Column: A tough goodbye to the Brainerd Dispatch

I will miss the Brainerd Dispatch and everything it came to represent for me, forever.

Chelsey Perkins sitting at a desk.
Chelsey Perkins sits in the studio of KAXE 89.9 FM on the banks of the Mississippi River in Grand Rapids. Perkins began her role as news director Monday, Feb. 20, 2023.

A treacherous layer of ice covered the roadway the night I drove the 125-mile journey from Minneapolis to Brainerd in a moving truck.

That winter in 2014 was one of the coldest and snowiest in recent memory, and there I sat, my cat letting out the occasional forlorn yowl from her carrier in the passenger seat as I white-knuckled it. I didn’t vocalize it in quite the same way, but I empathized with Myrtle, hurdling through darkness toward the unknown with anxiety nibbling around the edges.

Did I make the right decision, leaving the city to go home? I was 27 years old and, frankly, never planned to live in the lakes area again — at least not before retirement age. I earned more than enough to get by between lunch shifts serving at a pub and nights of running cocktails at a comedy club. I was surrounded by friends, close enough to Crosslake to visit family for the weekend and I loved the vibrancy of life in the Twin Cities.

Chelsey Perkins in harness is suspended from a zip line with a canopy of pine trees in the background.
Chelsey Perkins zip lines in June at the Brainerd Zip Line Tour, located at Mount Ski Gull. The seven-line course features views of Gull Lake and a 50-foot drop at the end.
Contributed / Brainerd Zip Line Tour

But there was something else: a yearning so deep-seated it became impossible to ignore. A desire so interwoven into the fabric of my being, I was willing to leave behind my comfortable life of floating along with the current to plunge into the mysterious depths of the unknown. I needed to be a journalist again.

Laid off by a magazine where I served as the research editor, I struggled to find my way back into the field. I waffled with indecision over what kind of journalist I wanted to be and where. I stopped looking for months at a time, embattled by rejection and seduced by the constant flow of easy cash.


When an unexpected opportunity knocked in Pequot Lakes, where my hometown newspaper sought another staff writer, I took a few deep breaths and answered. And almost nine years later to the day, I’m closing the door on this chapter of my life, leaving the Dispatch and moving on to a new adventure.

Capturing the impact of the decision to move north in a neat summary feels almost impossible. It was, with hindsight and without a doubt, the best I ever made. Suddenly, my life carried meaning I didn’t realize I missed before. Not only did I get to spend time with impressive and interesting people while satiating my curiosity and desire to learn, but someone actually paid me to write about it. And on top of that, my writing just might have helped others be informed, learn and grow, too. What a gift.

Chelsey Perkins reads "Buddy's Adventures: Lost Bone" to first-graders at Garfield Elementary School in Brainerd. Submitted
Chelsey Perkins reads "Buddy's Adventures: Lost Bone" to first-graders at Garfield Elementary School in Brainerd. Submitted

That decision led me to the Brainerd Dispatch a short seven months later, where I began covering county government (and anything else in need of covering in our small and scrappy local news organization). It was in the Dispatch newsroom I would spend the next eight and a half years, surrounded by talented, experienced journalists who helped me become better at my job every single day.

A number of momentous news events happened here in that time. The first big story I helped cover broke in early 2015, when a shooting in north Brainerd left a man dead and a woman fighting for her life. Subsequent reporting prompted change in city government, where an ordinance requiring more active intervention by landlords at problem properties had been left to languish.

Two powerful storms in 2015 and 2016 caused jaw-dropping devastation in the Gull Lake area, with millions of trees leveled and some without electricity for a week or more. I’ll never forget traversing the downed power lines along street after street, shattered branches lying in every direction and homes destroyed by the weight of century-old pines. I’ll also never forget the echoes of chain saw engines and the army of helpers operating them, those handing out food and water and checking on their neighbors, and the linemen who worked nonstop to restore power.

