Daily: Joe Mauer sighting

By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune

 Joe Mauer’s putt stopped inches from the hole on No. 18 at Northland Country Club. The Minnesota Twins star took a gimme.
“Someone should tend the flag for him,” a woman remarked from the veranda.
Mauer, a four-time American League all-star and 2009 AL
Most Valuable Player, has spent part of Major League Baseball’s All-Star break in Duluth. The Minnesota native, who grew up in St. Paul, said Tuesday it’s his first trip to the area.
Mauer made his comments Tuesday evening in an impromptu media moment as he finished a round with a woman he would identify only as his girlfriend. Buzz around town suggested the woman was a schoolmate of Mauer’s at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul and also had attended the University of Minnesota Duluth, but Mauer would not confirm that.
He also did not discuss his performance on the greens.
“I didn’t try to keep score,” Mauer said. “I’m just trying to relax. Trying to lay low. I guess that didn’t work out too well.”
The local Twitter contingent posted Mauer sightings starting with Burrito Union, where he had stopped for lunch (he had two chicken tacos, according to the staff). He was allegedly spotted at a handful of locations: Portland Malt Shoppe, Sir Benedict’s, Hawk’s Ridge.
Word spread quickly that Mauer was at Northland Country Club. About a dozen teenage boys, the course’s staff members, ejected trespassers from the parking lot and along the course. They had kicked out about 20 people, mostly boys and a few girls, they said. But that didn’t mean they weren’t a little giddy about catching a glimpse of the athlete.
Bag boy Zach McKinnon worked up a little ditty about it, which got equal parts laughs and groans from his friends:
“Here at Northland, it’s not amateur hour, it’s Mauer hour.”
“We’re just going to act a little normal and get some autographs hopefully,” McKinnon added.
Michael O’Connor, whose father Joe O’Connor is the pro at the private course, admitted it probably isn’t the most fair thing in the world, but he got to shake Mauer’s hand.
“He’s a Minnesota boy,” Michael O’Connor said. “Humble, great guy. He was wearing his golf glove when we shook hands.”
By the time Mauer got to No. 17, pockets of gawkers had gathered. Women from around the state playing in the Northland Women’s Invitational hung out on the veranda with cameras aimed in Mauer’s direction.
“We came off on the 18th hole and he was teeing off,” said Robin Stewart, a golfer from the Twin Cities area. “It was good. I heard some guys from the pro shop saying Oh, that was a beautiful fade.'”
Paige Bromen was on the driving range with Mauer, who was getting a lot of attention.
“I just let him do his thing,” she said. “I was working out my own kinks.”
After No. 18, Mauer’s girlfriend drove off with the cart. He walked up the grass toward media and fans wearing a light blue and white mesh baseball cap, sunglasses, a white collared shirt, khaki shorts and Nike shoes.
“I wasn’t expecting this,” he said of the crowd and cameras.
Mauer said he doesn’t golf much and when he does it’s in Florida. He said he liked the different elevations of Northland Country Club. He took some photographs on the course with his Nikon.
He greeted fans, signed autographs and posed for photographs.
“I’m shaking,” said Amy Loftsuen.
“We were just eating dinner,” she said making air quotes around the words “eating dinner.” This was no coincidence: She and her friend Alix Hyduke had heard Mauer was at the club.
Kyle Chmielecki, a caddy, just happened to be wearing his Twins cap and got it signed.
“I’m never washing my hand again because Joe Mauer shook it,” he said.

This story ran in the July 13, 2011 edition of the Duluth News Tribune.

Daily: Minnesota Ballet’s Celebrity Dance Challenge

By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune

Eric Huie and Suzanne Kritzberg performed a reprise of the winning performance “A Touch of Bollywood” from last year’s Celebrity Dance Challenge to open this year’s show.

The up-tempo dance complete with full pelvis swivels would be a tough act to follow.

