Memorable stories of 2016

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It's the time of year when we often look back at the major events and news that shaped 2016. This year we're also sharing some of the stories our reporters, editors and producers have chosen as their most memorable, if not always the most momentous.

Lawmakers weigh paying Minnesotans wrongly imprisoned

Talking about his jouney
"I've done so many interviews, but man, this is still so tough to talk about sometimes," says Michael Hansen at his tattoo shop, Kinship Collective Tattoo, in Northfield, Minn., Tuesday March 22, 2016.
Richard Marshall for MPR News File

It was barely five minutes into our interview when the anguish of Michael Hansen showed through — in his words, his cracking voice, his mannerisms. He had told the story dozens of times over the years of losing a young daughter and then being accused, wrongly, of doing fatal harm to her. But it was all still so raw. Plus, the story had a deeper purpose. It reminded people of an overlooked exoneration compensation law finally coming into action and how lawmakers were gearing up to do something they are reluctant to do: Say sorry. In the end, Hansen and a few others got their money. — Brian Bakst

This St. Paul summer camp teaches on race, history

Listening to stories of the underground railroad.
St. Paul middle school and high school students listen to stories from a historical character during a simulation of the Underground Railroad on the evening of August 3, 2016.
Caroline Yang for MPR News File

I didn't know what to expect when my source for this story told me to "bring dry clothes". Turns out that was a good idea. It was an emotional window into American history, all through the eyes of students as they learned out there in the woods. — Solveig Wastvedt

Future unknown, Ojibwe writer Jim Northrup recalls life well-lived

Jim Northrup outside his home in Sawyer.
Jim Northrup outside his home in Sawyer, Minn., on April 20, 2016.
Euan Kerr | MPR News File

I had interviewed Ojibwe writer and performer Jim Northrup a number of times over the years, and when I heard he was gravely ill I arranged to go visit him at his home in Sawyer. We sat with his wife Pat and other friends and neighbors outside his home and talked about life, and death. It was a laughter filled time, despite the fact he was clearly weak, and he knew he did not have long to live. The story I did was less about an artist and his work, and more about a family and friends gathering to say farewell. — Euan Kerr

Dialogues give rural areas voice on climate change

Andrew Rockaway, program dir. of the Jefferson Ctr
Andrew Rockaway, program director for the Jefferson Center, takes notes during a Rural Climate Dialogues event in St. Paul on Sept. 9, 2016.
Elizabeth Dunbar | MPR News File

Pretty much every headline following the election of Donald Trump in November spelled bad news for people who believe we need urgent action to address climate change. This story I did in September is a good reminder that despite President-elect Trump's position on climate change, many of the rural communities where he won the election are already responding in their own ways to warmer temperatures, heavy rains and other concerns. The voices of these residents from Stevens, Itasca and Winona counties have stuck with me and show how people with diverging viewpoints can come together to solve problems. — Elizabeth Dunbar

Innovative Woodbury playground designed for kids of all abilities

Ben Anco finds shade in the light tunnel.
Ben Anco, 11, finds some shade in the light tunnel at Madison's Place, an all inclusive playground in Woodbury, Minn. On Wednesday, June 22, 2016.
Evan Frost | MPR News File

In today's climate, I don't often get to cover happy news. So when I got to visit these kids on a fully-accessible playground, it was definitely a memorable experience. It was heartwarming to see children with disabilities enjoy play time in a way that their peers usually experience without hurdles. The playground offered them a sense of independence they don't normally get in their daily lives. Working on the story also opened up my eyes to challenges, fears and worries some of the parents face as well. Sometimes you have to work hard to find compelling sound to make a piece sing. In this case, I didn't have to look far. And who doesn't love spending a work day at the playground! — Riham Feshir

Fargo vet uses art to unpack the horrors of war

Josh Zeis walks on the outskirts of Fargo.
Josh Zeis walks on the outskirts of Fargo, N.D., on June 9, 2016, carrying a 100-plus pound block of ice shaped like a military pack.
Dan Koeck for MPR News File

This was one of my favorites because Josh was a compelling character who shared his story in a unique way. As we walked miles together and he grew more exhausted, the stories he shared became more personal and intimate. Here's some updated info about the project: a gallery exhibit featuring stories from NDSU's Project Unpack is scheduled to open Friday, Dec. 16, at 1 p.m. at the Rourke Art Gallery and Museum, 521 Main Ave. in Moorhead, Minnesota. The exhibit will continue through Jan. 15, 2017. The exhibit features oral histories, art and poetry from veterans. — Dan Gunderson

