Kimberly Wethal

I once wrote a goodbye column for the Verona Press and its sister publications in September 2014, following a year and a half internship.

I had recently graduated from high school, about to attend University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where I was excited to start as the newly minted photo editor for the campus student-run newspaper. I probably thought I’d never come back, and my days at Unified Newspaper Group were over.

Evidently, I failed – and as I look back on the last four years and what it has taught me, I’m so glad I did.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t super sure about coming back to the newsroom I had spent so much time in as an intern, where I spent many Tuesday production days being more of a distraction than a benefit. It felt like a cop out – I had been unsuccessful in my post-graduate job search thus far, but both graduation and student loan repayments were quickly approaching.

Instead, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked the job. I got to dig deeper into the Verona and Fitchburg communities, which I had helped cover but had only been surface-level on. I fell in love with education reporting.

My personal life also benefited from returning. I was lucky enough a year and a half working alongside my best friend Amber Levenhagen before she died in a car collision in August 2019, moments and memories that are now invaluable to me. I met some of my most important friends here, as coworkers first.

My significant other and I even bought a house here in Verona from my former boss, securing a mortgage in one of the few ways younger millennials can: Having it fall into your lap and miraculously watching the rest of the dominoes fall into place.

So as you can see, my heart is strongly tethered to this area, to Verona and Fitchburg through my daily beat reporting for years and now my home, to Stoughton as I helped cover my hometown and to Oregon, as I put aside my Vikings pride to cover a group of Panthers that I once loathed as a part of our deep-seeded high school sports rivalry.

It’s why it pains me so deeply to leave Unified Newspaper Group.

Friday, April 8, was my last day at the Verona Press and its sister publications. It was a gut-wrenching decision to make, as I thought of so many great interactions with teachers and staff members, city staff and community members that I’ve had as I wrestled with my decision.

But the beauty of journalism, for me at least, is that my work life consists of knowledge and memories of Unified Newspaper Group’s communities, and I get to take those with me as a solace.

I’ll never forget the morning of May 4, 2019, when I intentionally dressed nice to go to my first Verona Area Board of Education meeting in my coworker’s absence, and instead found myself on a tour of the new high school campus that was about a year into construction. Those nicer clothes quickly found themselves coated with dirt and mud, as I rode around the undeveloped campus in UTVs with board members.

Nor will I be quick to erase the memories of March 13, 2020, where I admittedly was being a bit annoying to then-superintendent Dean Gorrell to get answers on a story where the city and the school district were at odds. I remember being frustrated at a slow response, thinking to myself, “what else could possibly be more important than getting me answers?”

Well, later that day, the state ordered all public and private schools to close because of the COVID-19 pandemic – and I felt a little guilt for being so persistent. (On that day only, though. It is in my job description to be a pest, a title I truly relish in.)

And then there are countless other memories that I’ll cherish from my time here – watching as district teachers put themselves up to torture by letting students put whip cream pies in their faces or getting doused by old packets of ketchup and mustard, documenting Hometown Days and Homecoming parades and learning after three years of getting winded walking up Timber Lane to photograph the Ironman race, there’s a better place to park at the top of the hill.

I’m leaving the Verona Press with a heavy heart, but also gratitude toward the community for letting me tell your stories, and to myself for letting me fail my first goodbye attempt.

Kimberly Wethal is a staff reporter for Wisconsin Media Group.

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