He is the greatest man I ever knew. Mike Simonson is the finest journalist I have ever known; he stood up for ethics in journalism and always did what was right, not what was easy or popular. He had a deep passion for journalism and he instilled that in every one of his students. No one has ever had a bigger impact on journalism in the Northland than Mike.
Twenty-five years ago, I was a rookie reporter in Mike’s studio, Wisconsin Public Radio. General Manager John Munson recruited me from one of his classes, as he thought I would make a good reporter. It was John’s idea, not Mike’s, so our first meeting was one I will never forget.
As I was nervously reading the weather live behind the microphone in the KUWS studio – Mike burst into the room, not exactly thrilled that I was in his space. But it didn’t take long for this farm girl from Ino to make a connection with this hard-working, hard-nosed journalist. We quickly became best friends and he guided my career the right way. Not only did he teach me old-school journalism and how to do it right; he drilled home the importance of ethics and credibility, and that we must stand up for ethics in journalism, no matter what the cost. He became family.
While the world saw Mike, the Northland’s most decorated and respected journalist, the man who was larger than life, I saw a man whose heart was larger than life. He had the deepest level of empathy, compassion and dedication.
I saw the man who adored his wife, respected his parents and was dedicated to his community. The man who had the most prestigious awards in all of journalism, yet he remained forever humble. The man who, on your worst day, could make you laugh — a great big deep belly laugh.
And no matter how busy he was and how close he was pushing a deadline, if you came to him with a problem, he would put everything aside and pay attention to you, as if you were the only person in the world who existed.
He was the voice of the people, the most trusted voice. And he was brilliant. In a world that is growing increasingly fast-paced and no one ever has time to have a discussion, Mike took the time to talk and really listen.
He could have been extremely busy, he could have been working at the network level, and he could have been making six figures and living in a fancy mansion. but he chose to live a better life. He chose to stay in the Northland and serve the people he loved. He chose the most amazing woman to share his life with in his wife Jennifer. He chose to live right next to his beloved parents at his favorite spot on the St. Louis River, and he chose to enjoy and cherish every moment, every breath he took.
He was always available, any time I needed to call him. We had millions of conversations that lasted for hours. Now, at this time of heavy grief, the one person I want to call is him, but I can’t. So I’ll try to continue to breathe, to put one foot in front of the other and keep on living.
I’d give anything for one last “bear hug” from my favorite person. But instead I’ll go home, hold my kids tight and remember to cherish every moment, every breath. Then I will go back into work and continue to fight the good the good fight. I will continue to do journalism the right way.
It’s what Mike would have wanted.
Mike had a strong faith and we ended every conversation with him reminding me that “God’s got this. And everything will be alright.” While I feel the world of journalism is changing and the good people of this world are few and far between, I am blessed that I knew Mike Simonson. I have never known anyone like him.
The world not only lost one of the greatest journalists who ever lived, we lost one the greatest men who ever lived. The greatest man I ever knew.