But Aga Bednarz, a gastroenterologist from St. Luke’s hospital, and professional dancer Ernesto Lea Place met the challenge with a sexy salsa, complete with a sassy hip check, that earned them the People’s Choice Award during Thursday’s fifth annual Minnesota Ballet Celebrity Dance Challenge at the Marshall School.

“That’s the first time I’ve seen dancing like that in Duluth without putting a dollar on the stage,” judge Steve Greenfield said.

The Judges’ Choice Award went to David Vipond, owner of The Olcott House Bed & Breakfast, who performed a swing dance with Anna Acker. Vipond got kudos for his pink-toned argyle socks and matching tie.

Dan Hanger of Fox 21 was the first-year emcee, channeling Mr. Rourke’s wardrobe from “Fantasy Island” and providing perky banter between dances.

This year’s show was a more theatrical version of the event than previous years, with some teams opting for elaborate props, mini strip teases and a well-timed bucket of glitter.

The lone standing ovation of the night went to Dan Russell, the executive director of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, who was outfitted in a pair of black tights. His pas de deux with Suzie Baer to the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen had the audience hooting. He performed leaps and kicks, disappeared into the wings to give Baer time to let down her crimped hair and for some head banging and an air guitar solo. Russell performed a quick wardrobe change, adding a Technicolor dream vest and a baseball cap with a false ponytail to his get up.

Greenfield made a play on the DECC’s recent announcement that Elton John is playing there on May 6 and said that after seeing Russell in those tights, “Tiny Dancer” might have been an appropriate song.

“Comedy can be hard,” Rebecca Katz-Harwood said of the dance.

Michelle Russell, his wife, upped the ante with an ’80s mix of disco and jazz with Benjamin Biswell. She finished her dance in the iconic “Flashdance” chair pose, and Biswell tossed a bucket of glitter at her.

Other highlights included:

Local actor/director Cal Metts tap dancing — a skill he’s picked up for his upcoming role in the Duluth Playhouse’s production of “Chicago.”

Meteorologist Justin Liles dorked out in Urkle-ware for a tango/rhumba with Caitlin Quinn.

Death investigator Kelly Haffield’s new wave “Thriller”-style dance with a zombified Avram Gold to the Oingo Boingo song “Dead Man’s Party.”

And the finale featured Becky Hoversten-Mellem, who shrugged her way out of a silk robe to reveal leotard. She playfully shimmied her way into professional dancer Reinhard von Rabenau’s line of vision and eventually onto a kitchen table. Greenfield was there again with the quip: “I have a feeling that in the last 50 years you’ve danced on more than just that table.”

This story was in the February 11, 2011, edition of the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune.

Daily: ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’

By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune

Harry Potter fans arrived with the famous scribbled lightning bolts on foreheads, and in schoolgirl skirts and ties — the official Hogwarts uniform.

Sonny Schiefelbein wore a baggy green dress, wild hair wrapped in a multi-

colored scarf, argyle socks and oversized round black-framed glasses. She took a little extra effort to transform herself into the character Professor Trelawney.

“Professor?” asked Nathaniel Harvie, 14, approaching her. “Isn’t this so sad?”

Schiefelbein, 22, agreed with the boy she had never met before the premiere of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” early Friday at Duluth 10 theaters. Part One of the cinematic finale to the popular series of wizard fiction by J.K. Rowling was showing on three screens. It had sold out — more than 700 tickets — at least three weeks before it opened. Superior 7 and Lakes 10 theaters also sold out midnight shows.

Before the movie started, Harvie and Schiefelbein talked about this ending to the story they had both grown up reading and watching. Harvie had a black cape draped around his shoulders.

“It’s a cloak,” the Duluth East freshman corrected.

The final 45 minutes of the movie had the audience cackling and sniffling. Among the diehards asked, it was unanimous: Best Harry Potter movie yet. It was edgy, funny and sad, with a side of love.

Billy Wagness, 23, waited for friends in the lobby. He was dressed in a long, fitted black robe and carried a wand. Professor Snape, right down to the hair.

