By Karen Catone
Please join me in expressing heartfelt gratitude — and saying farewell — to one of the Chips Quinn Scholars program’s unsung heroes, Michelle Hedenskoog, who has faithfully served the program since March 2001, first as program manager in Washington, D.C., and then as an independent contractor when she relocated to Los Angeles in 2009.
My entire career, I have been blessed to work with the most competent of colleagues. And none more competent than Michelle.
Our paths first crossed at a time of transition in both of our lives. It was January 2001. I was in the process of relocating (myself and the CQS program) from San Francisco back to Washington, D.C. Michelle was preparing to return to the D.C. area from Ann Arbor, Mich., with her husband Mike, who was serving in the U.S. Air Force at the time.
Lucky for me, Michelle had reached out to her former Gannett colleagues about her impending return to the D.C. area and her desire to find meaningful employment. And lucky for the CQS program, Michelle was willing to attend the Spring 2001 class’s opening dinner, prior to her job interview with me the following day.
John Quinn, Mary Kay Blake (then Freedom Forum senior vice president/partnerships and initiatives) and the incoming class of Chips Quinn Scholars sold Michelle on the program and provided the assurance she needed that her life’s work would be both challenging and rewarding.
Whatever the program might have provided Michelle these past 17 years, she has given back tenfold. Although most comfortable working behind the scenes, Michelle’s fingerprints are all over the CQS program. She has helped to shepherd the last 32 (of 47) classes of Chips Quinn Scholars – assisting in the recruiting of the students, preparing them for orientation and tracking their whereabouts at the conclusion of their internships. She was monumentally instrumental in the CQS program’s presence and successful alumni reunions at the UNITY: Journalists of Color conventions in Washington, D.C. (2004), Chicago (2008) and Las Vegas (2012) — and at every informal alumni reunion in between. She is the one who has kept us connected to one another through the years via the CQS website and Facebook, the one responsible for tracking your whereabouts, your promotions and job changes, marriages and growing families. She is the brains behind our quarterly Chips Watch newsletters, the “Where in the World are our Chipsters?” web feature, and our yearlong CQS 25th Anniversary celebration.
Michelle is the one person I’ve relied upon to keep me sane, and the program on track, through personal and professional challenges and disappointments. The one who could provide program stats at a moment’s notice because my boss, or my boss’s boss, or the board of trustees was asking. The one who would remind me to take photos of the CQS alumni whenever two or more gathered. She’s the one who remembers who’s looking for work or ready to make a move and might be the perfect candidate to fill a potential job opening. The one who could provide Scholars with the names of other Scholars in any given city or newsroom if their life was heading in a new direction. The one who helped us send Career Coach Dick Thien into retirement with appropriate tribute and fanfare. And the one who helped us honor and celebrate (virtually) the life of JCQ when he passed away last summer.
Michelle has filled numerous roles for so many of us these past the 17 years. Surrogate mom, big sister, trusted confidant, cheerleader, treasured colleague and friend. Her contributions to the success of the CQS program are immeasurable. Her gentle, guiding spirit will be sorely missed but will live on in those of us whom she has touched. Please join me and others in paying tribute to Michelle and wishing her well by using the comments section below or by sending her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Read tributes to Michelle Hedenskoog from CQS alumni|