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LSJ staff share their favorite stories from 2021 so far – Lansing State Journal

For Thanksgiving this year, LSJ staff were asked to think of a story they would call their favorite or most memorable from 2021 so far. These stories may have led to important discussions in the community, or revolved around very interesting people, or perhaps were simply fun to do.
Take a look at the links below (click on bold headers to go the stories) and see what stories we remember most this year.
Unclaimed shoes clog Michigan cobblers. An ultra-specific bill could help. — Thanks to Michigan’s 1995 Uniform Unclaimed Property Act, cobblers are required to hold onto unclaimed shoes for three years before they can be considered “abandoned” — in most cases, that’s meant to apply to financial assets, not shoes. People apparently leave shoes behind a lot at repair shops. Democratic State Rep. Angela Witwer, who noticed it as a customer at Lansing store P and S Shoe Repair, introduced a one-sentence bill as a fix. I loved this story because it was both legislative and just so human: you really feel for these cobblers stuck calling customers for years who just won’t pick up the shoes, but not wanting to throw them out in case someone finally comes in to claim their boots.
Despite multiple reports of sexual misconduct, faculty remain employed at MSU” — Even before this story published, MSU President Samuel Stanley Jr. sent an email to the MSU community that acknowledged the story would show inequities in how sexual misconduct cases involving faculty and staff had been handled by the university. He listed several things the university was going to do to make the process more fair and so far, several of those things have come to fruition. I am grateful I was able to expose this issue and inform the MSU community that there are still areas in the university’s handling of sex assault cases that need reform. This story was challenging, took a long time and was expensive, but it was well worth it.
MSU’s Claire Hendrickson gets magical senior day moment — Whether it is Michigan State star guard Nia Clouden or high school standouts like Jack Guggemos of Okemos and DeWitt quarterback Tyler Holtz, I often write about some of the area’s top athletic performers. There are also opportunities to write about athletes who have overcome adversity and still make an impact on their respective teams. I enjoy sharing the stories on unheralded and unsung performers overcoming adversity to find success or have their moments in the spotlight, like MSU women’s basketball player Claire Hendrickson weathering the storms of a college career that didn’t go as planned.
Alan Haller’s journey to becoming MSU’s AD — As a son of Lansing myself, I love telling the stories of the best of this community: its success stories, its spirit, just how special a place it is and has been. And I love telling the stories of people who feel that same connection and bond and were shaped by it like I was. New MSU Athletic Director Alan Haller is one of those people. I loved getting to know him and his path and connection to Lansing and its people.
Ritzy student housing is outpacing MSU enrollment” — Housing is a challenge in many cities in Michigan, and while East Lansing faces similar obstacles, the presence of Michigan State University makes everything that much more complicated. It was great to see how the findings of the city housing report played out with real people. The story gave people insight into a problem they knew existed but didn’t have a lot of information about. It’s always great to know that something I wrote is helping people understand their community better.
World Series champ and baseball lifer heads to Greater Lansing Sports Hall of Fame — I wasn’t familiar with “Twig” before one of my co-workers passed along his New York Times obituary. So I certainly didn’t know there was a Charlotte native who had spent more than 60 years in baseball, about 50 of those in the minor leagues. He was on the bench for Bobby Thompson’s ‘Shot Heard ‘Round the World’ in 1951, was the first-base coach for two World Series champs, a base coach for Ted Williams. This all came after serving in World War II. Researching Twig’s life and getting to talk to those people who knew him best was a trip back to a different time and things long forgotten.
KKK’s legacy of hate: ‘It doesn’t just go away'”  — I wouldn’t say this piece was fun to report, but the research and interviews put so much in perspective when you consider the origins of hate groups that exist today, their motivation and how similar their ideology is to that of the Ku Klux Klan. We can’t understand the racism we face as a society today until we come to understand the past. I learned so much and recognized so many parallels to hate today, and I came away with a better understanding of it. I hope our readers did, too.
