My summer of one-song drives

Nik Heftman, a reporting intern for the Daily Times Herald in Carroll, Iowa, interviews Jeff Heuton, HR Manager at Pella Corporation. 

By Nik Heftman

Year in School: Senior

Major: Journalism and Mass Communication

Internship: Reporting intern, Daily Times Herald, Carroll, Iowa

Ruot Gach, a 19-year-old resident of Carroll, Iowa, was found shot dead in a church parking lot in Des Moines during the early morning hours of Sunday, May 22.

The following Monday, the 23rd, was my second day on the job as a reporting intern at the Daily Times Herald in Carroll. It was also the day that my boss, Doug, asked me to visit with Gach’s family. They lived in an apartment complex that was a two-minute drive from the office.

“You don’t have to go if you don’t want to,” Doug said while opening his arms as if we were going to hug. “I can have someone else do it.”

I turned toward him in my wheeled office chair and stood up.

“Naw, I got it,” I replied while grabbing my keys. “All I have to do is talk to the family? I can do that.”

I grabbed my notebook, a pen and my sports jacket and headed out. It was my first time reporting a bereavement story.

“It’s a story we’ve all had to do at some point, unfortunately,” Doug said before walking back to his office. “Good luck with it.”

Carroll, Iowa, is a town made of “one-song drives,” meaning it takes two to five minutes to get where you need to go, be it the hospital or the grocery store. “Reminder” by The Weeknd was my song of choice for that particular drive. It was about halfway through when I pulled up to the complex.

Butterflies started flying through my organs as I approached the front door. The rest of the building was dead silent. I heard some thumps coming from inside the apartment, so I gave the door a couple of knocks.

A child, no older than 11, answered the door. He opened it wide enough for the people inside to see me.

“Come in,” someone said. “Close the door.”

The living room was super dark. The family had dark-colored curtains covering the living room’s windows. I walked in, notebook in hand, and sat next to Gach’s mother, who was sobbing on a sofa.

There were at least 10 people in the small living room. I sat between the mother and another individual. Three others sat on a sofa across the room. Everyone else grabbed chairs from other rooms or sat on the floor.

I told Gach’s mother that I was sorry for her loss and began asking questions. His family was from South Sudan. One of his younger brothers translated his mother’s answers. She could not speak English.

I asked about Gach’s personality and hobbies. Everyone in the room had tears running down their faces as his mother answered the questions. I sat with them for about 15 minutes before thanking everyone and leaving. I would return a few days later to grab a photo of Ruot.

Fast forward a month and I’m standing outside of the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids interviewing Trump protesters before the President arrived to give a speech at the venue.

Hundreds of people were lined up around the building waiting to gain entry. The protesters stood across the street wielding signs that expressed disdain for the Trump administration.

I was the only college intern sitting at the media table that night. President Trump spoke for an hour and a half. Every time he brought up the media, the thousands in attendance would turn toward the media area and boo. Their boos literally shook the floor beneath us.

I didn’t know what to expect going into an internship as a reporter for a local paper in a small, rural Iowa town. At the tail end of it, I can honestly say that the experience has been more rewarding than anything I could have imagined.

One day I’m interviewing Fred Hubbell, a retired businessman-turned-Democrat running for governor, and the next I’m covering an event where senior citizens are meeting their 8-year-old pen pals after seven months of exchanging letters.

I could not have been offered a better internship. I’m excited to bring the skills that I’ve learned in Carroll back to Iowa State.

Vote for this entry in Round 2 of the 2017 Greenlee School Summer Intern Blogging Contest.

Voting begins at noon on Aug. 10 and ends at 11:59 p.m. on Aug. 17. The winner will be announced Aug. 18 by noon.