2020: A year to remember

Who didn’t have a crazy year in 2020? I sure did.

Finally, on this third day of 2021 I am pausing to reflect on this year because it will be one I want to remember the rest of my life.

Highlights

  • Moved home and moved in with my grandparents and my boyfriend
  • Started a job at my dream TV station, working for a leader I admire so much, in my dream market – oh yeah, and launched a national newscast somehow
  • Covered what felt like the world’s longest election
  • Graduated college, finally
  • Got really into my pandemic hobby – contributing to the open-source WordPress project
  • All of this amidst a pandemic. With several family members at extremely high risk of COVID-19, I have been so worried and still am

Winter: Oprah setting my 2020 Vision and a talking about mental health

The year started out on a high note. In the bitter cold winter, Nathan and I drove up to the Twin Cities to see Oprah on her 2020 Vision: Your Life In Focus Tour. Met up with my friend Angela there. It was amazing, inspirational and set me up for success. Thinking back now, it’s incredible how many people were in that stadium.

I also went to South Dakota’s state capitol in Pierre to learn about a TV legend with my work wife and dear friend Kelli. It was a blast of a road trip and so fun!

The prior year, I self-admitted to a mental health hospital for anxiety. It was getting really bad, and I needed a reset for my brain. I learned so much and was so happy to share it with my friends and family, mainly to take down a stupid stigma. I also attended a fundraiser for Avera Health in February where I addressed the crowd about my experience.

Of course, there to support me was my amazing partner Nathan and my South Dakota mother Angela. Her work with the hospital is so important as part of her charity: Emily’s Hope.

Here are my remarks from that night. I couldn’t post them then, due to my work contract.

We also got a new set at KELOLAND News and I started to make on-air reports. One of my first — about an emerging virus in China that only several of my colleagues and I were taking seriously at that point. Little did we know.

Spring: The pandemic begins and I leave South Dakota

My last bit of normal was seeing the national tour of Waitress: The Musical. Amazing! The next day, however, the world changed and America began to shut things down.

At the same time my mother was getting very sick. In late 2019, she had been on a ventilator and now in 2020, things weren’t looking amazing. I flew home on a nearly empty plane to be with her. While I was home, Illinois began a lockdown order and I went to the stores to find very little 🧻 & 🍞.

Luckily my mom got better, and I flew back to South Dakota. I knew, however, I couldn’t do the $500 plane ticket or 500 mile drive much longer and needed to move closer to home.

During this time the world was rapidly changing. My TV moved home – which at that time felt like the greatest feat ever. How we as an industry managed to do this, was beyond me.

I began to report more on the virus, tour a hospital treating patients across the country via telemedicine, report on the governor’s unique response to the pandemic and a growing problem at a meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls.

We marked the birthday celebration with some Clorox wipes and I didn’t blow out the candles.

In April, I turned 25 and had a small night at Angela’s house to say goodbye. I had put in my resignation without a solid plan and I was moving home.

After nearly five years at KELOLAND and several more in South Dakota, it was time to leave at the end of April.

Summer: A new home and my dream job

My life with fear of no job didn’t last long, when I got an offer to join a new national newscast launching on WGN America. First off, let me say how incredibly lucky I am to not only have a job, but get a new job while the economy was in free fall.

This was special to me because I had always dreamed of getting to the Chicago market, but specifically I wanted to work at WGN. The famous Chicago call letters had a lot of meaning in my life. I also knew it had a good culture. I interned for a fantastic news director and digital EP, who really showed me what it was like to have a good work experience.

I also, as many people in TV do, had an itch to report on national news. Those jobs are almost exclusively in New York City or DC. So, how this gig in Chicago worked out is beyond me!

NewsNation was going to become the only national prime-time cable NEWSCAST. The other big three cable channels had split into commentary and left a lane of unbiased news open.

That summer was a whirlwind of meeting new people, learning new things, feeling like we were in a startup, but actually working in the historic Bozo studio. I wore a lot of hard hats and watched as the construction of our beautiful studio and newsroom came together. I helped launch our digital platforms, a morning digital newscast and newsletter and became part of such a great team.

The show launched on September 1.

That summer I also moved in with my grandparents. In the suburban Chicago townhouse we’d have:

  • My grandparents
  • Nathan and I
  • A dog
  • 2 cats

My grandfather had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and in those early months it was truly what would’ve been a hilarious sitcom. Sadly, as each day went by the tolls of a disease stripped away the man I adore.

Someday I’ll talk more about that experience, but I’m still living it. He’s living now in a memory care facility, his memories fading on and off, while isolated and unable to see his wife, kids, grandkids or great-grandpets.

I would be remised if I didn’t say how lucky I am to be living here. It’s been very hard, but I’m so thankful to have a home and I can use the extra time to pay down college and car loans.

Fall & Winter: Our first trip downtown & an election

Nathan and I have only gone to Chicago twice since moving here (except me going to work). A funny thing since it’s both of our dreams to live in a big city. The first – for his birthday. We had a socially distant tour of the Starbucks Roastery on Michigan Avenue. The second – a staycation at a hotel, where we paid little for a room and only left to pickup a to-go order. A much needed reset.

I lost my paternal grandfather during this time. A hard loss for a friendly, kind, loving and amazing man. Yet another loss & one we couldn’t honor in person.

Meanwhile my maternal grandfather, or papa, as I call him was about to move out to memory care again. This time for the long haul. Before he moved, though, he and I voted by mail together and I got to walk him to the box to send it in. A special moment.

He was also diagnosed with COVID-19 and amazingly for a man his age survived. He has to stay in another nursing home for a few weeks after a hospital stay. We got to take him back to his original memory care center and his buddy, my puppy Colton, was happy to see his great-grandfather.

At work, we had what felt like the longest 4 or 5 days ever as we waited to find out the winner of the presidential election. It was an incredible few days.

The rest of the year was just a numbing roller coaster.

UP: I began contributing to WordPress.

DOWN: Nathan and I had stored all of our furniture and a lot of our belongings in my parent’s basement. A pipe burst and destroyed it all and much of their main floor and basement. A challenging time, but at least it’s just things.

UP: I graduated college after years and years and years.

DOWN: The holidays were very hard. Without my grandfather at the table, it was very lonely.

UP: While I worked on Christmas Day (as one does when you work in news), I finally got to be with my family for the first time on Christmas in a long, long time.

And one more UP: ??? Miles above Earth to be exact. I got to produce an interview with two astronauts aboard the International Space Station and it was so cool. I had to give NASA my cell number for the IFB (talent’s earpiece). Still waiting to see if I get long distance changes from AT&T.

Reflecting

Overall, it was a very mixed year, but it gave me quite a story and a lot to be thankful for. I know how lucky I am, even if some days are harder than others.

In this new year, I’m not making resolutions or goals. Just taking it day-by-day and learning to enjoy every moment.

By Michael Geheren

Michael Geheren is a project manager at 10up.