“Hands down the most true to the books,” Wagness said. “The most fulfilling movie of the series. They really covered their bases.”

Harvie said it was hard to compare this dark story to the other movies set at Hogwarts, where the magic is more charming.

“I cried like eight times,” he said. “I’m still sort of processing.”

“It’s very dark,” Logan West, 19, said. “The darkest they’ve done.”

“It’s really emotional,” added his friend, Chloe Meyer.

The orphaned hero with magical powers entered the collective conscience in 1997, and over the next decade, Rowling published six additional books. The young, scarred boy grows up, makes friends and enemies, and … well, we won’t spoil it for you. The final book has been split into two movies. The second is scheduled to be released next summer.

Plenty of the people in the audience had been steeped in Potter lore for the entirety of their reading life.

“This is sad because after this, it’s the end of an era,” Harvie said. “From the time I was 8, there has always been a new book coming out, every year. It’s like a routine. By the end of this, everyone has gotten such a connection to the characters.”

Anna Ambrosi, 13, wore a wild black wig, a long velvet dress and black boots. She opted for evil, in the guise of death eater Bellatrix Lestrange, a strong woman, which Ambrosi said she likes in a character. Ambrosi was with a friend who was dressed as Hermione Granger, part of Harry Potter’s posse who gets crushy with the third member of the trio, Ron Weasley.

“She’s definitely a scary character,” Ambrosi said of Lestrange. “It’s a moving story that inspires perseverance and being strong. Like Hermione — she’s really strong and smart, unlike some girls in books.”

Like “Twilight”?

“Harry Potter and ‘Twilight’ fans don’t mix,” Ambrosi said.

Jason Hafeman, 20, prefers the books to the big screen and said that he hoped dividing the final book would allow for a more-detailed movie. He wore a white shirt, suspenders, black pants and — of course — the lightning-bolt scar.

“I wanted to let everyone here know I’m here for a purpose,” he said.

This story was in the November 20, 2010 edition of the Duluth News Tribune.

Daily: X-treme painting by Lee Zimmerman

By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune

From behind the 30-foot-tall expanse of taut white silk, Lee Zimmerman had the harnessed and accessorized look of a man set to wash the windows of a skyscraper.

He wore a Velcro vest with bottles filled with dye, brushes and cups attached.

“I made it myself,” he said. “Yeah. I cut a hole in a big chunk of Velcro.”

The artist was seated on a small padded bench equipped with side saddles: a bucket on his left, a pocketed satchel to his right. Behind him, resident climbing expert Nick Fleming — the muscles of the operation — used a block and tackle to hoist the silk painter to different points of the sheer fabric hanging from the trusses at the warehouse-like space.

“Up a foot and a half,” Zimmerman called back to Fleming — one of many directives given as they considered the kinks that could occur in front of an audience.

On Monday night, Zimmerman had a tech run of a live art show that will be part of a fundraiser for the Domestic Abuse Intervention Program. “Brave” is on Oct. 23 at Clyde Iron Works, and includes Zimmerman’s most vertical attempt at silk painting, while Kathy McTavish provides cello music. Sheila Packa and other local poets will be reading while he paints. Afterward, Karen McTavish will create five quilts from Zimmerman’s single painting. These quilts are being auctioned off before the show. Go to http://www.braveevent.blogspot.com for details.

As the idea was forming, Zimmerman sought out Fleming, the facilities manager at Vertical Endeavors in Canal Park, to help him with the logistics.

“I thought it was possible, but crazy,” Fleming said.

At Monday night’s rehearsal, Fleming had ropes attached to a belt, and took direction from Zimmerman. He had already done a pre-show lift of Zimmerman, and considered the strength of the roof trusses and the weight of the artist. Fleming consulted a piece of white tagboard with rough sketches of the themes Zimmerman wanted to incorporate and a map of stopping points along the swatch of silk — written out almost like a sheet of music. For every foot Fleming cranked the pulley system, Zimmerman moved three inches.

