Association (Fort Smith has the nicest airport lounges I’ve seen, reminiscent of an elegant old hotel lobby).
I also made a 2006 visit to Little Rock to call on executives at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, schmoozing them for the American Press Institute. I had some time to visit the Clinton Library.
Lincoln City beach at sunset
I’ve been to Oregon three times: Once in 2000 for an interview with a key source for a story that was really based in San Diego; once in 2005 to lead an ethics seminar for the Oregonian; once in 2007 to present a Newspaper Next overview for the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association in Salem.
My traveling companion and I enjoyed a weekend on the Oregon coast on that last visit. We stayed on the beach in Lincoln City, drove down the Pacific coast to the charmingly named Cape Foulweather and visited Sea Lion Caves. Hearing them roar in the cave, I understood for the first time why they are called sea lions.
41. South Carolina
My companion and I share a kiss at the Charleston condo where we celebrated the Heads’ 30th anniversary.
I’ve visited South Carolina twice, once for business and once for pleasure. I presented a Newspaper Next overview for the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association in Columbia in 2007.
In 2004, my traveling companion and I joined a bunch of her family for a celebration in Charleston of the 30th wedding anniversary of Mary and Jim Head. We shared a huge condo near the beach with Mary and Jim’s daughters and all the Johnson siblings and their spouses. In addition to enjoying the beach and the condo’s swimming pool, we visited the Civil War submarine H.L. Hunley.
My traveling companion and I enjoyed a cruise on the Gulf of Mexico.
This one is likely to climb as we visit during our time in Louisiana. I’ve flown into Gulfport twice for conferences in Biloxi of the Mississippi Press Association. The first time, in 2009, I also did some reporting on the recovery from Hurricane Katrina for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, because our community also was recovering from a flood. A highlight of that trip was that my traveling companion and I joined the MPA group for an evening cruise on the Gulf of Mexico.
The second conference, this June, was a joint conference of MPA and the Louisiana Press Association. And last month we spent about two to three hours driving through Mississippi on our way to Baton Rouge (a drive we’ll repeat shortly). My first visit was a toe-touch in 2006, staying in a suburban Memphis hotel on the Mississippi side of the line for an API visit to the Memphis Commercial-Appeal.
As I’ve mentioned already, I remember Yellowstone well from my childhood, though I can’t remember whether we visited once or twice. I’m thinking twice, though we more often vacationed in southern Utah at Zion National Park.
We also made several drives across Wyoming to visit family in Illinois when we lived in Utah, and again in 1967, when we returned from Japan and drove across the country to our new home in Ohio.
My only professional visit to Wyoming was when my traveling companion and I flew to Cheyenne (on a tiny plane with one seat on each side of the narrow aisle) in January 2007 on a subzero weekend to do a Newspaper Next presentation for the Wyoming Press Association.
I’ve been to Indiana many times: three training visits to the Times of Northwest Indiana and two to the Journal-Gazette in Fort Wayne as well as one conference in Indianapolis.
I’ve visited my Aunt Florence in Muncie as well as picking up our son Mike from a high school camp (drama, I think) at Ball State University. And we’ve driven across Indiana many times. It used to be a family joke that it must always rain in Indiana because it seemed to every time we drove through.
Perhaps Indiana should rank higher based on frequency, but I placed it here because we really haven’t done anything touristy to enjoy the state. Perhaps the best flavor of Indiana that I got was a brief visit to the unremarkable Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore when I was interviewing for a job at the Post-Tribune in Gary (I got an offer but turned it down).
My traveling companion and I went to Dover Air Force Base in November 2012 for the return of the body of our nephew, Pfc. Brandon Buttry, who died in Afghanistan. It was a moving ceremony, in the driving rain of a nor’easter. It was one of the most memorable nights of my life.
I had two other notable trips to Delaware: a weekend at Rehoboth Beach in 2010, when a rogue wave swamped my iPhone, and a National Writers’ Workshop hosted by the Wilmington News Journal in 2002 (I’m guessing).
I did some reporting on that trip for a story for the Omaha World-Herald on all the Nebraska companies that were technically based in Delaware. I never finished that story. It wasn’t that big a story and I always had more important things to do.
My other Delaware experiences are a slew of driving and rail trips across the state’s northern tip en route to states to the north or back home to the Washington area.
I’ve been to Hawaii once, but it was a memorable trip that lasted two weeks, so I ranked it above several states that I’ve visited more often. I doubt my time in those other states added up to two weeks, though, so I’m comfortable ranking Hawaii this high, based on one trip. Alaska may jump this high or higher based on a single trip, too.
In 1965, on our way to Japan, Dad had to spend two weeks in Hawaii for some kind of orientation or training relating to his assignment in Japan. So the family got to spend two weeks in a hotel near Waikiki. We visited the beach many times, visited Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial, visited the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl and drove around Oahu. We went to a hula show and saw the guys walking up the coconut trees. We went to a luau. It was all very touristy and we didn’t get off Oahu, but my memories of Hawaii trump the multiple times I visited less memorable states.
My most memorable Kentucky visit was a Buttry family gathering at Mammoth Cave National Park in about 1994. We got all four siblings and our families together there and had fun touring the cave and celebrating Mom’s retirement in a roast. We visited Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace on the way back.
Speaking at Northern Kentucky University
I’ve also made three professional visits to Kentucky, doing workshops at the University of Kentucky (where I met the Siberian journalists who later invited me to visit their country), Northern Kentucky University and for the Kentucky Press Association in Louisville.
On the way to Tennessee in 1985, we spent a night in Paducah, Ky., that was one of our more memorable horror stories of dining out with the kids. It had been a long day on the road.
Mike, Tom and Joe on our trip to Norris Lake. Tom loved the corncob pipe he got there.
Wes on the boat in Tennessee
Tennessee and Kentucky are kind of even, with one big family gathering in each, a few professional trips and a presidential-home visit. Tennessee gets the edge, if only because my Dad’s family came from Tennessee and our 1985 trip to Norris Lake for a Johnson family vacation included a side trip to Sneedville, back in the hills and hollows, where the Buttry family came from. That was a great trip for the whole Johnson family, too, with the kids having fond memories of fishing with their grandfather, Wes Johnson. The whole family treasures walking sticks Wes made for us after he became fascinated with figuring out how a Tennessee craftsman made them. We visited the Hermitage on our way to or from Norris Lake.
I added more historic sites on that 2006 visit to Memphis, stopping at Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum at the Loraine Motel, site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Other professional visits were a 2007 Tennessee Press Association conference, a 1992 job interview in Kingsport (I didn’t get the job) and a 2000 reporting trip back to Kingsport (the story never ran; long and annoying story I won’t bother to tell here).
We also drove through Tennessee last month en route to Baton Rouge, spending the night in Chattanooga. I’ll be returning to Nashville next month for the Excellence in Journalism conference.
33. West Virginia
My traveling companion and I are the second and third paddlers on the right side of the raft. We don’t have a photo of us later bobbing in the water. And I wouldn’t publish it if we did. Photo by Leisure Sports Photography.
My traveling companion and I got tossed from a whitewater raft in the New River in 2011 on another Johnson family trip. That’s enough said about that.
We visited the New River area again this summer for a weekend and made several trips to Shepherdstown and Harper’s Ferry during our time in Washington. I’ve spoken twice to the West Virginia Press Association (both times in Wheeling) and visited the Charleston Daily Mail four times in my DFM days.
I’ve driven through many times between Washington and points west.
32. North Carolina
My traveling companion walks Wrightsville Beach.
I have led workshops at conferences, newspapers and a university all across North Carolina: Fayetteville and Raleigh twice each, Charlotte, Wrightsville Beach, Hickory, Wilson, New Bern, Chapel Hill.
My traveling companion and I piggybacked trips to the Outer Banks on two of our trips to the Raleigh area, visiting the Wright Brothers National Memorial and the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. We enjoyed watching dolphins romping in the surf and pelicans flying in formation above it. I wrote a travel piece for the Omaha World-Herald after the first visit.
My most memorable and horrible trip to Oklahoma was in the wake of the 1995 bombing of the Murrah federal building there by Timothy McVeigh. The World-Herald sent me down there a few days after the bombing, when some local angles surfaced. Even then it was a terrible site, with search and rescue operations continuing. Grit still hung in the air and the blasted shell of the building defied description as an image of tragedy and hate.
I had a few other reporting visits to Oklahoma City, including some follow-up reporting on the Nebraska victims of the blast around the time of McVeigh’s execution. I also led workshops for the Tulsa World and Daily Oklahoman, Norman Oklahoman and two statewide journalism conferences.
When I was a student in Texas, with my family living in Iowa, I drove across Oklahoma more than a dozen times. My traveling companion suggests that I add here that I got a speeding ticked on one of those drives. I’ll take her word for that.
30. South Dakota
I visited Wall Drug with Afghan teachers in 2002.
Lots of tourism here: I’ve visited Mount Rushmore four times, once with my family as a child, once with the family as an adult, once by myself as a side trip while reporting in the area and once with some Afghan teachers. I also visited Wall Drug twice (including with the Afghan teachers; that was fun), drove through the Badlands twice, and visited the Corn Palace once.
I’ve also done several stories here, in addition to the Afghan teachers’ visit: One on Wounded Knee 20 years after the 1973 occupation by the American Indian Movement (poverty on the Pine Ridge Reservation was as bad as I’ve seen anywhere), one on a political campaign there, one on a sexual abuse case, one on a privatized juvenile detention program, one on video gambling, and one on a middle school girl’s suicide. I may be forgetting one or two.
I flew in once, through Watertown, to Pierre, to do a Newspaper Next overview for the South Dakota Newspaper Association. And we drove through South Dakota several times en route to and from Minot, N.D. My traveling companion and I spent our 17th wedding anniversary in Watertown (while moving to Minot). I had a nice visit in Sioux Falls with Rich Somerville, then editor of the Argus Leader, while moving from Minot to Omaha.