When school is out, these teachers turn into rockers — It’s no secret that the last two years have been difficult on teachers, between trying to stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic and moving from remote learning back to in-person. Seeing teachers enjoying themselves behind keyboards, guitars and microphones was among the highlights of my reporting this year. My favorite story involved Jimmy Likes Pie, a band comprised of current and former Waverly Community Schools teachers that began 20 years ago as a way for the educators to relieve stress. What started as a few teachers goofing around in a basement has morphed into a locally popular band specializing in classic rock, blues and pop.
One Camera, One Mile, One Month — This was a photo essay of the one mile stretch of the Lansing RiverTrail from Old Town to Michigan Avenue. To challenge myself, I used one camera with a fixed focal length lens for the entire project just to make things interesting. I walked that stretch nearly every day in August, and sometimes at night, to capture what that one mile had to offer our community. And what I found was a bustling, vibrant and diverse place that I did not expect.
How Cooper Gardner’s tragic death united two baseball teams and three baseball families — Bath High School’s Cooper Gardner died days after suffering a head injury while making a play at second base during a baseball game against Portland St. Patrick on April 21. The tragedy was awful and shocking, but what I saw while working on the story revealed the resilience of Cooper’s family, his teammates and the community as well as the kindness of Bath’s baseball opponents. In the couple games I covered after the tragedy, I saw high school boys doing their best to continue playing the game they love, fans in the stands cheering them along and Cooper’s parents at the games supporting his teammates. This story highlighted the strength of the human spirit and the support a community can offer.
How a Lansing man turned $11,385 into two wells for Uganda — The importance of this story isn’t just about the goodwill strangers poured out to help a Ugandan village, but the willpower of Khaliku Kaba. He didn’t care if he got $1 or $100 from people. He was selfless in pouring out his own time to conduct research and locate where the wells should be built. He has dedicated so much of his time to his village and, from the donations received, you can tell his story resonated with many people back in April. That’s the sort of story I love to hear and write about for people.
Lansing businessman saw value in people and old things — It might sound surprising that a journalist’s favorite story of the year would be a news obituary. Certainly, there was nothing cheery or uplifting to write about the death of a Lansing-area native who was still in his prime. But I was gratified to tell readers a little about John Sears, a father of two who built a successful demolition and environmental remediation company and had a positive, outsized impact on the neighborhoods where he worked and the people he worked with. Sears kept a low profile and never sought attention. Partly because of that, the story took a little more time to pull together than usual. But after interviewing friends, colleagues and family members who generously took time out of their lives to share their observations with me, I was grateful for the opportunity to give him some long-overdue publicity. Rest in peace, Mr. Sears.
Objects of my pandemic — What a time to be a photojournalist. To document all that went on this past year was quite a ride. Collectively, our team of photojournalists photographed subjects and a single object that helped them get through the pandemic and lockdown. It has been a challenging time for many of us. I’m so thankful for those who shared their stories with us and our readers as a beacon of hope and a reflection on difficult and extraordinary times.
Holt High School students walk out” — About 150 students left class in Holt to protest what they said was a lack of action by teachers and staff to confront bullying and school violence. You could tell the kids weren’t super used to seeing a reporter and photojournalist. Some were hamming it up for the camera and messing around, which was sort of funny. But I’ll really remember the demeanor of the kids organizing the walkout. They were resolute and committed to speaking up and changing their school for the better. It was cool to be there, and I hope my article helped convey their message.
Mullets are making a comeback in Greater Lansing — I loved this story because I received so many colorful quotes and fun bits of information from sources that it was difficult to decide what went in and where. Aside from the story being fun, the emphasis on mullet contests at local fairs touched on the personalities and community culture of Greater Lansing. Capturing all of this through text, video and photos enhanced the ways readers could interact with the story – and the hairstyle.
Enjoy art, food and prizes in downtown Lansing at Lansing Alive — Not only was this a very cool event, but interviewing the organizer gave me a fresh and uplifting perspective of the appeal and business of Downtown Lansing. He showed such a drive to connect the businesses and people of Lansing and showed how intertwined they already are. It was so enjoyable to get a local perspective of someone who grew up here, is a business owner and has his roots deeply planted in the capital city.
The Lansing State Journal newsroom is located in downtown Lansing. To contact us, email [email protected] or call 517.377.1112. Find us on social media at Facebook.com/LSJnews, twitter.com/LSJ news and instagram.com/LSJnews.

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