Zimmerman’s style is to be positioned behind the fabric, which is lit in a way that reveals the color absorbing into the silk as he develops his figures. Last winter, he created a new backdrop at each performance of “The Secret Garden” at the Duluth Playhouse, creating images on five panels each night.

Zimmerman had a handful of helpers on board, keeping track of problem areas and serving as caddies as he worked. His wife, Andrea Wahman, brought him a roll of tape and consulted with the artist. She is the one who kicks these ideas around with Zimmerman.

“I married an electrical engineer,” she joked as he ascended the structure.

This is all part of a big plan that Zimmerman is plotting. He would like to do a painting on the outside of a building in a particularly rainy city. Something where the colors could pool at the bottom of his piece.

“I’ve been wanting to go vertical,” Zimmerman said of this project. “I like the idea of painting big.”

This story ran in the September 28, 2010, edition of the Duluth News Tribune.

Feature: Laurie Hertzel revisits time at DNT in ‘News to Me’

By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune

It had been 16 years since Laurie Hertzel last walked through the double glass doors of 424 W. 1st St.

“Where’s the linotype machine?” the former staff reporter asked, looking around the News Tribune lobby during a recent trip back to the place where she got her first whiffs of news ink. “It was right here.”

Already a relic during Hertzel’s tenure, the clunky piece of print equipment that once revolutionized the world of journalism had been on display in the lobby. It’s gone now — one of many things that have changed in the newspaper’s offices — not to mention the entire industry — since her time here from the mid-1970s through mid-1990s.

Hertzel, who is now the books editor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, wrote about that time in her memoir “News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist,” released in late August. It is the

224-page story, published by the University of Minnesota Press, about her ascension through the ranks of the cigarette smoke-hazed newsroom, the trip to Duluth’s sister city in Russia that she cajoled out of her editor, a fellowship out east, and her eventual move from her hometown.

The Charlotte Observer called it “charming and wistful,” and said “Hertzel is a powerful storyteller with an eye for the radiant details that conjure an entire way of life.”

While writing about the events, the people, and the news that came from this space and time, Hertzel worked from recall, rather than nostalgic trips through crannies of the places she worked for years. It was better this way.

“I knew it would be similar, but different and it would blur my memory,” she said.


1When she started at the News Tribune in May of 1976, Hertzel’s job description included answering phones, writing obituaries, compiling the marine log, picking up court records across the street and the ignominious task of making coffee.

She moved on to working in the library — in fact, her handwriting is still on top of plenty of files, Hertzel noticed during her visit. She moved to the copy desk and eventually became a reporter.

“She was very quiet, shy, bookish … and I wouldn’t have expected to find her as outgoing as she has become,” said Paul Brissett, a former city editor who is mentioned in the book.

“News to Me” is a blend of the headlines from the era, including the Congdon murders — the kind of story that Hertzel said hooked her on newspapers. There are also crusty old-school characters one would expect to find in a 1970s newsroom: cowboy boots, chewing tobacco, sexual innuendo and barked orders. There are typos in headlines and drinking at the Pioneer Bar, the Anchor Bar and the Pickwick.

“And the parties … oh, the parties,” Hertzel wrote. “We worked hard together all day, and then got together to drink and talk all night. You would think we would be sick of each other, but no. We dated each other, fought with each other, broke up with each other, drank some more.”

And there are the headlines from her own life: A young, short-lived marriage that resulted in a super-sized hyphenated byline, a life-changing trip to Russia, and writing her first book, “They Took My Father: Finnish Americans in Stalin’s Russia” with Mayme Sevander. For anyone who reads Twin Cities-based publications, this is no spoiler alert: Hertzel moved on to Minnesota Monthly magazine before joining the Star Tribune.

Bob Ashenmacher, who makes a couple of cameos as a young reporter always rushing off with his raincoat flapping like a cape, said that many of the memories ring true for him.