Tom in his Marquette dorm room
Perhaps my most meaningful trips to Wisconsin were four years’ worth of trips to Milwaukee to take our youngest son, Tom, to school at Marquette University (and to pick him up). Tom didn’t have a car, so that amounted to roughly four trips a year, except the semester he spent in Washington (he usually flew home for Thanksgiving and spring break, if he wasn’t going somewhere else). We flew into Milwaukee for a recruiting trip. We also took in a Brewers game at Miller Park.
Tom’s graduation was the cause for a family gathering, with Joe riding with my traveling companion and me from Omaha and Mike flying in from Washington. We were surprised, though, to find it was an even bigger family gathering than we’d planned. Looking around the auditorium before the graduation started, I said to my companion, “Doesn’t that guy over there look a lot like Luke Buttry?” She agreed that he looked exactly like our nephew, but we had no idea why he would be at a Marquette graduation. Eventually (we had to claim our seats a long time before the actual ceremony, so we got a good look at that guy), I made my way over to see if it was Luke. And it was. His wife (I think they were engaged at the time) Kathy’s mother was graduating from Marquette the same day as Tom. He had forgotten that Tom went to Marquette and neither of us had any idea the other would be at the graduation.
I also visited my sister, Carol, and her family in Milwaukee at least a couple times when she was teaching at Marquette (Carol and Tom didn’t overlap there). Another family visit came during Mom’s brief stint as pastor of a Baptist church in Sheboygan.
My traveling companion and I spent a weekend at the Wisconsin Dells coming back from Milwaukee once, including a nice cruise down the river through the Dells.
I’ve also taken professional trips to Wisconsin: for an API workshop at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, for a Wisconsin Newspaper Association convention in Madison and a reporting trip to Madison (interviewed a formerly closeted Iowa minister who left the clergy to come out).
When I was doing some reporting on Boys Town for the Omaha World-Herald in 2003, I decided to piggyback some reporting with a trip to take Tom back to school. I wanted to interview the former Boys Town executive director, Monsignor Robert Hupp, about some issues I was reporting on that dated to his time. I called him and made arrangements to visit him outside the little town of Mausten, Wis. I was surprised how frail he was (he said he was recovering from a cold). We did talk at some length and I filed my story that night and told the city desk they should get an obituary ready on Father Hupp. As I recall, he died about a week later, maybe less, Aug. 29. I think that was my only deathbed interview.
28. New Jersey
We all cherish memories of visiting Grandma Barone, center, and other Barone relatives in 1989 in Bayonne, N.J. From left: Annie Pullaro, Aunt Marie, my traveling companion, Uncle Anthony , Mike, Joe and Tom Buttry, Uncle Sonny.
Our visit to the Statue of Liberty in 1989 included the obligatory shot of the family with the New York skyline in the background, back when it still included the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
As with Delaware, I’ve been through New Jersey many times, zipping up the turnpike to New York or New England. The most memorable visit to New Jersey was in 1989, when a family vacation included a stop in Bayonne to visit my traveling companion’s grandmother, two uncles, an aunt and a cousin of her mother, after a visit to the Statue of Liberty. It was a great family visit, with an Italian feast set for our hungry boys, followed by “a little ice cream,” which really meant banana splits.
We had stopped earlier in the trip at the Baseball Hall of Fame for the induction ceremonies for Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski, and the boys (and perhaps their dad) chattered at length about that. So Aunt Marie brought two baseballs from her room. Her late husband had collected autographs on them in the 1950s when he went to games at Yankee Stadium. They bore autographs of a slew of Hall of Famers: Mickey Mantle, Casey Stengel, Ed Ford (before he was signing “Whitey”) and Larry Berra (before he started signing “Yogi”) and more. Marie lovingly gave the balls to our boys. Since there were two balls and three boys, I kept them for a couple decades before adding one of my own autographed balls and passing a treasured ball on to each our three sons.
I also had several professional trips to New Jersey: four visits to the Trentonian in my Digital First Media days and an ethics seminar at the Bergen Record in my API days.
Tom and I also drove up to the Meadowlands to watch the Giants beat our Kansas City Chiefs (Tiki Barber ran for 220 yards).
You could almost toss Wisconsin, New Jersey and Maryland in the air and put them in whichever order they came down in this list. I put Maryland ahead in part because of a family event that hasn’t happened yet: Tom and Ashley will be getting married there next year.
We’ve visited the Antietam Battlefield twice.
But my experiences in Maryland have been plentiful, too. I’ve had several professional experiences there: speaking at least three times to classes at the University of Maryland (and one or two other visits there for other professional matters), workshops in Baltimore, Frederick and St. Michael.
My traveling companion and I spent a nice weekend on the Eastern Shore before we moved to the Washington area and we’ve visited Baltimore multiple times, as well as Antietam twice.
I’ve flown out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport, driven through Maryland, or ridden Amtrak through dozens of times. One of my most memorable travel experiences, and certainly the most tragic, a bizarre story of a suicide on the tracks involving a train I was on, happened in northern Maryland.
Mike, Tom and I watched a Chiefs victory in Fedex Field last December.
Tom and I have attended a couple Yankees-Orioles games at Camden Yards as well as a Ravens-Chiefs exhibition game at M&T Bank Stadium.
We’ve also watched a few football games at Fedex Field, which is in Maryland. Most notably, Tom, Mike and I watched our Kansas City Chiefs kick the crap out of Washington last December.
Mike and Tom also joined my companion and me for a day at the races at Pimlico, too.
My brother, Dan, and his wife, Sharon, presided at Jon and Jamie’s wedding in the Georgia mountains.
I’ve been to Georgia at least 10 times for a mix of family and professional travel and enjoyed its sporting, historic and cultural offerings as well as its natural beauty.
My companion and I went to the mountains near Helen for the 2012 wedding of my nephew Jonathan Buttry, and his wife, Jamie Mayo. We enjoyed the area so much we returned last year after the Online News Association conference in Atlanta for a weekend at a cabin in the mountains.
The ONA conference was one of at least seven professional trips to Atlanta for conferences, a newsroom visit to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, other journalism seminars and for a couple stories on Boys Town. I’ve spoken to a class at Emory University and journalism events at the University of Georgia in Athens and at Savannah State University.
My traveling companion and I visited the Grand Canyon in February 2006. Yes, it was cold.
Taz, a most memorable tour guide, shot this photo of my traveling companion and me on the “vortex tour” of Sedona.
I’ve visited the Grand Canyon twice, as a child in the 1960s and with my traveling companion in 2006. We also visited Sedona a couple years later, taking the “vortex tour” with a guide named Taz who wore chaps and jangling spurs.
In my reporting days, I worked on at least three stories that involved trips to Arizona, including a couple sexual abuse victims and Vanessa Forsberg, the ex-wife of a murderer I was profiling. Vanessa was one of my most memorable interviews ever, providing a lesson I used frequently in workshops teaching interviewing techniques.
I co-led a copy editing workshop in Tucson for Lee Enterprises and I’ve made visits to Phoenix for at least a half-dozen journalism conferences and seminars.
I saw a Diamondbacks game in Phoenix.
My traveling companion and I visited the Space Needle.
I’ve combined business with pleasure several times in visits to Washington (usually with my traveling companion).
We both attended an American Society of News Editors conference in Seattle and I went to a planning meeting before the conference. I spent a week at the Tacoma News Tribune and a couple days at the Spokane Spokesman-Review and led workshops in Bellevue for Horvitz Newspapers and in Wenatchee for the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.
I won’t remember all the fun things we did in Seattle, but they included a Seattle Mariners game (against the Tigers, as I recall), visits to Pike Street Market, the Space Needle and the Music Experience (I’m hoping the music video some editors, spouses and I recorded is not surviving on the Internet anywhere), as well as eating at Wild Ginger.
In a 2007 trip to Washington, we took a whale-watching trip from Bellingham and followed some Orcas off the coast of Victoria, B.C.
My traveling companion and I drove from Wenatchee to Leavenworth to enjoy the mountains and some wine. We took a whale-watching cruise from Bellingham on one of our Seattle visits.
My first visit to Whidbey Island was a professional trip, to cover Shane Osborn’s return from brief captivity in China for the Omaha World-Herald. I loved the island and we included it on our 30th anniversary trip. We flew into Seattle, drove to Whidbey Island to enjoy the scenery and wine, then took a ferry Vancouver Island. We’re overdue for another trip to Washington.
The sun sets on Pontoosuc Lake in the Berkshires north of Pittsfield, Mass.
Most of my visits to Massachusetts have been for business, but we’ve mixed in a lot of pleasure (my traveling companion has accompanied me several times).
Our longest stay was a weeklong visit to the Berkshire Eagle last year, one of three visits to the Eagle. My companion liked the Berkshires so much we actually looked at a lake home there (but there was no way we were buying). I also visited the North Adams Transcript, Lowell Sun and Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise.
I went to Boston for two Nieman Narrative Workshops and once to speak at a Maynard Academy seminar hosted by Nieman. I also went to Boston for conferences of the New England Press Association, New England Newspaper Association (separate groups that have since merged), New York Press Association (yes, it had a meeting in Boston), Online News Association and a Newspaper Next workshop. And I might be forgetting one.
My companion and I also visited our niece, Kat, in the hospital in Boston in 2011 (she’s fully recovered and doing great.
I saw the Red Sox lose (to the Twins, I think) at Fenway in 2008 (and they could have eliminated the Yankees from contention that night).
I had a great view of the Green Monster on my only visit to Fenway.
Vermont’s beauty inspires Kat’s photographic eye.
I’ve visited my sister, Carol Devlin, and her family in Vermont about half a dozen times. The most memorable visits were tragic, visiting my 16-year-old nephew and godson Patrick in the hospital and returning the next week for his funeral.
But we had some joyful visits to Vermont, too. While he was still healthy, Patrick led me on a hike along the creek near their mountainside home. Visiting Kat after her recovery from a stem-cell transplant was really uplifting. And we’ve enjoyed several drives through the Green Mountains, staying at the Black Bear Inn up the mountain from the Devlins’ home. And we visited the Ben and Jerry’s factory, of course (might have had a few samples).
