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I'm proud to call this place home

Learning other peoples' stories has always been a passion of mine. So when I visited Wadena a little more than a week ago to start my work as editor and general manager for the Wadena Pioneer Journal, one of the first things I wanted to do was drive around town and check out the hustle and bustle.

Having spent a significant amount of time here as a kid, I couldn't wait to join the community. And as I started my local journey by cruising Jefferson Street, a heap of childhood memories flooded my mind.

As I started off north of town, I recalled the days when grandma and grandpa used to load my two younger brothers and me into their van and zip us over to Sunnybrook Park for an afternoon of fun. We kids would be glued to the windows; dying to jump out at the first sight of the animals waiting to greet us at the park's entrance. Sometimes after visiting the park, my grandparents would even take us kids out for a chicken dinner.

From Sunnybrook I headed downtown, where I noticed the Little Hollywood Video store my dad and I used to frequent whenever the weather turned ugly or we just felt like picking up a good family comedy. Glancing across the street, I also noticed Boondocks Cafe and remembered my mom saying she used to spend time there during her high school years. And as the show times for the Cozy Theatre grew smaller in my rearview mirror, the smell of popcorn filled my nostrils and I remembered how excited I used to get when my family and I would catch a flick.

I definitely have a collection of happy memories from this place, and returning to the area is a dream-come-true. But with happy memories, there also lies daunting reality. While it's been almost two years since a tornado ripped through Wadena, I can tell people are still scarred by the monstrous storm. Having also witnessed the original aftermath of the disaster, it is now refreshing to see a new school going up, homes being rebuilt and lives being restored.

There's no doubt the people of Wadena were hit hard by the 2010 tornado. And after seeing the progress that's been made since that dreadful time, I believe the people of this community are heroes. It's not always easy to bounce back from disaster, but I'm thrilled to see folks around here are pushing forward with such intense optimism.

I may not have been here the day the tornado hit, but I always had an invested interest in Wadena's well-being because much of my family has ties to this area. While I've always considered myself to be a Minnesota guy, I grew up in Oakes, N.D., a small town of a little more than 2,000 people. And during my college years at North Dakota State University and the time following my December 2011 graduation, I've had the pleasure of working with a number of media outlets in the Midwest.

Most recently, I served as a reporter for The Dickinson Press in Dickinson, N.D. Before that I reported at other Forum Communications-owned papers, including Detroit Lakes Newspapers and The Forum. I also spent time working as an intern at the Times-Record in Valley City, N.D. and a web producer at the Valley News Live news station in Fargo.

Today, I'm excited to be back in Minnesota and can't wait to hear the stories Wadena has to tell. Additionally, I'm ecstatic to live in an area with such a powerful history and strong sense of community; I'm proud to call this place home.

God bless.