“Knowing some of the same folks, being in that same environment,” he said. “There’s a poignancy in what was the robust power of newspapers. … She covered good anecdotes. A lot of funny things, and people I remember.”


As her father used to say, memory is a slippery thing, Hertzel notes in the acknowledgements.

The book had an innocent genesis online. She was occasionally telling old journalism tales on her blog, which she started because she felt like she was forgetting how to write. The posts received a good response from readers. When she pitched a friend’s book to an editor at the University of Minnesota Press, she went in packing some of them. While editor Todd Orjala didn’t nibble on the former, he was interested in the latter.

Hertzel wrote before work, after work and on Sundays. She created multiple writing nooks in her home, and ultimately wrote most of it at the kitchen table. She knocked out a chunk last fall while on vacation. She worked from memory and old letters her friend Pam Miller — a former News Tribune copy editor — had saved.

“I’m glad I didn’t come back here,” she said, sitting in a conference room that didn’t exist when she worked in the newsroom. “It would have confused me. I know I’m right.”

Retired News Tribune columnist Jim Heffernan said he and Hertzel got together to talk about the paper’s history while she was writing.

“She was checking her memory against mine of those years,” said Heffernan, who was an arts-and-entertainment writer in those days.

There were also some back-and-forths on Facebook with Brissett, who left the DNT in the 1980s but continues to review local theater productions for the paper. He gets a shout-out in the acknowledgements.

From start to finish, the book took about a year. Hertzel said she expected a longer editing and rewriting period, but that it came out pretty clean on the first draft. This is just the way one of her former editors, John Krebs, remembers her — an efficient reporter who got her assignment, and did her job well. He didn’t have to hit her copy very hard with his editing pen.

“A lot of reporters have come and gone,” the retired Krebs said. “Laurie, and a handful of others, I remember well.”

This story appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on September 12, 2010.

Review: Eddie Money concert

By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune

In the decades since Eddie Money’s MTV hey-day, the raspy-voiced, multi-instrument musician has developed a sort of charming, lounge-singer sensibility.

The 80s-era star touched on all of his hits from the popped-collar, mirrored-sunglasses era during the finale of the Rock the Block series on Thursday night in downtown Duluth.

Money kept things chill with his Vegas velvet-room shuffle. A few wagged hips, a jarred fist here and there. To be fair, Money has never really favored the party boy scissor kicks of his peers. He’s always been more of a foot tapper and microphone spinner. And these days, it suits him well.

His quips — the jokey fare of a favorite uncle — were punctuated with rim shots from the Eddie Money Band.

“I sold 27 million records,” he said. “I should have saved the money. … Who knew?!” (Ba-dump bump).

“I lost $650 at the casino already … Better than givin’ it to my wife.” (Ba-dump bump).

Money wore a black graphic T-shirt, with a button-up over shirt, dark jeans and a pair of Nike kicks and had yesteryear on his mind, with references to Janis Joplin, Ted Nugent and “Saturday Night Live.”

He doesn’t bother aiming for the high notes anymore, with his trademark raspy voice. Here Money deferred to the audience and his band for the chorus of some of his more popular songs — and he hit all his greatest hits. He opened the 90-minute set with “Two Tickets to Paradise.”

Money, who hasn’t released an original studio album since the late 1990s, tested out a new song. He prefaced the slow patriotic number “One More Soldier” with a shout-out to the men and women in uniform.

Things ramped up with “Give Me Some Water,” a trip right into Marty Robbins’ theme park, with its refrain: “Give me some water, cuz I shot a man on the Mexico border.”

Money dusted off the ole sax, and multitasked through an extended remix of “I Want to go Back.” Later he pulled out a harmonica.

Then he teased the crowd:

“You got room for me in your car? Can I stay over tonight? I’ll clean the counters,” he said. Pause. “Take me Home Tonight!”

After “Baby Hold On To Me,” the audience coaxed Money back onto the stage with chants of “Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!”