I’ve also made four professional visits to Vermont, visiting DFM newsrooms at the Bennington Banner (three times, once for a full week), Brattleboro Reformer (twice) and Manchester Journal and a Newspaper Next overview for New England circulation executives in Manchester.
Joe, Tom and Mike enjoying our 1997 trip to Colorado
My family visited Estes Park a couple times (maybe more) and Steamboat Springs (we got hailed on there) when we lived in Utah in the 1960s. When I traveled with a group of Boy Scouts from Ohio to the Philmont Scout Ranch in 1969, we stopped in Colorado Springs and visited the Air Force Academy.
Then in the 1980s, my traveling companion and I took the boys on a vacation trip to Colorado Springs. Mike and I listened to the 1987 extra-inning All-Star Game on the radio in the campground. We took the cog train up to the top of Pike’s Peak. A return visit with the boys in 1997 for the National Writers’ Workshop included a visit to the Garden of the Gods.
My companion and I presided at Meg and Dave’s wedding.
Another family trip came in 2012, when my traveling companion’s family gathered at Red Rocks for the wedding of our niece and goddaughter, Meg Head, and David Winter. My traveling companion and I were honored to preside.
I’ve also had plentiful professional visits to Colorado, starting with a 2008 Newspaper Next presentation for the Colorado Press Association. My DFM visits to Denver started with a 2011 APME conference there (including a Rockies game where we got to visit behind the hand-operated scoreboard).
We rode a train through Royal Gorge last year.
That conference was the week after Journal Register announced the formation of DFM and an agreement to start managing the Denver Post and other MediaNews Group newspapers. That was my first of at least a half-dozen visits to the Post. I also visited the Boulder Daily Camera three times and visited DFM newsrooms in Cañon City (including a rail ride up the Royal Gorge), Loveland, Longmont, Fort Morgan (a weeklong visit) and Sterling. I think my only byline in Colorado came from pitching in on flood coverage (I was evacuated from my hotel). I even got a photo credit.
I’ve also spoken twice at the University of Colorado, including a keynote address this year.
Colorado feels like it should rank higher, but my experience is long, varied and deep at all the remaining states.
Most of my work in Connecticut centered on Project Unbolt. I appeared on a Japanese TV program from Connecticut. “Unbolt” apparently didn’t translate.
Ten years ago I had never been to Connecticut, but my time at DFM, especially this year, pushed it into the top 20. Before joining DFM, I’d been there three times, for journalism conferences in Mystic and New Haven. In my DFM time, I visited the New Haven Register five or six times, usually joined by my traveling companion, with multiple trips to Torrington and Middletown as well, and side trips to Mystic and a few other towns. I spent most of six weeks in New Haven this year and had an earlier one-week visit.
Though I enjoyed dinners and lunches out with some colleagues, my Connecticut travel was probably more skewed in favor of business over tourism than any other state. We probably should have explored more of Connecticut’s historic and cultural sites, but we did visit the Pez factory.
We also met my traveling companion’s nephew, David Johnson, and his wife, Rachel, for lunch.
19. New Mexico
The Hall of the Giants in Carlsbad Caverns
My most notable trip to New Mexico came in 1969, 13 days of mountain climbing and camping at Philmont Scout Ranch, a wonderful experience (one I’m glad Patrick shared barely a year before his death). I didn’t return to New Mexico for about 40 years.
But I’ve been back to New Mexico enough the last few years to push it into my top 20. First I spoke at a National Newspaper Association conference in Albuquerque in 2011, followed by a weekend in Santa Fe with my traveling companion, including side trips to the Taos Pueblo and into the mountains (though we didn’t make it all the way back to Philmont). Alas, our visit to Albuquerque preceded our binge-watching of “Breaking Bad.”
I made three trips to New Mexico for DFM newsroom visits, first visiting Las Cruces in 2012, then spending a week each last year in Farmington and Las Cruces. The Las Cruces trip also included visits to our newsrooms in Sun City, Deming, Alamogordo and Carlsbad.
And, of course, my traveling companion and I visited Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
I should note that I’m not the first member of my family to make it to all 50 states. New Mexico was Mom’s 50th, and the trip was also a gift from her children. She also took an Alaska cruise, which got her to 49, as I recall.
We visited the Gettysburg Battlefield last year with Mary and Jim.
I think I’ve done journalism training/teaching/speaking in more Pennsylvania towns and cities than in any other state except California: Pittsburgh, Erie (three times), Indiana (yes, there’s an Indiana, Pa.), Harrisburg (twice), State College (twice), Gettysburg, Chambersburg (twice), Hanover, Lebanon (twice), York (twice, plus another visit for the launch of the NewsVroom), Pottstown (twice), Lansdale (twice, plus another newsroom visit), Norristown (plus another newsroom visit), West Chester (four times), Primos (plus another newsroom visit) and Philadelphia (twice). I also did some reporting in Philadelphia and Bethlehem.
Our boys visited Valley Forge in 1989.
I visited my brother, Dan, and his family at least twice in the Philly suburb of Swedesburg, visiting Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and Valley Forge.
I’ve visited the Gettysburg Battlefield at least six times, with personal guides, group tours, on a bus tour or using a CD as a guide. It never grows old. We also visited the Eisenhower Farm last year.
Inexplicably, in all my visits to the Philly area and as long as I’ve lived in Washington, I’ve never gone to a sporting event in Pennsylvania.
Our family in Las Vegas last Thanksgiving: Standing from left, my traveling companion, Tom, Mike and Joe; sitting, Ashley, Susie with Madeline on her lap, Kim with Julia on her lap.
My first visits to Nevada were a childhood trip to Lake Tahoe that I can barely remember and the long drive across the state (I do remember how long and desolate that drive is) for our 1965 move to Japan and our 1967 move back.
More recently, I’ve been to Nevada several times teaching and speaking about journalism and attending conferences: once in Carson City, three times in Reno and three times in Las Vegas.
Joe drove my companion and me around the bowels of Mandalay Bay.
My traveling companion and I have also visited Vegas just to visit our son, Joe, and his wife, Kim. Two years ago, they got us a penthouse suite for our wedding anniversary and last year the whole family gathered at Joe and Kim’s for Thanksgiving. We’ve done plenty of Nevada sightseeing: casinos in both Reno and Vegas, the Mandalay Bay aquarium, Hoover Dam and Lake Tahoe. Joe and Kim have hooked us up for tickets to some Vegas shows.
But perhaps the most special Nevada tourism have been Joe’s tours of the catwalks and backstage and technical areas at the Mandalay Bay Event Center where he works and taking our granddaughters to the park near Joe and Kim’s home.
A 2007 visit to San Francisco included a cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge.
California would rank higher based on the sheer number of visits and number of places I’ve visited. But I count family time most important here, and the only family connections to California were childhood visits before and after Dad’s tour in Japan in 1965 and ’67, and meeting my traveling companion’s brother, John, for dinner a couple years or so ago.
A redwood and me
But my professional visits to California have been plentiful, at least a dozen. I’ve visited newsrooms in San Jose (several times), Oakland (three times), Walnut Creek (three times), Hayward, Pleasanton (twice), Richmond, Antioch, Vallejo, San Rafael (twice, including a weeklong visit), Santa Cruz (twice), Monterey, Woodland, Vacaville (twice), Chico, Red Bluff, Lakeport, Ukiah, Eureka, Woodland Hills, Pasadena (twice), Long Beach (twice), Torrance, Whittier, West Covina (twice), Ontario (twice), San Bernardino (twice), Redlands, Grass Valley, Fresno, Bakersfield and Palm Springs. I’ve spoken at classes, conferences and seminars at Cal Poly-Pomona (twice), Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, the University of Southern California (twice), Cal State-Fullerton, Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley. I’ve attended (usually, but not always, as a speaker) conferences in San Francisco (three times), Berkeley and Healdsburg.
I’ve gone to California several times for reporting, too: to San Diego to report on a Nebraskan’s mysterious death and on an energy crisis, to the Los Angeles area for some Boys Town stories and to Idyllwild to report on a Nebraska playwright who produced an Afghan version of “Trojan Women,” inspired in part by my reporting on Afghan teachers who visited Nebraska.
My traveling companion and I kayaked Salmon Creek near Bodega Bay.
We never just went to California for fun, but my traveling companion and I have enjoyed lots of the state’s offerings in our many trips: the Monterey Bay Aquarium, wine country (once together, once by myself), Point Reyes (twice), Redwoods National Park, a San Francisco Bay cruise, the cable cars and other San Francisco sites, Hearst Castle, Disneyland, Lake Tahoe, the Queen Mary and other attractions I’m surely forgetting.
I’ve seen the Dodgers and A’s play home games and took batting practice at the Giants’ home park (I think it was Pac Bell at the time). Let’s just say I didn’t reach McCovey Cove.
I’ve flown into and out of more airports in California than any other state: LAX, Burbank, Orange County, Ontario, San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Bakersfield and Fresno. I’ve driven many miles along the gorgeous California coast, stopping to walk several of the beaches. I’ve also driven some spectacular mountain roads. One wrong turn east of the San Francisco Bay took me on a lovely unplanned mountain drive.
I haven’t made it to Yosemite yet, but hope to someday.
The family (without grandchildren) gathered in Ann Arbor for Jen Wehe’s wedding: from left, me, my traveling companion, Joe, Kim, Ashley, Tom, Susie, Mike.
Their uncle, John Johnson, took our sons flying on a 1989 visit to Michigan.
I’m sure I’ve been to California more times than Michigan and been to more places there, but I give Michigan the nod based on family visits: childhood visits to my Aunt Shirley, Uncle Bob and cousins Doug, Jan and Andy in Battle Creek; the Mackinac Island wedding of my traveling companion’s brother John Johnson and his wife, Kim; a visit with John when they lived in the Detroit area and multiple visits with my companion’s sister, Donna Wehe, and her family in Ann Arbor and my brother, Dan, and his family in Hamtramck and their former home in Warren.
Professional trips to Michigan have been plentiful, too, visiting newsrooms in Petoskey, Mount Pleasant (twice), Pontiac (four times), Mt. Clemens (twice), Clinton Township (twice), Ypsilanti, New Baltimore and (Heritage East). I covered a religious conference in Detroit, too.
