A Charmed Life in Print: Nils Rosdahl

Nils Rosdahl with former student Devin (Hellman) Weeks


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Nils Rosdahl is a self-proclaimed word nerd, whose passions also include family, singing in the choir, playing pickleball, and ducking into a local eatery where, even if he doesn’t know everyone, most locals have heard of him. Rosdahl notices, for example, that most people say “towards,” adding an unnecessary S at the end of the word. Then again, words are Rosdahl’s stock and trade, both in his lifelong career as a writer and editor and during the nearly three decades he dedicated to teaching the next generations of journalists.

His story reads like a vintage Jimmy Stewart movie: from small towns to big cities and back again, a beautiful girl, some ups and downs, then settling in to do one’s life’s work.

In Rosdahl’s version, the story would begin with his father, a doctor who returned to Thompson Falls, Mont., after he spied it from a troop train. The elder Rosdahl was headed west from his New York home to Seattle, where he would serve as a military doctor, then return to Montana to raise six children.

Next, we’d see a young Nils Rosdahl scrambling with a heavy load of newspapers during his first job as a paperboy for the Sanders County Ledger, a Thompson Falls weekly, to which he still subscribes.

“[The town] hasn’t changed at all,” he said, except that it had more lumber mills.

Rosdahl liked being the first to know things, he said, especially the sports scores, and, as editor of his high school paper, he set his course early on.

He attended University of Montana for journalism and parlayed his high school experience into writing for both the college paper, the Montana Kaimin—he later became associate editor—at the local paper, The Missoulian.

“I remember my first day, and the dean [of the journalism school] asked, ‘What is the purpose of a newspaper?’” Students yelled out various answers, recalled Rosdahl, many of them idealistic. “Wrong,” said the dean; it’s “to make money.”

That stuck with Rosdahl, who understood that the newspaper could be both a business and a vehicle for communication, a lesson he’d later to impart to his students.

In 1967 as a college graduate, Rosdahl found himself with a very low draft card, virtually assuring he’d be deployed to Vietnam, but another option soon appeared. The Coast Guard, he discovered, was looking for a journalist, so he enlisted, was sent to San Francisco, and wrote for both the local paper—sports, mostly—on top of his regular writing duties, much like he did in college.

After two years on the west coast, Rosdahl was transferred to the Chicago area, where he wrote what were called hometown news releases for all five branches of the Armed Services, ensuring that hometown newspapers like the one he grew up with in Thompson Falls knew what was happening with their citizenry. Part of his job also involved procuring uniformed military personnel to act as extras, including himself, which produced a celebrity encounter with a young Candice Bergen starring in T. R. Baskin.

In 1971 Rosdahl left the service and relocated to Seattle with his new bride, Mary—his best friend’s sister. He landed a writing job at Fournier’s multi-location daily newspapers, eventually becoming editor and completing his master’s degree in communications at University of Washington.

Then, much like his father before him, Rosdahl was lured to the eastern edge of the Pacific Northwest. “It’s hard to describe,” said Rosdahl about the appeal of this region, “but it has everything: mountains, lakes, fields, and a lot of great people.”

The Rosdahls settled in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where one of his brothers was attending North Idaho College, an institution Rosdahl knew he wanted to be a part of.

Since then, he’s had three children, three grandchildren, and nearly 40 years in journalism, including assignments for both the Coeur d’Alene Press and the Spokesman Review based out of Spokane, Wash.

But his biggest win, according to Rosdahl, was serving as the journalism advisor for students producing NIC’s The Sentinel, which he did from 1984 until 2010.

“I liked just being with them,” he said, his face lighting up from sharing stories about former students, for whom his teaching philosophy was simple: care, share, be there.

The warm feelings are mutual amongst his students, many of whom still get together for annual reunions in Coeur d’Alene, especially those who went on to work in journalism.

“Nils was the most dedicated journalism adviser,” said Devin Heilman Weeks, a reporter with the Coeur d’Alene Press, who credits Rosdahl with fostering her love of journalism. “He was always available to provide advice, critiques, and anything else Sentinel staff members needed, even late at night on production weekends. I knew he had our backs, always.”

Weeks, whom the Kootenai County Young Professionals awarded as one of the Top 30 under 40, especially enjoyed Rosdahl’s interviewing class. “He had a way of making class interesting with his anecdotes and stories, which inspired me to want to have journalism tales of my own,” she said. “He’s a great motivator and a wonderful reminder that ‘charming’ looks good on reporters.”

More than that, said Weeks, “Nils is also one of the funniest, most caring people I have ever met.” MSN

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