EAU CLAIRE — The Country Today will bid a fond farewell in the new year to two longtime staffers and usher in new leadership.
Editor Jim Massey of Barneveld and Regional Editor Sara Bredesen of Waupaca both will retire, effective Dec. 31.
With Massey’s retirement, Regional Editor Heidi Clausen, who has covered northwestern Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota for The Country Today for about 24 years, will become editor while continuing to cover news and feature stories throughout her region.
Brooke Bechen, formerly assistant editor at The Dodgeville Chronicle, has been hired to fill Massey’s shoes as the new regional editor serving southern Wisconsin. Benjamin Wideman of De Pere, who has worked as a part-time regional editor in eastern Wisconsin the past several months, will now step into that position full time in Bredesen’s absence.
Clausen said both Massey and Bredesen will be greatly missed, but happily, both plan to continue contributing to the newspaper’s Country Life section cover rotation, and Bredesen will continue to staff the company’s booth at farm shows.
“Jim and Sara have been great to work with through the years, and both have contributed much to the success of this newspaper,” Clausen said. “We all wish them the very best as they slow down a bit and enjoy life without the pressures of meeting a weekly deadline.”
Massey said much has changed in the newspaper industry since he wrote his first few stories on a typewriter before being given an old Apple 2e word processor to work on, but one thing hasn’t changed — people’s interest in reading other people’s stories.
“People stories are what have set our newspaper apart from our competition, and that will continue to be what keeps this newspaper strong for many years into the future,” he said.
A December 1974 graduate of UW-Madison, Massey began his journalism career at The Dodgeville Chronicle and worked there until October 1983, when he was hired as a writer for The Country Today. He worked out of his Dodgeville home until April 1994, when he was promoted to co-editor and worked out of the main office in Eau Claire, living in Chippewa Falls.
He became editor and general manager of The Country Today in January 1997. In July 2003, he moved back to his family’s farm near Barneveld and continued as editor while covering an 18-county region in southern Wisconsin.
“I conservatively estimate that I have written 10,000 stories in my 43 years as a journalist,” he said. “I appreciate the fact that so many people throughout The Country Today readership area have allowed me to sit at their kitchen tables so I could tell their stories. It has been quite a ride.”
Massey plans to stay plenty busy in retirement: He’s secretary of the Upland Hills Health Board of Trustees in Dodgeville and recently was elected president of the Dodgeville Kiwanis. He’s also a member of the Iowa County Farmers Appreciation Day Executive Committee and plays trombone in the Barneveld Area Community Band.
A past member of the Wisconsin FFA Foundation Board, serving one year as president, Massey received the Honorary State FFA Degree in 2001, the Wisconsin FFA Distinguished Service Award in 2003 and the Honorary American FFA Degree in 2010. He created the Eau Claire Farm Show auction to benefit the Wisconsin FFA Foundation and a second auction at the WPS Farm Show in Oshkosh. Between the two auctions, more than $100,000 has been raised for the Wisconsin FFA since the early-2000s.
Massey was named a “Friend of Alice” by 2009-10 Alice in DairylandCheryl O’Brien and a “Friend of the Wisconsin Livestock Breeders” in 2006. He received the “Friend of the County Agent” award from the Wisconsin Association of County Agricultural Agents in 1999.
He also has earned Wisconsin Newspaper Association awards for local columns, editorials, news stories and feature stories and North American Agricultural Journalist awards for editorials and news stories. He’s a 1992 graduate of the Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program, a two-year leadership training program.
Massey and his wife, Anne, have been married since December 1974 and raise grass-finished beef on their 40-acre Iowa County farm. They have three adult children — Josh, Nate and Maggie — and two grandchildren.
Massey said he looks forward to freelance writing, traveling, volunteering and spending more time with family in retirement.
“My years with The Country Today have gone by quickly; it’s hard to believe it has been more than 34 years since I joined the newspaper,” he said. “During that time, I worked with a great group of people and became part of the agricultural fraternity in Wisconsin. Everyone who is part of that fraternity knows what I am talking about. That is what I will probably miss the most in my retirement.”
Bredesen said her retirement will take her back to where she started with The Country Today — as a freelance writer representing the paper at farm shows.
“The in-between times will be taken up with more adventures — or misadventures — on Polliwog Pond and expanded community service,” she said.
Bredesen graduated in 1973 from UW-Eau Claire with a degree in journalism and said she couldn’t have predicted that she would end up working for a newspaper based out of that same city several decades later.
“Even that had a quirky beginning,” she said. “I had worked at a few weekly newspapers in central Wisconsin but put most of my writing into puppet scripts, church plays and freelancing for goat magazines while raising a family in Three Lakes.”
When she started a commercial goat dairy and cheese plant in 1999, former The Country Today staffer Scott Schultz visited her farm to do a story about her and they got into a conversation about her journalism degree. He prompted her to send freelance stories to The Country Today.
In 2001, Bredesen helped run the newspaper’s booth at World Dairy Expo and was approached by Schultz and Massey about whether she would like to staff farm shows permanently for The Country Today.
“The human resources department couldn’t figure out how to pay me as both a non-employee freelancer and an employee farm show agent,” she said. “The solution was to hire me for both. I covered the northern tier of counties as a correspondent and represented the newspaper at all the farm shows.”
With the retirement of Judy Brown, Bredesen was promoted to regional editor for northeastern Wisconsin and moved to the middle of the state.
She has received several awards for her writing for The Country Today, including the Wisconsin Commercial Deer and Elk Farmers Association Media Award and first-place awards from the WNA for feature writing, headlines, business writing, local columns and special pages.
“My special assignment for The Country Today was to cover forestry issues, but as a licensed Wisconsin cheesemaker and a dairy goat raiser for decades, I managed to get many of the cheese and goat assignments funneled my way, as well,” she said.
She said there have been additional outlets for her writing beyond The Country Today, including co-authorship several years ago of the fourth edition of “Storey’s Guide to Raising Dairy Goats.” The book’s fifth edition will be in stores shortly.
Clausen started working for The Country Today in 1993 as a summer intern in the Eau Claire office, and after completing her final semester in college, returned to the paper as a full-time regional editor for the Chippewa Valley in January 1994. A couple years later, she moved to the Clayton area and began working out of her home. She covers about 15 counties in northern Wisconsin, as well as parts of eastern Minnesota.
Raised on a dairy farm near Turtle Lake, Clausen earned her bachelor of science degree in broad area agriculture with a minor in journalism (print emphasis) from UW-River Falls in December 1993.
Over the years, she has earned awards from the WNA and NAAJ for her news and feature stories, columns and editorials and was named “Friend of the County Agent” by the WACAA in 2008. In 2005, she was given the Honorary State FFA Degree and she is a 2010 graduate of Leadership Wisconsin (formerly Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program).
Clausen and her husband, Dave, raise a small beef cow/calf herd and publish Old Allis News, a quarterly magazine for Allis-Chalmers collectors. They also coordinate publication of The Allis Connection newsletter.
She serves as secretary for the United Covenant Church Leadership Team, the Amery FFA Alumni and the Amery High School Band Boosters Board. A past state FFA officer, she and Dave have twice received the Amery FFA Appreciation Award.
Clausen said she’s excited about the future of The Country Today and, along with the rest of the staff, is committed to preserving the qualities that have made it so cherished by readers for so many years, while also bringing the product into the future.
“The Country Today has been a trusted source for news about Wisconsin agriculture and rural life for more than 40 years and enjoyed a loyal following,” she said. “Our dedicated staff is fully committed to continuing to bring our readers the kinds of stories that inform, educate, inspire and entertain.”