In my youth, I canoed the Manistee River in a church camp excursion.
I’ve watched the Tigers play twice at Comerica Park (got to see Justin Verlander pitch as a rising star).
My traveling companion’s family gathered multiple times for the Ann Arbor Art Fair (I think we attended three of them).
My nephews Brandon and Patrick enjoying Starved Rock State Park.
I’m sure I’ve visited Illinois more times than any other state (at least more than any that I lived in), but many of those were stopovers at O’Hare (and a few at Midway), especially when we lived in Omaha, Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. But the family connections are deepest in Illinois of any state where we don’t have immediate family living now.
We visited Grandma Arnold many times in Oak Park.
Both my mother and father grew up in Illinois, and we had lots of childhood visits to my Aunt Helen’s home in Oak Park (Grandma lived with her the last decade-plus of her life) and to the homes of Dad’s family downstate in the Chenoa area. Mom and Dad lived in Kankakee the final two-plus years of Dad’s life, and I visited a few times, including a Mother’s Day weekend trip in 1978 when Dad was bedridden with cancer and his funeral a few weeks later.
My family gathered twice for reunions in Illinois, too, at the Wagon Wheel resort outside Rockton not long after Dad’s death and at Starved Rock State Park in 2006. I came to Illinois for my brother Dan’s wedding in 1973 and for the graduations of my sister Carol from Knox College and Mom from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, the same trip in 1983. And while Mom was in seminary and when she returned to work there, we visited many more times.
The professional trips pale in comparison to the family connections, but those have been plentiful, too: at least three reporting trips to Chicago for the Omaha World-Herald (a murder, a scandal and a conference), speaking at Northwestern University and Northern Illinois University, speaking or attending three conferences in Chicago (with another coming next month) and one at Cantigny and visiting newsrooms in Moline, Rock Island, Champaign, Peoria and Springfield.
I’ve taken in lots of Chicago museums and sites (at least two cruises on the Chicago River and Lake Michigan).
I’ve watched several baseball games (including my first ever) at Wrigley Field and a couple at Old Comiskey Park (Don Baylor won for the Yankees with a grand slam homer in the 11th and I got to see Billy Martin, Tony LaRussa and Carlton Fisk ejected and Don Zimmer call for Goose Gossage to come in from the bullpen when Goose wasn’t even warming up, maybe the best game I’ve ever seen). On the same trip, some friends from the Register and I watched the horses run at Arlington Park, my first visit to a racetrack.
I know I’ve been to Illinois dozens of times. It’s probably more than 100 if you count all my flights through O’Hare and the times I drove across the state en route to other states (people say Iowa is flat but Illinois is flat).
Our sons dance with their cousins at Mike and Susie’s wedding reception in Chanhassen, Minn.
The main attractions in Minnesota now are our granddaughters, Julia and Madeline (closes to the camera), helping me make pancakes here in their Edina home.
The Land of Lakes ranks highest of the states where I’ve never lived. I’ve actually visited Illinois more times, I’m sure, and spent considerably more time in Illinois than Minnesota. But I vaulted Minnesota over the Land of Lincoln based on our honeymoon (40 years ago this month, as I’ve already noted) and the 2003 wedding of our oldest son, Mike, to Susie Burke and our visits the last three years to Mike and Susie and our two granddaughters, Julia and Madeline.
Let’s start with the honeymoon: We spent the week after our wedding, Aug. 3, 1974, on a Cabin at Lake Winnibigoshish in northern Minnesota. It was wonderful and romantic –the cabin didn’t even have a TV – and I’ll skip most of it here because that’s none of your business. But I should mention two things:
- I took my bride out on the lake in a canoe, boasting of my extensive canoeing experience (including a 1971 trip to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters). I don’t know how much it was due to the powerful current (the lake is on the Mississippi River) and how much it was due to my traveling companion not being as powerful a bow stroker as the young men I had shared earlier canoes with. Or perhaps I wasn’t as adept a paddler as I thought. But after a lovely ride out into the lake, we were unable to paddle back and had to get a tow from a motorboat. Amazingly, my traveling companion has gotten into canoes with me many times since.
Big news broke on our honeymoon.
The other notable experience that week was when we were playing pool in the lodge that Thursday evening, with the TV playing in the background, and heard John Chancellor say something about the “Ford administration.” On our wedding day, Nixon was still president. In our newlywed bliss, we missed the Aug. 5 release of the “smoking gun” tape, the subsequent uproar and the resignation of Richard Nixon, which I’d been anticipating (or his impeachment) for months. I felt as though he had chosen the timing of his resignation just to annoy me. We raced out to pick up all the newspapers we could get our hands on and catch up on the news. If only I’d had a blog back then …
The family enjoyed kayaking in the Root River.
Mike and Susie’s wedding was one of the largest gatherings ever of our family (including a rehearsal-dinner cruise on Lake Minnetonka that we hosted), but my traveling companion’s siblings and their spouses joined us for a few days (kayaking the Root River and touring a cave) in the Lanesboro area after the wedding.
My traveling companion, right, enjoying a cruise on the St. Croix with her sisters, from left, Mary, Donna and Carol.
That branch of the family gathered again a few years later in Stillwater for the St. Paul wedding of my traveling companion’s nephew. That trip included a cruise on the St. Croix River.
We’ve visited Mike and Susie’s current home in Edina several times, including February 2012, just after Madeline’s birth, and again in April for her baptism. We were last there in April.
My first visit to Minnesota was also a family event, attending the 1971 convention of the American Baptist Churches with my parents (Dad was a Baptist minister and Mom would become one after Dad’s death). The Baptists convened in Minneapolis and I heard Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King Sr. and American Indian Movement leaders Russell Means and Dennis Banks speak (less than two years before they would occupy Wounded Knee).
Another important family visit to the Twin Cities was in 1993, right after I was fired as editor of the Minot Daily News in North Dakota. A day or two before I was fired, I received an invitation to the August media preview of the Mall of America, set to open soon after. I looked at it and tossed it aside, thinking it was newsworthy in Minot (people there traveled to the Twin Cities a lot), but might be too much of a freebie for me to take or allow someone on the staff to take. But once I was without a job, there really was no conflict. I grabbed the pass and took the family down for a wonderful weekend enjoying the Camp Snoopy amusement park and browsing the stores with no crowds. While there I also interviewed a survivor of a horrific North Dakota fire (and his fiancée) in a St. Paul hospital. I freelanced that story for the Grand Forks Herald and a couple of smaller papers.
That was the first of many professional visits to Minnesota, too. I got at least one more Minnesota dateline (a religion conference during my Des Moines reporting days). And I’ve visited three Minnesota newsrooms: the St. Cloud Times, Minneapolis Star-Tribune (three times) and St. Paul Pioneer Press (once before my Digital First days and several times for DFM, most recently in April for my final meeting of the company’s senior editors and the DFMie awards, which I emceed). I also had a job interview in Rochester.
I’ve also spoken at several conferences in the Twin Cities: the Minnesota Newspaper Association, Minnesota Free Papers Association, American Copy Editors Society and an API seminar at the University of Minnesota.
I’ve watched baseball games at the old Hubert H. Humphrey Homerdome (can’t recall whether that was the Mall of America trip or an earlier family trip while I was still employed) and at new Target Field (C.C. Sabathia’s 200th win and my last chance to see a Mariano Rivera save). I also watched my only NBA game at the Target Center (Timberwolves vs. Sacramento Kings back in the Kevin Garnett and Chris Webber days). And I went to Vikings training camp in Mankato for the debut of the Pioneer Press’s TC Rover van.
Sporting my new LSU shirt
This brings us to the states where I’ve lived and worked. Louisiana probably belongs in the mid- to late 20s based on my visits and time spent there, but I vaulted it up to the bottom of the states where I’ve lived and worked, because I started work there last month and because we’ve signed a lease to move there (as soon as we complete this cruise). By the end of the year, it will belong in this spot by any measure. And I hope it climbs much higher.
I saved the hurricane glass from our first visit to New Orleans.
My first visit to Louisiana was with my traveling companion and two college friends, Margaret Downing and Michael Gerst, spring break of 1974. Margaret gave us the bus ticket there as a wedding gift. We stayed at a Howard Johnson’s in Metairie, wandered the French Quarter, ate beignets, drank hurricanes (we were in Pat O’Brien’s the evening before St. Patrick’s Day and couldn’t afford to bribe waiters to get us a table, but staked out people who looked like they were finishing and grabbed one ourselves).
I didn’t return to Louisiana for more than 30 years. LSU-Shreveport got a state grant for some training at Gannett’s newsrooms in the state and I made three different trips: to Lafayette, Alexandria and one trip to both Shreveport and Monroe (that was the trip where I visited Memphis and Little Rock as well).
My first visit to LSU (and next visit to Louisiana) was just last December. The Manship School of Mass Communication had received a $150,000 Knight Foundation grant for student-led social media projects. Dean Jerry Ceppos wanted me to lead some brainstorming with the students about possibilities for the grant. I made a quick visit last December.
I made a good enough impression that Jerry offered me a job the day that they announced the demise of DFM’s Thunderdome newsroom. I returned in May for an interview and continuing negotiations on that offer. I accepted the job in June and returned for a week in July to start work and find a place to live. That visit included a return (after 40 years) to New Orleans to meet with editors of NOLA.com and the Times-Picayune. Much more to come, but since I’ve started work, I bumped Louisiana up to 12.
I don’t remember living in Florida, but I did. And my family and professional visits here have been plentiful enough to justify this ranking anyway. Dad was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base when I was a baby, and my brother Don was born there. We had a collie named Rebel that my mother adored and talked about for years. I reportedly loved him, too. Maybe losing him when we moved to England broke my heart. He was the last dog I loved. I’ve merely tolerated my traveling companion’s dogs, Cocoa in the 1980s and ’90s and Duffy today.
Sunrise on Jacksonville Beach
More recently, family visits to Florida have centered around the family of my traveling companion. Her sister, Carol, and brother-in-law, Mike McNamara, live in Jacksonville and we’ve visited them there a few times. Most recently, the whole family came to Jacksonville for the 2012 wedding of their daughter, Liz, to Johnny Wells II.
