You never know how things in life will end but I can tell you one thing, I never would have missed the dance.

The dance I'm referring to is my journalism career at the Brainerd Dispatch. After close to 22 years, my last day was Friday, Oct. 8. It was not an easy decision for me to leave my work family. We, the Dispatch family, have been through it all — the good times and bad — and we all work hard in getting the Dispatch out each day for our readers, especially this past year and a half with the pandemic.

You could say gathering the news runs in my veins. It will be missed. Not only will I miss my co-workers dearly and the people I have interviewed over the years, I will definitely miss my sources. Sources are what reporters call people who assist us on our beat and help us in gathering the news. Sources are people who share insight on a story or background of a story, people who share tips with us. These sources of mine — you know who you are — I thank you and have appreciated all that you have done to make my job easier in getting the news out to our community.

People may say this sounds cheesy, but it is true. I believe everyone has a story. I have written thousands of stories in this last near quarter century and they are all important to me, to the person or persons the story is about and to you, the readers. Sure, stories come and go, but at the time it was written that story may have touched someone’s heart, may have saved someone’s life, or may have simply informed the public of a crash, a fire or a crime in their neighborhood.

I have covered it all since starting at the Dispatch in January 2000, starting with the Crow Wing County and Brainerd Public Schools beat. In the last decade, my main beat — the areas I focus on — was covering entertainment features, which include happenings in the Brainerd lakes area and Brainerd High School Fine Arts Student of the Week, to being the breaking news reporter and covering the cops and court beat.

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I will never forget my first assignment — the Brainerd Public Schools sixth through eighth grade spelling bee. I covered this spelling bee every year for about 15 years. Typically about 15 students compete in the local spelling bee at the district level, with about half of the students moving on to the regional bee, with one student there being the champion and traveling to Washington, D.C., to compete at the national level.

It was also the first spelling bee for the school’s spelling bee coordinator at that time. Her name was Susan Rogers. She was such a sweet person and would always mention during the district bee that she and I started the same year — like we were partners. She has since retired, but I will always remember her kindness.

Speaking of partners. I have to mention my partner in crime here at the Dispatch — photographer Steve Kohls. Most of you readers know who he is. Steve and I have gone on many adventures together over the years. We’ll be sitting in the office working when the police scanner goes off reporting a breaking news item such as a structure fire, and all he and I have to do is make eye contact and we know we are off and running. From house fires to vehicular crashes to searching for an airplane that crashed to fatalities and crime-related calls — we have been there covering the news.

Brainerd Dispatch Staff Writer Jennifer Kraus wears her full turnout gear with a self-contained breathing apparatus before entering a smoke-filled room on a Saturday in March 2016 at the Quarterdeck. Kraus was given the opportunity along with other community members to experience what firefighters encounter during active fires. Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls
Brainerd Dispatch Staff Writer Jennifer Kraus wears her full turnout gear with a self-contained breathing apparatus before entering a smoke-filled room on a Saturday in March 2016 at the Quarterdeck. Kraus was given the opportunity along with other community members to experience what firefighters encounter during active fires. Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls

Kohls and I even walked into a burning building once. Let me explain. Back in March 2016, the Pillager Fire Department and Central Lakes College's Customized Training program partnered to conduct a region-wide event where 120 firefighters took part in search and rescue and firefighting training exercises on an abandoned two-story hotel on the Quarterdeck property.

Eric Makowski-Budrow, CLC's customized training representative/fire and emergency medical services program manager, who was in charge of the fire training event, allowed a few community members — including yours truly — to take part in this training. Wow, what an experience! This training gave non-firefighters a first-hand feel of what it is like to be a firefighter. Hats off to all the firefighters; thank you for your service.

I also participated in another CLC fire training event where I was rescued by the Minnesota Air Rescue Team, who picked me out of the woods and flew me to safety. I’m scared of heights, but stories like these have inspired me to face my fears.

Another time in 2014, Matt Cordes, operations supervisor of North Memorial Ambulance in Brainerd and flight paramedic of North Memorial Air Care at the time, asked me to assist North Memorial Health Air Care with its hands-on training for its new employees. North Memorial came up with five scenarios, fueled and loaded its Agusta helicopter and invited Brainerd firefighters to help them train. They had me play a patient and I got to experience riding in an Agusta helicopter, one of the fastest civilian helicopters on the market that flies at speeds of up to 200 mph.

I will never forget the day an Agusta medical helicopter crashed about 1 a.m. June 28 on its return flight to the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport after delivering a patient to North Memorial in Robbinsdale. There were no patients on board at the time of the crash. The pilot, Tim McDonald, and the flight nurse, Debra Schott, died at the scene. Josh Duda survived and he agreed to speak with me six weeks after the crash, while he was recovering in the Robbinsdale hospital.

I also won’t forget some of the heartwarming stories I’ve done over the years where families have trusted me with their most personal story. There are too many to mention, but a few that come to mind are:

  • Brainerd resident Margo Fortune was told by her doctor in 2015 she only had a few months to live. Fortune was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013 and she also has a rare muscular disease. Fast forward to 2021 and Margo is still with us!

  • The family of Marc Welzant, who went missing for two years before authorities found his remains in a wooded area off Business Highway 371, south of Brainerd, donated Marc’s bike in 2017. The bike was donated to 12-year-old Sierra Hartung of Brainerd. The family chose Sierra because she has a developmental disability, like Marc did. Sierra is deaf and has cerebral palsy.

  • It was a Christmas miracle last year, when Abe, the cat of Deb Mosberger, rural Brainerd, came home after being missing for about a month. Mosberger said it was a gift from heaven from their deceased son Vincent "Vinny" Mosberger, who they believe spiritually brought Abe home to them Dec. 9, 2020, — 18 years to the day Vinny died in a motor vehicle crash. Their son was killed by a drunk driver Dec. 9, 2002, at the age of 18, leaving his parents and three older siblings in heartache.

I could go on and on but there isn’t enough space or time.

Unfortunately, my last breaking news story isn’t a happy one as I had to cover an apparent homicide in Lake Edward Township.

The events of today proved the news isn’t going to stop because I’m leaving, folks.

JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at jennifer.kraus@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5851. Follow me at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl on Twitter.