Home was where his heart was

By: 
Jan Wann, On-line editor

He was kind of like New Prague’s own Sid Hartmann when it came to sports. His Sid Hartmann bobblehead graced his desk area. I don’t know that he had as many “close personal friends” as Sid, but I do know that he had a lot of friends, and even more people that recognized him when he was in our community, whether walking down Main Street or covering local sports. He loved his New Prague Trojans and was a proud St. John’s Johnnie.

When Chuck Kajer left us suddenly a couple weeks ago he took a lot of area sports memories and New Prague history with him. That makes me sad from a lot of perspectives. But first and foremost, I’m going to miss him.

Working with Chuck at The Times was always “interesting.” Back in the day, before we were paginating our pages and sending them electronically, we were pasting up all the printed copy on paper sheets. Many a Tuesday night you could find Chuck and me putting pages together to be transported to the printer on Wednesday morning. As it got later in the evening he’d often share whatever candy he had stashed in his desk drawer while offering suggestions on story and photo placements.

Did you know that he helped start the fall, winter and spring sports special sections, as well as the high school arts section? When he left The Times in July, 1999, to work at Sun Newspapers in the Twin Cities, we were scrambling.

When he returned to The Times in February, 2002, Chuck wrote his first column quoting a John Denver chorus, “Gee, it’s good to be back home again.” My favorite part of that column was his comment, “It’s been an interesting week. A lot of people have told me they were glad to see me back at The Times. Still others told me they didn’t even know I was gone.” That was Chuck. He could tease with the best of them, but the thing I loved was that he could laugh at himself!

He was always excited when he got a good sports photo. He’d call me over to his desk and say, “Hey look at this one! I caught him (or her) just right.” Sometimes he’d ask for help choosing which photo was better to run in the paper.

And it wasn’t just sports that he wrote. If he was covering a tough, emotional story you could always tell by the tears in his eyes as he shared it with you. He had such a tender heart.

Don’t get me wrong, working with Chuck wasn’t always a walk in the park. The newspaper business is filled with deadlines and Chuck wasn’t always the best at meeting those! But somehow, some way, things always got done…sometimes without any time to spare! Maybe the reason he pushed the envelope was because he always wanted his stories to be as current as possible. Just get that one last score from last night!

I’ll miss seeing him in his Minnesota Twins jacket that he wore with pride…his stories…his tear-filled eyes…his shirttail hanging out…his untied shoelace…his devotion to Jenny…his pride in his family…his absolute joy over granddaughter Alice…his love for his pets…and the list goes on.

One of his last columns ran in the October 24 issue of The Times. If you haven’t read it, go to our website and you’ll find it under “Opinion.” It’s called “A Special Halloween Memory.” I was very touched when I read that column and was going to write Chuck a note letting him know that. I never wrote that note and now I won’t have the chance. I guess Chuck taught me a life’s lesson—act on your good intentions before it’s too late!

He left us way too soon. I’m thinking he’s with his dear friend Matt Mahowald…another New Prague son who also left us too soon. Somehow I feel they’re sharing many New Prague memories right now.

Farewell my friend. You left your signature on New Prague through your news and sports coverage…but especially on our hearts for being the one-of-a-kind guy you were!

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