My professional visits to Florida have been plentiful, too: I attended a 1995 Investigative Editors and Reporters conference in Miami and a 1999 Religion Newswriters Association conference in Orlando. I made a reporting trip to Orlando in 2000 for the Omaha World-Herald, reporting on Boys Town operations there and a conference where Omaha boosters were pitching their soon-to-open arena and conference center (that trip was my only brush with Disney World, which I might visit someday with granddaughters but would never come near for my own entertainment). I’ve gone to the Poynter Institute for five newsroom trainers conferences (as both a speaker and participant), two seminars as visiting faculty, the 2009 Big Ideas Conference and a visit for API which led to collaboration with Poynter faculty on a series of ethics seminars. I visited the St. Petersburg Times in 1984 for a job interview (I withdrew when the Des Moines Register sweetened my job there) and again in 2006 for one of my first Newspaper Next programs. I’ve spoken twice at National Writers Workshops at the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale and also led workshops twice at the Sun-Sentinel’s newsroom. I’ve also spoken at three seminars or conferences in Miami, three in Orlando, one in Jacksonville and one in Destin.
Alligators in the Everglades
My traveling companion and I walked Miami, Jacksonville and St. Petersburg beaches and visited Key Largo (we canoed there and enjoyed our first Cuban sandwiches) and Everglades National Park, in addition to a dolphin-watching cruise from St. Petersburg, visits to the Salvador Dali Museum. On a solo trip, I cruised Tampa Bay and saw more dolphins and a mother manatee with her calf.
I’ve watched games in old Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami (I saw Julio Franco become the oldest major leaguer to hit a triple) and at Tropicana Field in Tampa (I’m sure Red Sox fans outnumbered Tampa Bay fans; they certainly outcheered them) and an A ball game at Al Lang Field in St. Pete.
10. New York
I got my start in Romulus, N.Y. From the first, I was drawn to the keyboard.
Sampson Air Force Base, N.Y., is where it all started for me. My birth certificate says Romulus, N.Y., but I’ve never been there. I was born on base and births were registered in Romulus, the nearest town, east of the base. But my parents, when they would go into town, went north to Geneva. They didn’t recall ever being in Romulus. I don’t remember it at all and I’ve never been back to the Finger Lakes area (the base is closed, now a state park), but I’ve been to New York many times for family and work.
I may have spent more time in Florida than New York, but between the childhood homes I can’t remember, doesn’t the birthplace win?
And besides, New York was at the center of the best vacation we ever took with our sons (well, until this week). Mike was a big fan of Johnny Bench, who used to host a morning kids’ show called “The Baseball Bunch.” When Bench retired in 1983, Mike asked if he’d make the Hall of Fame. I said of course. Mike asked when. I said I was sure he’d be elected in 1989, his first year eligible. Mike asked if we could go to Cooperstown for the induction. I said sure. I mean, what are the odds that a 6-year-old kid is going to remember a half-hearted promise five years later? Well, he did. So we kept the promise.
Joe, Mike and Tom in Hank Aaron’s locker in Cooperstown.
We hadn’t taken a big vacation yet with the boys, so we planned a big Eastern trip. The resulting vacation included visits with both of the boys’ living grandparents and only living great-grandparent as well as an aunt and uncle on each side of the family. We visited Niagara Falls, the Statue of Liberty, Valley Forge, the Liberty Bell and a slew of sites in Washington. The boys rode a plane, a ferry, subways and many hours in a minivan.
And it all revolved around spending a couple days in Cooperstown: touring the Hall of Fame the day before the inductions and sitting for hours in the sun with 30,000 others, staking out our spot for the inductions: Not just Bench, but also Carl Yastrzemski, Red Schoendienst and Harry Caray (the crowd spontaneously broke into “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in his honor and we wouldn’t be silenced when the sportswriter emcee tried to cut us off after the first line; we finished and Harry loved it). When you promise your kid a wonderful vacation, be sure to deliver.
My companion and I sat out a rain delay at Yankee Stadium
My traveling companion and I have also made many visits to New York City, sometimes for my work (though if she came along, we always made time for some fun, too) and sometimes just for fun. A splendid gift from Mike and Susie was a weekend in New York in 2005 for a Yankees-Red Sox game (I’m a Yankee fan and you might recall that the teams had a memorable series the previous fall). They paid our air fare to New York, put us up at a nice hotel near Grand Central Station and bought tickets to the game. In my 50 years (it was a combination Christmas-50th-birthday-30th-anniversary gift), I had made it to a lot of ballparks, but never Yankee Stadium. I was expecting to see history made. And I did. The Yankees lost 17-1, their worst defeat in the House since Ruth built it. I’m hoping the 40th-anniversary gift works out better.
We saw a win in the new Yankee Stadium (after sitting out a rain delay). We saw John Lithgow play “The Columnist” on Broadway. We’ve dined and shopped across Manhattan and into Brooklyn.
Dan, Don and I pose with Carol at her wedding in Syracuse.
We also took our longest Amtrak trip into this state, from Kansas City to Syracuse for the 1989 wedding of my sister Carol to John Devlin.
I’ve done a whole lot of professional travel around Upstate New York, too: DFM newsroom visits in Kingston, Troy, Saratoga Springs and Oneida, an API ethics seminar at the Buffalo News, New York Press Association conferences in Albany and twice in Saratoga Springs (I’ll be speaking for NYPA next month in Port Jefferson), a New York AP meeting in Saratoga Springs and a Newspaper Next workshop at Syracuse University.
An API leadership seminar for Ottaway Newspapers in Middletown involved one of my most trying travel experiences: Two flights from Dulles were canceled because of snow. I was able to make it to Union Station in Washington and, after a train cancellation or two, got on a train that crept slowly northward. I initially planned to spend the night at the Newark Airport, but many calls from the train revealed that all hotels there were booked by stranded travelers. I was able to reserve a car at the Newark airport and the roads were plowed well enough that I made it to Middletown for the seminar about 3 or 4 in the morning (I think we flipped the order of the program some so I could sleep in).
John Paton tells my Thunderdome colleagues and me that he’s closing Thunderdome.
My professional trips into the Big Apple (often combined with personal fun) have been plentiful: speaking to two South Asian Journalists Association conferences at Columbia; speaking to one of Emily Bell’s Columbia classes and being interviewed by Emily for the Post-Industrial Journalism report; speaking to a faculty conference at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and attending an event at CUNY; API visits to the Associated Press and the Catholic diocesan newspaper in Long Island; and several visits to Thunderdome, ending April 2 with the visit where 50-some colleagues and I received the official word that DFM was cutting us loose.
I try to avoid flying to New York. I’ve failed to fly from LaGuardia more often than I’ve flown from there (have taken the train home twice and a rental car once when flights were canceled). I’ve also taken the train home once from JFK when a flight was canceled.
I haven’t made it to a Mets game or to the new World Trade Center site (I visited before reconstruction started). I’d like to do both someday.
9. North Dakota
With Mike, Tom and Joe at Teddy Roosevelt National Park.
Our home in Minot. We rented it for almost a year, then bought it. I was fired before making the first mortgage payment.
We lived in Minot a year and a half: 364 days as editor of the Minot Daily News and six months job-hunting after I was fired. Despite that unhappy end, I remember North Dakota fondly. It was my first chance to run a newsroom and I enjoyed it and was successful at it (the firing was a cost-cutting move; I was swept out in a six-month executive cost-cutting spree that also cost the advertising, production and business managers their jobs).
The drive across North Dakota to Minot is interminably long, and that part of the state is not at all scenic. But Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which has north and south sections, is gorgeous. At a journalism conference there, my traveling companion and I enjoyed a spectacular evening horseback ride around the park.
The North Dakota winter is brutal. In an introductory column, I invited people to tell me about Minot. But I said don’t tell me that it’s friendly and don’t tell me that it’s cold. I already knew those things. If you had to mention the town being friendly or cold, I said, tell me stories that help me understand how Minot is different from all the other friendly, cold towns in the upper Midwest. My best response explained that when you went out to dinner when the wind chill was 80 below, all the cars in the restaurant lot would be running. But it’s the kind of town where your car will still be there when you come out. When I met that person at lunch (I bought lunch for the people with the best answers), I asked her, “Do you really go out to eat when the wind chill is 80 below?” For the record, 55 below was the coldest wind chill in the balmy winter and a half we spent in Minot. We ate at home.
I’ve returned three times since leaving: Taking Mike back for the prom just a couple months after we moved and flying in twice to lead workshops for the North Dakota Newspaper Association in Bismarck (I also did some workshops for the Minot Daily on that trip) and Minot.
The first time we flew into Minot, we had to climb down stairs from the plane, which would be a brutal introduction to the community in the winter. A new terminal opened shortly after we moved. At the open house, excited Minoters walked up and down both of the jetways for boarding and unloading directly from the planes.
I haven’t been to North Dakota in eight years. Would love to go back. When I mention to people that I’ve been in 49 states, North Dakota is the state I’m most likely to hear where people have never been.
We had a whiskey taste test in one of our family gatherings at John and Kim’s home in Ohio.
I could have ranked Ohio ahead of Texas. I had them tied for a while, but I don’t like ties. I lived in Ohio for three years and went to school in Texas for four (but I went home to Iowa for the summers). Outside those two stretches, I have more family time in Ohio (my traveling companion’s brother, John, has lived there for several years and we’ve visited several times, including for big family gatherings) and more professional time in Texas. But college is a special time in your life, so I gave Texas the edge. But I fell in love with journalism in Ohio, so I almost declared a tie.
I was first published in Ohio (for the Reynoldsburg High School newspaper, the Doubloon) and attended Ohio University’s summer journalism camp the summer of 1970, my first time to stay in dorms. I was deeply hooked on journalism while in Ohio.
Dad was stationed at Lockbourne Air Force Base from 1967 until he retired from the Air Force the summer of 1970. We lived on base for two years, then in Reynoldsburg for one year (the school district serving the base was in some upheaval that I won’t explain here).
