The Minnesota pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists salutes former journalists who have moved on to new adventures. In this ongoing series, we invite newsies to reflect on their time in the news business. Our latest entry is from Sara Aeikens, who wrote for the Albert Lea Tribune and now contributes occasional columns to the newspaper.
The trail of my writing began with seeing my mother’s journal by her nightstand and knowing that she wrote in it daily. I recall that after leaving home to attend college, my father typed me weekly letters, as he had continued to do with his own parents as long as they lived. I wrote for my high school newspaper as well as those of the colleges I attended.
When I married and moved to my present home in Albert Lea, Minnesota, I began writing for the local paper and was paid by the column inch. As I raised our child with my husband, I chose to write less often and on a volunteer basis, deciding to write a column published about every other month, as I’m doing now.
Since joining the Peace Corps immediately after college graduation, I continued my writing with letters to my folks for two years, from rural Venezuela. The Peace Corps experience inspired me to travel to a foreign country yearly, which gave me tons of topics to share in my newspaper articles.
My travels often influenced my selection of a theme and I sometimes could insert something about a Peace Corps connection. I’ve written in my local newspaper column about the CEO of the National Peace Corps Association contacting me with a personal visit to Albert Lea. Because of technology he tracks Peace Corps experiences nationwide, including my columns. His visit resulted in a newspaper photo with him and a discussion of Peace Corps history and experiences with several former Peace Corps volunteers.
The next day I abruptly changed my plans and two of us women went to a statewide Peace Corps picnic near Fort Snelling in the Twin Cities that the CEO was attending. At the picnic I ran into author Patrick O’Leary, originally from Freeborn County, who was writing a book about his Peace Corps adventures called “From Freeborn to Freetown.” I was amazed to reconnect with him.
My next pathway to follow was to phone the National Peace Corps office to relate how relevant, as a former volunteer, I considered his book. I also happened to mention that I had a goal of supporting a National Peace Corps Day and was greatly taken aback when I was informed that President John F. Kennedy had already pronounced March 1 as that special day. I figured I must have forgotten that several decades ago!
Wouldn’t it be great to look at our phone or computer calendars and have that date pop up to remind us to honor those several hundred plus who lost their lives while in the service of their country, as well as the rest of the 250,000+ U.S. Peace Corps volunteers serving in other countries since the program began? Looks like I have got another goal–using my writing to promote PEACE.
Sara Aeikens lives in Albert Lea.