“Maybe we should move up here. I like fishing and wildlife. I got a lot of friends in Duluth,” the singer said. “And they want to do some … ‘Shakin’!” segueing into the song from 1982.

Money might claim that the kids dig his music — he has a song featured on a version of Guitar Hero — but the swaying, fist-bumping brunt of the fans at the free concert were people who were old enough to make out to “Take Me Home Tonight” back when Casey Kasem was hosting “American Top 40.” The first time.

Despite the rain, about 75 percent of the block of Superior St. between 1st Ave. E., and 2nd Ave. E. was crammed with people, including some who watched from the barred windows of the parking ramp, or “Caaahr-pohrt” as the New York-native called it. Money said it was the best crowd he had seen in years.

This review originally ran in the September 3, 2010 edition of the Duluth News Tribune.

Feature: History of NorShor

By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune

If these walls could talk — well, they kind of do. From the catwalks of what is now called the NorShor Theatre, evidence remains of when this space was a vaudeville house in the early 1900s. The gilded ceiling is visible — though now covered with a false ceiling — as are a few balcony rows of seats.

On Sunday, the space formerly known as the Orpheum Theatre celebrates 100 years since its grand opening.

Since that time, it has undergone a series of renovations, ranging from opera house to movie theater to strip club. The Duluth Playhouse, current caretakers of the venue since the Duluth Economic Development Authority bought the theater and Temple Opera buildings in mid-June for $2.6 million, is hosting events tonight and Saturday to celebrate the building’s history and to raise money for renovations.

“I think it’s wonderful that we’re going to add life into it,” said Tony Dierckins, a local historian whose video, “121 Years of Performance and Film,” will be shown today and during Saturday’s open house.

“The stewardship of the building has been lacking in quality. It’s kind of a heartbreaking thing,” Dierckins said. “It’s great we’re going to revitalize it. It’s a lynchpin to revitalizing Old Downtown.”

The Orpheum Theatre opened on Aug. 22, 1910, after “keen anticipation,” the Duluth News Tribune reported. Tickets for the maiden production sold out in 45 minutes and attracted upper-crust Duluthians to downtown. “Seldom has the city’s wealth and culture been seen so heartily,” said an article about the opening night, which quotes then-Mayor Cullum, referred to as “His Honor,” as telling those who gathered: “You look swell.”

The structure was built by G.G. Hartley and cost $150,000. It included a

marble-tiled lobby off Second Avenue East, and walls decorated with hand-painted canvases. Through the lobby, there were four fire-proof imitation mahogany doors leading to the parquet floor of the theater. Seats were covered in silk velour and had ample leg space.

There was a mezzanine for general lounging, and smoking rooms.

Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers were among those who performed.

In the early 1940s, the space went through a major renovation to movie house by J.J. Liebenberg. The stage area shifted 180 degrees, incorporating the Orpheum’s garage space, and the entrance was moved to Superior Street to give the space a presence among the other movie houses.

“The opulent boxes and drapery (from the opera house) were very difficult to keep up,” said Dierckins, who has researched public records and newspaper accounts. “It was the ’40s, and they wanted to go for a different look.”

Local historian Jim Heffernan remembers seeing the much talked-about religious film “The Robe,” starring Richard Burton, at the NorShor.

“In the halcyon days of movies, the lobby would be full of people,” he said. “It was such a big event, they allowed us to get out of school to see it.”

In the 1980s and 1990s, the NorShor became a stop for Minneapolis punk musicians like the Suburbs and Husker Du — whose performances followed edgy films like David Lynch’s “Eraserhead.”

“The space has an incredible sense of intimacy,” said Chris Bacigalupo, a local musician who played and worked at the NorShor

Theatre. “That’s apparent the second you walk through the door. You’re at one with the band, and at that second you’re intimate with the history there. There is a sense of legacy. … You’re playing with Charlie Chaplin’s ghost or something.”

This article originally ran Aug. 19, 2010, in the Duluth News Tribune.