I had paper routes for the old Columbus Citizen-Journal in both Lockbourne and Reynoldsburg. I would wake about about 4 a.m. to read the newspaper before running my route. I dreamed of one day being a reporter writing for such a newspaper.
Dan and I earned our Eagle badges in Ohio.
I canoed the Mohican River in Ohio and camped at caves in the Hocking Hills. I earned my Eagle Scout badge in Ohio (receiving it at a joint court of honor with my brother Dan, who was two years older; note the sibling-rivalry need to point out that I earned mine faster).
Ohio cultural experiences include going to the Dayton air museum, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and skipping school to attend activities at Ohio State University on the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970. John Glenn, then running for Senate, was a keynote speaker.
Professional experiences in Ohio include speaking in Columbus for the Ohio Newspaper Association and Inland Press Association and newsroom visits to the Akron Beacon Journal, Cleveland Jewish Press and two visits each to DFM newsrooms, the Morning Journal in Lorain and the News-Herald in Willoughby.
I’ve watched baseball games at Progressive Field (Indians played the Tigers) and Riverfront Stadium (the Reds played the Padres, the only time I saw Tony Gwynn play).
I might have had a bit of attitude when I was a student at TCU.
I had never been to Texas until my parents drove me there in August of 1972 to start my freshman year at Texas Christian University. I chose TCU because it wasn’t a huge state school (my parents were encouraging me to attend a small liberal arts school, but most of them didn’t offer journalism majors), because it offered me a four-year National Merit Scholarship for $1,500 (that was a lot of money then, and I needed the financial assistance) and because it offered guaranteed tuition during your four years there. Tuition rose from $60 per semester hour to $84 during my time there and I kept paying $60.
While I fell in love with journalism in Ohio and first started practicing it professionally in Iowa, I learned about it at TCU. I was a reporter for the Daily Skiff my freshman year, news editor (essentially the city editor) my sophomore year, associate editor (editorial-page editor) the fall semester of my junior year and editor-in-chief the spring semesters of my junior and senior years, with a hitch between them as managing editor (running the copy desk). My junior fall semester I also doubled as associate editor of the student magazine, Image. I learned a lot in classes at TCU, too, but the student media experience was my dominant educational and social experience at TCU. I double-majored in history, enjoying those classes as much as my journalism classes. I kind of coasted through the core classes.
Journalism heavyweights I met during my time there included TCU alum Bob Schieffer of CBS, for home the journalism school and communication college (neither of which existed when I was there) would later be named. I was rude enough and ravenous enough to eat Bill Moyers’ ice cream at a journalism department lunch when he was speaking on campus.
My visits to TCU in recent years included a tour of construction at the new quarters of the Schieffer School.
After graduation in 1976, I returned to Iowa and pretty much drifted away from TCU for more than 30 years. I’d sort of cheer the football team and flip through the alumni magazine, which tracked my every move, but I was a half-hearted alum at best.
But when John Lumpkin took over as director of the Schieffer School of Journalism in 2009, he brought me back several times, renewing and deepening the relationship. I came back in the fall of 2009 for an ethics seminar and an innovation workshop on back-to-back days. The next year, I was keynote speaker for an APME NewsTrain program hosted by TCU and was honored that evening with induction into the Schieffer School’s Hall of Excellence. I’ve been back three more times — in April 2012 to consult with student media and again in August 2012 to train student-media leaders in working and thinking digital-first and again last year for a seminar of TCU’s Texas Center for Community Journalism.
I returned to Texas four times for job interviews, though I didn’t take a job there. I also returned to Texas as a reporter, covering a U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference in Dallas for the Omaha World-Herald. I covered the priest sex abuse scandal for the World-Herald, and that was the top item on the agenda.
And I’ve returned many times to Texas to train journalists at conferences, seminars and newsroom workshops: three times each in El Paso and San Antonio, twice each in Dallas and Austin, once each in Houston, Galveston, Temple, Victoria and McAllen.
I ran varsity cross country (TCU was a sprinter school and a walk-on could make the cross country varsity) my freshman year and ran in San Antonio, Ranger, Denton and a couple other places I can’t remember. I wasn’t very good and didn’t continue running.
My traveling companion and some other friends and I made a trip to Waco that was lots of fun, though my memories of it are a little cloudy for some reason. A field trip to produce a public affairs newspaper called the TCU Journalist took me to Abilene, where I saw a linotype machine in operation (I still remember the smell of melted lead).
In addition to seeing basketball and football games at TCU, I have seen the 1973 Texas-Oklahoma game at the Cotton Bowl, experienced Texas-OU weekend madness in downtown Dallas, went to the Texas State Fair, the Alamo and the Riverwalk.
My senior year we went to Austin for a symposium on the presidency and the press, featuring White House correspondents and former press secretaries, including Nixon Press Secretary Ron Ziegler and future CBS anchor Dan Rather.
My bride and I made our first homes in Fort Worth, marrying between my sophomore and junior years. We were too young, everyone told us, but we made a lot of wonderful memories together. And by the time I graduated, she was pregnant with Mike.
My bride on the stoop of our second Fort Worth home.
I returned to Bryce Canyon in 2007.
Our family in front of our Sunset home in 1961.
Dad was stationed at Hill Air Force Base from 1960 to 1965. We lived in Sunset and I went to grades 1-5 at Doxey Elementary School. I loved the mountains and especially the canyons of the Southwest. With small children, and with my mother terrified of heights, we visited Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon only once each. But we were annual visitors to Zion Canyon National Park, where we could camp down in the canyon instead of up on the rim. My brothers and I loved hiking and climbing around the park.
At Zion with my brothers
I first imagined myself as a journalist when I was in Utah. I got my first transistor radio and used the earpiece to listen to University of Utah basketball games when my parents thought I was asleep (Doug Moon was the Utes’ star). Then I wrote longhand game stories (with headlines) for a newspaper for which I was the sports editor, beat writer, copy editor, publisher and sole reader.
Our back yard looked out on the Great Salt Lake, and every evening we had a glorious reminder of why the town was named Sunset. Infinite shades of red, orange, yellow and pink shimmered off the lake and any clouds in the sky. Dad took up painting, and each member of the family (and many friends) has at least one of Dad’s sunset paintings. Mine will hang soon in my office at LSU.
Our Sunset home had changed a bit when I visited 32 years after we moved away.
Other than a drive through Utah in 1967 after two years in Japan, and a brief stopover at the Salt Lake City airport, I had not returned to Utah until 2006. I was speaking at a Religion Newswriters Association conference in Salt Lake City. My traveling companion joined me and we were going to visit Sunset before heading into the mountains for the weekend (we didn’t have time to get down to the canyons). I checked the newspaper to see when the sun would set that evening and timed our trip so we could see its last rays shimmering out over the water. When we got there, of course the home looked 40 years old instead of brand new, and the saplings Dad planted now were full-grown shade trees. And the house that seemed huge to a little boy seemed kind of small now. But the carport and red-brick front were just as I remembered, so I was sure that was the house. But we couldn’t see the lake. Well, I figured, development between our home and the lake must be blocking the view I remembered. But we drove west a few miles without finding the lake. My companion wisecracked about me living there in the ’60s and wondering what sort of drugs my family was taking.
To my relief (but sadness), I learned the next day from an editor at the Salt Lake Tribune that the lake was shrinking. Sunset is now seven miles from the lake, and northeast of it instead of due east. Antelope Island, a lovely mountain that appeared prominently in all of Dad’s paintings, is now a peninsula. We were lucky to live in Sunset when it lived up to its name.
My traveling companion and I hiked along the Virgin River in Zion Canyon.
As professional travel has brought me back to Salt Lake and St. George, my companion and I have enjoyed the mountains around Park City as well as the canyons in the South. We visited Bryce and Zion in the southwest in 2007, then made it in 2011 to places I didn’t visit in my childhood: Canyonlands and Arches in the southeast and Goblin Valley in central southern Utah, then back to the Park City area in 2012.
Those trips piggybacked on training gigs for the Utah Press Association and Pioneer Newspapers and my only DFM visit to the Salt Lake Tribune.
Tom, Joe and Mike on the couch in our Shawnee family room with Cocoa, the poodle mix who moved with us from Kansas to North Dakota to Nebraska.
Pop visited us many times in Kansas, including Tom’s first Communion.
We lived in Shawnee, Kan., from 1985 to 1991. The boys’ ages when we lived in Kansas ranged from 2 to 14. We spent longer in Omaha, but all three boys spent six really formative years in Kansas. I wouldn’t be surprised if all three have fondest memories of the house in Shawnee as their childhood home. We were less than three hours from the Iowa home of “Pop,” my traveling companion’s father, Wes Johnson, and he visited us often and we visited him often. The boys went to air shows with Pop in Topeka and across the Missouri line at the old Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base.
The boys also enjoyed trips to Wichita for Kansas editors conferences. We stopped in Abilene at the Eisenhower Library on our way to Colorado. I also took our older two boys to Cub Scout summer camp outings at Camp Naish.
Though I worked in Missouri at the Kansas City Star and Times, much of my work was in Kansas. As an editor, I visited our Topeka and Lawrence bureaus frequently and attended multiple events at the University of Kansas. As an agriculture reporter, I drove many miles across Kansas, interviewing farmers, ranchers and agriculture officials for stories that mostly melt into the memory.
Most memorable was the Kansas Wheat Tour, when my Subaru’s transmission broke down between Hugoton and Ulysses in the state’s southwestern corner. We got a tow back into Hugoton. I was delighted to learn that it had a garage that specialized in repairing foreign cars, so I left it there and someone came from Garden City to pick me up, along with the two others who were riding in my car, a retired extension agent named Virgil and a journalist whose name I’ve forgotten. We finished the tour a day or two later in Wichita, where we’d started. A western Kansas rancher named Rod drove 100 or so miles out of his way to drop me off in Hugoton, where I waited another day for the repairs to be completed (I thoroughly toured the Stevens County Gas and Historical Museum).
