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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Easing into the life of a weekly editor

Catie Clark
Posted 4/5/23

It’s always enlightening to examine the nuances of a new place after moving across the country. After a third of a year at the Timberjay, I took a look at my experiences so far with returning …

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Easing into the life of a weekly editor


It’s always enlightening to examine the nuances of a new place after moving across the country. After a third of a year at the Timberjay, I took a look at my experiences so far with returning to local-level journalism after several years of writing for a business publication.
One thing every city-beat journalist encounters is the first occasion of stuffing the proverbial foot into the metaphorical mouth. My first foot-in-mouth moment came near the end of January, at an Ely City Council meeting. I was doubly blessed when my faux pas was overheard by several elected officials, leaving me with no avenue of plausible deniability.
Of course, this shaggy-dog story starts with the necessary digression to explain the punchline. It goes like this: my former home in rural Idaho isn’t too different from rural Minnesota. The big differences are that Idaho has more potatoes, some bigger hilly bits and the Idaho state weed known as sagebrush.
Minnesota and Idaho are quite similar in many ways. The winters are just as cold, the winter roads are just as frictionless, and those northern European surnames are just as dominant. I haven’t analyzed yet how all the Slovenians in Ely fit in with this scheme. I’m still trying to figure out how you get a bunch of Slavs from beautiful sun-drenched Slovenia, with its Mediterranean climate and famous Dalmatian coast, to settle in not-so-sun-drenched northern Minnesota.
Idaho has its own quirkiness in its relative lack of Swedes. Idaho’s potato belt is full of Norwegian, Finnish, and German surnames – but not a lot of Swedish ones. I think the Swedes must have stayed in Minnesota when immigrating west. Maybe they preferred Minnesota’s lakes and fall foliage over Idaho’s sagebrush and really pointy hills.
I blame my first great Ely moment of professional embarrassment on those pesky Swedish surnames. I asked city councilman Al Forsman if he was related to the Erin Forsman who had recently received a degree from St. Scholastica College. “After all,” I added in my total ignorance of all things dear to Ely, “Forsman is not at all a common name. There can’t be a lot of people with that same last name.”
In the next few moments, I don’t know what was worse: the exposure that I wasn’t a real Elyite or Minnesotan, or the sympathetic looks I received because I didn’t know any better. I was soon schooled on my mistake as I received several explanations, and have discovered yet more evidence since, on just how many, many Forsmans there are in the area. There’s Forsman Road on the way to Babbitt. There’s a Forsman on the city council. There’s the Jake Forsman Memorial Car Show and Burnout Competition. Don’t forget the Michael D. Forsman Public Works Building. I could keep going, but I wanted to keep this column to less than book length.
When I contemplate my sin of demographic ignorance, I realized that I should have known better. My mother grew up in Marshall, and my father grew up in St. Paul. Forsman is not that unusual a last name in Minnesota. Just because I had never met a Forsman before moving to Ely meant I was the anomaly, not Al Forsman on the city council. There are certainly enough Forsmans in Red Wing, Marshall and Blue Earth, where all my cousins grew up, that I had no excuse for my lack of awareness.
After my faux pas at the Ely council I did some additional research on the topic. I expected that demographic statistics would show a clustering of Forsmans in Minnesota. Alas, genealogy sites,, and proved me wrong again. While Forsmans were concentrated in Minnesota and Wisconsin between 1880-1940, since 2000, the place with the highest concentration of Forsmans in the U.S. is that Swede-deprived state, my former home of Idaho.
I could say the irony was unbearable, but I checked my vital signs just a moment ago, and indications are that I will survive this shock.
I now have a new hypothesis that all the people with Swedish last names in Idaho live in Boise, the state’s only true metro. I will refrain from any more research on Scandihoovian surname distributions since I doubt I can stand the trauma of being wrong three times in a row.