I covered a series of law enforcement sting operations intended to curb the illegal sex trade in the lakes area and amplified the voices of trafficking survivors . Men who said they experienced sexual assaults by a former Nisswa pastor went public in our paper.

Newspapers can serve a plethora of functions once read. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch
A stack of newspapers on Chelsey Perkins' desk in the Dispatch newsroom.
helsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

I was there when Crow Wing County made significant structural changes to how its probation and land services departments operated, banned condom distribution to social services clients and endured repeated criticism over election procedures a la former President Donald Trump’s debunked 2020 claims.

I’ve spilled a lot of ink on candidates for office and election coverage with plenty of controversy along the way, all with the goal of ensuring readers have access to the information they need to make informed decisions at the ballot box. And, after watching the cancellation of the 2020 Crosslake St. Patrick’s Day Parade serve as the local bellwether for things to come, I spent nearly two years straight documenting daily coronavirus case totals and the ramifications of the pandemic on lakes area residents .


These were some of the big headlines, but the features and personality profiles are the ones that really stick with me — those providing the opportunity to listen to someone’s experiences, witness their emotions, share in their triumphs and tragedies. It’s an incredible privilege to be entrusted with capturing someone’s raw grief or sharing their accomplishments. It can be a heavy burden, too, knowing the power your words carry in shaping people’s impressions.

I’ve done this long enough now to have lost some of those story subjects along the way. Eighteen-year-old Jaimie Senger , whose beautiful energy shone so brightly in her brief time on Earth. Mark Munson , who cemented his legacy in spreading the joy of music for generations to come, knowing his time ran short . Maury Graham , a passionate advocate for sober communities who became the first Crow Wing County resident to perish from COVID-19.

Chelsey Perkins and DeLynn Howard, the Puttin' on The Mitts team.
Chelsey Perkins and DeLynn Howard, the Puttin' on The Mitts team.

My work at the Dispatch expanded beyond the confines of the written word into video editing, graphic design and podcast production. I tried my hand at writing recipes for a food column and wrote about my first-time experiences as I sought to embrace life.

One of the many amazing things about my job was the flexibility my editors gave me to try new things and stretch myself in unexpected directions — not to mention the time to attend countless rehearsals for theater productions and dance performances. Work-life balance isn’t always easy to achieve in this business, but stepping away for some fun was one way I kept my sanity, and I’m so grateful I had that time.

Chelsey Perkins performs a dance to "Macho Man" April 21 as part of Stage North Theatre Company's production of "Twelfth Night" in the Franklin Arts Center. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Chelsey Perkins performs a dance to "Macho Man" April 21 as part of Stage North Theatre Company's production of "Twelfth Night" in the Franklin Arts Center. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

I’m not sure I believe in fate or destiny. I am sure, however, that moving back home and working at the Dispatch — it didn’t only change my career. It changed my life. It gave me the chance to pursue my deepest passion and grow as a reporter and editor. It gave me phenomenal coworkers who turned into some of my closest friends. It helped me see my self-worth with clarity. It led me to an incredible man, his two great kids, several lovable pets and a whole lot of chickens.

It still feels unreal that my time in the Dispatch newsroom is coming to an end. I won’t be going too far, though, so don’t be a stranger. I’ve accepted the role of news director at KAXE/KBXE Northern Community Radio, where I will be building a nonprofit newsroom to soon provide more local news for rural northern Minnesotans. Visit to stream the community radio station, or tune to 89.9 on the dial here in Brainerd to listen.

Chelsey Perkins in the podcast booth at the Dispatch.
Chelsey Perkins in the podcast booth at the Dispatch.

I can never repay everyone who’s played a role in my journey: those who trusted me or challenged me, those who sent me encouraging notes exactly when I needed them, my friends and family who put up with my wild and unpredictable schedule, and the readers who continue to stand behind this newspaper through all of the changes. That support will be needed even more as local news outlets face ever-increasing obstacles to their long-term sustainability.

I will miss the Dispatch and everything it came to represent for me, forever. Thank you so much. See you around town.

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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