I’ve returned to Kansas several times professionally. Covering the arrest of Terry Nichols in Herington for his involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing, I learned (relearned, actually) the importance of zigging when the rest of the pack it zagging. After Nichols turned himself, dozens of journalists milled around the courthouse, waiting for the sheriff or the FBI to announce something. Photojournalist Phil Johnson and I decided to leave the pack and dig around. We learned from an insurance agent and a real estate agent that Nichols claimed not to have a Social Security number, which caused problems when he applied for his mortgage. He was lying (he was a military veteran and would have had to get one then, if not in his youth), and they got the number somehow so he got the mortgage. That was an indication of his anti-government extremism that I reported a few days before other media reported it. That was the first story where I can remember carrying a cell phone (it was huge), and I dictated a few paragraphs for the bulldog edition as we watched federal agents search the Nichols home. And we didn’t miss any announcement at the courthouse.
Photojournalists usually drive when traveling with reporters. Phil had gotten a few tickets recently, though, so he let me drive from Herington to Junction City, where we had a hotel registration. I guess I drove a little fast, too. A trooper stopped me. I gave him my license and the registration for our company car. “Omaha World-Herald,” read the trooper. “I bet I know where you’ve been.” I said, yes, we had been in Herington and it was quite a story. The officer said he would let me off with a warning. “I want to get me someone from CNN,” he said. “Well, I think they’re right behind me,” I said before driving off. Slowly.
I also returned to Kansas for other stories for the Omaha World-Herald on cement production and juvenile boot camps (and maybe others I’m forgetting).
I returned as well for conferences, seminars and newsroom visits in Wichita (three times), Salina and Overland Park, and for programs at Kansas State University and Johnson County Community College.
Mom and I often play Scrabble when I visit her in Lee’s Summit, Mo.
This is the highest-ranked place where I’ve never lived (though I spent two months in temporary quarters at the San Francisco Tower, while we were trying to sell the house in Des Moines). But when I lived in Kansas, I worked in Missouri. If it were just home vs. work, Kansas would win out, but the family time in Missouri has been heavy, too. One of the best things about living in Kansas City, especially for the boys, was going to Royals and Chiefs games and eating Kansas City barbecue, especially at the Smokestack (now called Jack Stack) in Martin City. We’ve been back many times to enjoy either team and barbecue.
My mother retired to Lee’s Summit, Mo., and I’ve visited her there dozens of times, including last month. The combination of work in Kansas City, plus sports, food and Mom pushes Missouri ahead of Kansas.
My companion disputed placing this above Kansas, and it wouldn’t be for her. But I was the one who went to Missouri for work for six-plus years. I went to more of the Royals games during and since our time in Kansas City, and she never went to any of the Chiefs games, which were huge experiences for the boys and me. And I’ve visited my mother more often alone than with my companion. And I was the one living in KC during the week for two months when we were trying to sell the house in Des Moines. Not to mention taking more trips to Missouri since we moved away. Kansas would be well ahead of Missouri for her, but not for me. I don’t know which would be ahead for our sons. They have lots of wonderful memories of the home, I’m sure, as do I. But if you ask about their memories of the Kansas City area, they are quickly going to mention memories from the Missouri side of the line: Royals games, Chiefs games and barbecue restaurants.
Our family in Kansas City Times t-shirts
I worked at the Kansas City Times for five years, then for another year-plus at the Kansas City Star. In my editing days, I visited our bureaus in St. Joseph, Jefferson City, Springfield and St. Louis. I also traveled in rural Missouri in my reporting days for the Star. And I returned several times to Missouri as a reporter for the Des Moines Register (covering Pope John Paul II’s 1999 visit to St. Louis) and the Omaha World-Herald (covering a political race, floods and a prison, among other stories).
Missouri also has been a frequent destination for journalism training and conferences: to St. Louis for more than a dozen conferences and seminars (I served two hitches on the board of the Mid-America Press Institute, which usually met there), to Columbia for at least four different programs at the University of Missouri, to Kansas City for at least two conferences. My first paid training gig, in 1985, was for the St. Joseph News-Press and Gazette.
I’ve enjoyed more sports in Missouri than anywhere. We arrived in 1985 and went to several Royals’ games that year, including Game 2 of the World Series (a heartbreaking 4-2 loss, with the Cardinals scoring four runs in the ninth off Charlie Leibrandt because Royals manager Dick Howser had lost confidence in closer Dan Quisenberry against left-handed batters). Our oldest son, Mike, desperately wanted to go to the game, but my traveling companion wanted to come with me. I promised to take Mike the next time the Royals were in the World Series. And I will.
The next year, I started buying one-fourth of a two-seat season-ticket package, meaning I got to go to 25-30 games a year (you got some bonus tickets on weekday nights in other seats). Each of the boys would get several games every year, and my companion joined me for some as well. I remain a Yankee fan (Royals and Yankees had a pretty fierce rivalry then, based on four post-season series from 1976-80), but developed great fondness for the Royals, too. George Brett, Frank White, Bo Jackson, Bret Saberhagen, Quiz and the bunch provided a lot of wonderful memories for all of us, and the boys all remain Royals fans.
Mike had his ninth birthday our first year in Kansas City. I offered him the choice of a birthday party with friends or a Chiefs game with me. He chose the Chiefs and that became a December tradition, one the younger boys later joined, and one that continued in our Omaha years. I don’t know how many games we took in at Arrowhead, but I’d guess more than a dozen. Deron Cherry, Priest Holmes, Christian Okoye, Derrick Thomas, Tony Gonzalez and the other Chiefs provided many thrills as well. In addition to our games at Arrowhead, I went with Tom to watch the Chiefs play the Giants in New Jersey and the Ravens (in an exhibition game) in Baltimore. Mike flew to Washington to join Tom and me in watching the Chiefs beat Washington this past December.
We also watched Big Eight tournament and NAIA basketball tournament games in Kansas City.
In addition to all the games we’ve seen in Kansas City, I’ve seen St. Louis Cardinals games with the family and with various groups of journalists while attending conferences in St. Louis. And my companion and I went to a few Missouri Valley Arch Madness basketball tournaments in St. Louis, watching our Creighton Bluejays beat Southern Illinois for the 2002 and 2003 championships, led by Kyle Korver. We’d always be sure to dine and shop at the great Italian restaurants, groceries and bakeries on The Hill.
Beyond the stadiums, we enjoyed other sights in Missouri. Mike and I canoed the Elk River. We visited the Lake of the Ozarks, the Truman Library and the St. Louis Arch.
One of my favorite family gatherings was when my brothers and Joe flew in for the Super Bowl in 2006, a meeting of two generations of Buttry brothers at Mike’s home in Alexandria, Va.: Dan, me and Don in back, Mike, Joe and Tom in front.
My traveling companion and her sister, Mary Head, visiting the Iwo Jima memorial.
I may be a bit more nostalgic about this section as we prepare to leave Virginia, where we’ve lived for seven of the past nine years. We moved here in 2005 so I could work for the American Press Institute in Reston, then moved to Iowa from 2008 to 2010. I returned to take a job at TBD in Rosslyn, which lasted a little more than a year. For the past three years, I worked for DFM out of our condo in Herndon, though I traveled a lot, as detailed throughout this post.
Since I traveled a lot for both jobs, maybe I spent less actual time in Virginia than in Missouri or Kansas (remember, in addition to living in Kansas and working in Missouri for six years, I’ve traveled to them both several times before and after that). But I’m comfortable with this ranking. That six years in Kansas City was split between the two states. And I came to Virginia before working here, to visit our son, Mike, who moved to the Washington area in 2000 (we went to Mount Vernon with Mike and took a Potomac cruise), and for API seminars before I came on staff and workshops for the Richmond Times-Dispatch (that trip included our first visit to Monticello), Roanoke Times and Virginia Press Association.
My traveling companion and I have enjoyed some getaways to cabins in the Virginia mountains (on Broken Back Mountain, seriously). After one of those getaways, we noticed flags flying at half-staff on our return to the city. At first, we thought maybe a local soldier had died at war. But all flags we saw were at half-staff. Soon we learned Gerald Ford had died, more than 30 years after we missed his swearing-in because we were honeymooning in a Minnesota cabin. A few days later, we stood in line to pay our respects at the U.S. Capitol.
We enjoyed Virginia a lot of different ways, including mountains, beaches, wineries, historical sites and monuments.
We followed this young whale off the coast of Virginia Beach for nearly half an hour.
We spent a weekend at the Virginia shore, including a successful whale-watching cruise off Virginia Beach, followed by a drive up the Eastern Shore and a visit to Chincoteague Island. We’ve also visited Shenandoah National Park several times (including some bear sightings), as well as Great Falls National Park. We’ve visited four presidents’ homes (Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe), plus Arlington National Cemetery (the best view of Washington may be from the Kennedy grave site) and the Iwo Jima and Air Force memorials. Naked Mountain is our favorite Virginia winery, less than an hour from our condo.
Sports hasn’t been much a part of our Virginia experience (we’d go into Washington or Maryland to watch sports). The only game I can remember in Virginia was at the Patriot Center, where our Creighton Bluejays beat George Mason (the year GMU made it to the Final Four).
Most of my teaching for Georgetown has been at the Clarendon campus in Virginia. In addition, I’ve spoken several times to classes or programs at George Mason and Marymount.
Dulles is certainly the airport I’ve flown from and to the most (with O’Hare probably second).
Except for one memorable nine-hour trip home from downtown DC, the drive down George Washington Parkway was always a lovely trip to or from Washington, with beautiful views of the city.
My companion and I enjoy cherry blossom season.
The Devlins were among our many DC visitors: From left, Carol, Patrick, Kat and John.
Speaking of Washington, the District of Columbia should be a state, but it’s not. So I can’t give it its own number in a list of the states, but it surely deserves mention as part of the Virginia experience. One of the great benefits of living in Virginia has been our proximity to one of the world’s most beautiful, historic and dynamic cities. We’re going to miss Virginia, but we’re really going to miss being close to Washington.
We can bop into town by car or train for lunch, dinner, sightseeing or to catch visiting friends and relatives. That’s one of the great things about living near DC: Someone’s always visiting. All of our siblings and some of their spouses have visited at least once in our time in DC and some multiple times. Throw in nieces, nephews and friends, and it’s a great place to connect or reconnect with people.
The magnificent museums, monuments and restaurants we’ve enjoyed have been too numerous to list here. We visited the National Zoo in June for the first time, not because we didn’t want to see the pandas (they are cute), but because we’ve just visited so many sights we hadn’t made it yet to that one. We especially loved walking around the Tidal Basin at Cherry Blossom time and visiting the Jefferson Memorial, certainly one of the most inspiring of DC’s monuments.
We didn’t take enough advantage of Washington’s entertainment offerings, but we did see “Wicked” at the Kennedy Center, a taping of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and a Bill Maher performance. We’ve watched the Washington Nationals several times at both RFK Stadium and Nationals Park. My traveling companion and I took in a Georgetown game at the Verizon Center and Tom and I watched Marquette win an NCAA tournament game there.
Granny holding our first grandchild.
Our favorite DC memory was the birth of our first granddaughter, Julia Burke Buttry, March 11, 2010, in Sibley Hospital. Julia moved away to Minnesota with her parents that summer, but we cherished being in the DC area for her birth and her first few months.
Our favorite non-family DC memory: Standing at night for five hours, 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., in a line that wound around the National Mall and the nearby streets, to pay respects to Rosa Parks, lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda.
I surely won’t remember all the journalism conferences I attended in Washington as a speaker or participant. But I also branched out beyond journalism, leading a workshop on disruption and innovation for the Bureau of Justice Statistics. My academic career also got a boost with adjunct teaching at Georgetown and American universities. And I did guest-speaker visits to George Washington University and the Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy.
From left, Tom, me, Joe and Mike at Joe’s wedding in Omaha.
We lived in Nebraska for 12 years. I worked at the Omaha World-Herald for two five-year hitches, sandwiched around a two-year hitch at the Des Moines Register, with the family staying in Nebraska and me commuting home on weekends.
I don’t think I traveled around a state more than I did Nebraska. I had reporting jobs that involved travel around Iowa, Missouri and Kansas, but I spent more time as an editor than as a reporter in those states. I was a reporter my whole time at the World-Herald. Though I did a fair amount of national travel for the World-Herald and lots of stories based in Omaha, much of my work for the World-Herald involved traveling the back roads of Nebraska. I won’t claim that I visited every county, but I didn’t miss many. Some of the most memorable stories from across the state were a profile of murderer James Forsberg and covering the Nebraska visit of a group of Afghan teachers, both of which I’ve blogged about elsewhere. I spent several weeks visiting the town of York for a series showing how thoroughly government regulation and mandates influence community life. A series on rape documented how few rapes actually resulted in rape convictions and told stories of rape survivors. My narrative about the rescue of twins who nearly froze to death was one of my best Omaha stories.
I’ve returned to Nebraska several times since leaving: Conferences or seminars for the Lincoln Journal Star, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska Press Association, Enterprise Publishing in Blair and the National Newspaper Association. I also did lots of training and teaching while I was living in Nebraska: programs for the Inland Sea Writers Group in McCook, newsroom visits in Scottsbluff, North Platte and Kearney, the first APME NewsTrain in Omaha and National Writers’ Workshops in Omaha, plus programs for the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Metropolitan Community College and Creighton University.
My traveling companion worked at Creighton and we became season ticket holders for Bluejay basketball, watching games at the old Civic Auditorium and then the new Qwest Center (now called the CenturyLink Center). We also watched lots of Omaha Royals and College World Series games at old Rosenblatt Stadium. I’d like to see a game in new TD Ameritrade Park.
We renewed our vows on our 25th anniversary, joined by the three sons who had joined us since the first vows.
Joe, my traveling companion, Tom and Mike await our horses at Fort Robinson.
We did some wonderful sightseeing in Nebraska: more trips to the Henry Doorly Zoo than I can remember, truly a world-class zoo (we had dinner in the aquarium tunnel and got to pet a penguin at an event I was covering) and the Strategic Air Command Museum stand out. For our 25th wedding anniversary (15 years ago!), we renewed our vows at the Creighton House chapel, stayed at the Lied Lodge in Nebraska City and then canoed the Niobrara River in northwest Nebraska with our sons and went horseback riding at Fort Robinson. My traveling companion and I also canoed the Elkhorn River with some colleagues.
Tom and my traveling companion at Carhenge
We also visited some really odd Nebraska sights: the Kearney Arch, Ole’s Big Game Lounge and Carhenge. And in a cross-country drive in my youth, my family stopped to eat at a memorable cafe called the Purple Cow. I can’t recall what town it was in and never saw it in my later travels across Nebraska.
Nebraska was the location for big family events. In addition to that 25th-anniversary celebration, our first son, Mike, was born at Nebraska Methodist Hospital (though we lived in Iowa at the time). All three sons graduated from high school in Nebraska (Tom from Mount Michael, Mike and Joe from Papillion-La Vista) and Mike and Joe graduated from Creighton. Joe and Kim got married in St. John’s Church on the Creighton campus. In addition, my siblings and mother and our families all gathered at Mahoney State Park.
We visited the Field of Dreams twice.
Iowa could be number one on several counts:
My traveling companion and I started our journey 40 years ago in Shenandoah, Iowa.
Mike was our only child not born in Iowa, but we lived in Shenandoah when he was born. His maternal grandparents, including “Nan,” holding him here, lived nearby in Essex.
Family milestones: That wedding 40 years ago was in St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Shenandoah. I can think of eight other family weddings I’ve attended in Iowa. Joe and Tom were born in Des Moines at Iowa Methodist Medical Center and Mike was born when we lived in Shenandoah. More family members than I can bother to count here were also born in Iowa. My traveling companion and I both graduated from high school in Iowa. Both of my traveling companion’s parents, my father and our nephew, Brandon, are all buried in Shenandoah’s Rose Hill Cemetery, and we attended all their funerals in Iowa (except for Dad, whose funeral was in Illinois). I’m probably leaving out some family milestones, but you can see how plentiful they have been.
The Johnson family visited their old family farm in Essex after Wes’s funeral in 1993.
My first of eight Iowa homes was the parsonage of First Baptist Church in Shenandoah, where Dad was the pastor (and where my brother Don is pastor now).
Homes. I’ve lived full-time in nine different homes in Iowa, plus the apartment I had in Des Moines while I worked my second hitch at the Des Moines Register while living in Omaha (my traveling companion called it the “flop,” which may explain why I usually went home on the weekend, rather than her coming to Des Moines). And those homes don’t count my traveling companion’s parents’ home, where we spent a lot of time, or her sister’s home in Des Moines, where we’ve had many family gatherings, or many visits to my brother’s home in Shenandoah (I visited just last month), or a few visits to the home in Clarinda where Mom lived for a year. I lived full-time in Iowa 13 years, plus summers home from college, plus those two years splitting time between Iowa and Nebraska.
Caucus night 1980 at the Des Moines Register. I got a lot of help.
Work. I started my journalism career at the Evening Sentinel in Shenandoah, Iowa, in 1971, while still in high school, and returned there twice for internships while I was in college and again after graduating college. I was managing editor by the time I left in 1977. I worked at the Des Moines Register from 1977 to 1985, holding various editing positions before becoming a reporter. I returned to the Register from 1998 to 2000 as religion editor and writing coach. Then I returned to Iowa again in 2008 as editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, leaving in 2010. That’s about 14 years of my career working for Iowa newspapers, easily more than any other state.
The wraparound front page from June 13, 2008, my fourth day as editor of the Gazette
Teaching. My first teaching gigs were at Central College in Pella, Iowa, in the 1980s. When I was in Cedar Rapids, I taught at Kirkwood Community College and the University of Iowa. I later returned to Iowa City as a visiting professional. Last summer I was on the faculty of the Journalism, Leadership and Management conference for student media leaders at Iowa State University. I’ve also been a First Amendment Day panelist at Iowa State and have spoken a couple other times to classes or student media leaders at ISU. I’ve also spoken to classes and events at Drake University, Iowa Western Community College and the American Institute of Business.
I created the Iowa Caucus Game for the Des Moines Register in 1984 and covered several other caucuses as a reporter and editor for the Register, Omaha World-Herald and Kansas City Times.
Visits. In addition to lots of family visits to Iowa, wherever else we lived, I’ve visited several times for journalism training for the Iowa Newspaper Association, Ames Daily Tribune and more stories than I can remember from Iowa in my reporting days for the Omaha World-Herald and Kansas City Star, covering Iowa caucuses, a presidential visit, tornadoes, girls basketball, a famous homecoming photograph, and Iowa’s first capital murder trial in 40 years (several trips to Sioux City during the months that the trial lasted).
Travel around the state. Between reporting for various newspapers, workshops, conferences and pleasure trips, I’ve seen more of Iowa than any other state except Nebraska, and it’s close. In addition to the newspapers where I’ve worked, I had job interviews at four other newspapers around Iowa. My traveling companion and I have canoed at Viking Lake and Rock Creek State Parks. We’ve visited Iowa’s two most famous movie sets, the Field of Dreams and the Bridges of Madison County. My sons and I played baseball on the field and I wrote a story about an independent movie being filmed in the farmhouse where Clint Eastwood wooed Meryl Streep in “Bridges.” I later learned that a University of Iowa student plagiarized that story.
Sports. Iowa can’t match Missouri in terms of sports that I’ve watched, but I’ve watched quite a bit: Iowa Cubs games, Drake Relays and Drake basketball (at old Veterans Memorial Auditorium and the Knapp Center) as well as Iowa and Iowa State home football games (including an Iowa State-Iowa game in Iowa City).
The rankings change soon
As long as this account has been, it’s just a snapshot. Alaska will make 50 states next week and climb at least into the 30s before this trip is done. Lousiana will climb more slowly (since I already boosted it quite a bit), but should climb a couple notches in the next year and hopefully more after that. It will take a long time, though, for any state to unseat Iowa from No. 1, especially if I don’t have another Nebraska job in my future.
Thanks to our wonderful family for this trip and for prompting reflections on the first 49 states.