The surprising story behind a quirky St. Paul yard

Quentin Nguyen's yard
Quentin Nguyen's yard near Como Park in St. Paul, Friday, Oct. 7, 2016.
Jim Bickal | MPR News File

This story is such a magical illustration of how one person can impact so many lives — through landscaping no less! I loved hearing Q's story and talking with his neighbors about what a positive force he's been. This one will stick with me for a while. — Britta Greene

Cars hit pedestrians in Mpls. every 38 hours on average last year

"Stop for Me" campaign
St. Paul City Council aide Mai Chong Xiong, left, and volunteer Kate Herold cross busy Lexington Avenue.
Matt Sepic | MPR News File

Pedestrian crashes are so common in the Twin Cities that few of us pay them any attention unless a loved one is a victim. What was surprising to me in reporting this story was just how common they are, even in the state with the lowest rate of pedestrian fatalities. In reporting this story, I requested crash data from the Minneapolis Police Department. The records division handed me a foot-high stack of police reports going back several years. After spending hours over the course of several days sifting through paper, I found crashes between motor vehicles and people on foot happened once every 38 hours on average in Minneapolis. Aside from the police data, hearing from Hannah Duncan, who was struck in St. Paul in 2015 and severely injured, highlights how the everyday act of crossing a street can sometimes have life-altering consequences. — Matt Sepic

Homeless and alone, she struggles toward graduation

Diamond Syaz walks to her seat at commencement.
Diamond Syas walks out on the floor of Mariucci Arena on Thusday, June 2, 2016.
Evan Frost | MPR News File

Diamond was one of a handful of high school seniors I followed for the course of a year to see if they would graduate. I just knew that she was someone special - funny, independent and tenacious. I had no idea she would lose her housing during that time. Seeing her struggles up close made me fully realize my own privileges in life and gave me so much appreciation for the resilience of kids like her. I was nervous about ending the story on such an ambiguous note, but my editor convinced me that the tone of uncertainty was true to Diamond's life. When it aired, I was immediately flooded with several dozen inquiries on how these random strangers could help. One of them set up a fund to help Diamond. I've never been part of a story that generated this kind of response. Thankfully, the story had a happy ending: Diamond did graduate from high school. She dropped me a note a few weeks ago to say she's in Nebraska to be closer to family. She plans to attend community college in January. —Laura Yuen

Duluth youth hockey keeps it old-school, outdoors

Snow falls and kids slide across the ice.
Snow falls and kids slide across the ice Tuesday, February 2, 2016 before a Mighty Mites session at the Portman Hockey Club in Duluth, Minn.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News File

I always try to be on the lookout for stories that evoke a strong "sense of place," that celebrate what's unique and distinctive about our communities. Few stories I have done accomplish that better than this story about Duluth's warm embrace of frigid outdoor hockey, which keeps hockey affordable and in the neighborhood at a time when the sport is increasingly moving into expensive indoor rinks. Plus, it features one of my favorite ever quotes to end a story. — Dan Kraker

What's it like to 'drive while black'? Take a ride with these guys

Johnson, Gray, Williams and Jackson
Ron Johnson, Walter Gray, Brandt Williams and DeCarlo Jackson went for a ride to talk about driving while black.
Matthew Hintz for MPR News File

I remember several instances during my conversation with the guys in the van when Ron and DeCarlo would audibly gasp or sigh when Walter, 74 would recall an experience he'd had with police: the time when, as a boy in Detroit, an officer slapped him in the face. Or when as a much older man a cop suspected Walter — who was wearing a business suit and carrying a briefcase — was breaking into cars. The conversation with the guys was yet another reminder that there are people behind the racial traffic stop numbers. — Brandt Williams

First Prairie Home show recalled as Keillor passes torch

Butch Thompson on A Prairie Home Companion
The Butch Thompson Trio with Butch Thompson at the piano and host Garrison Keillor, left, on the A Prairie Home Companion show in 1975.
Courtesy Butch Thompson

On the occasion of Garrison Keillor's last 'A Prairie Home Companion' at the Fitzgerald Theater, I thought it would be fun to find out more about the first broadcast. It turned out to be even more interesting than I expected. With the knowledge of what the show would become, it was fascinating to hear about the technical challenges and Garrison learning some lessons about stage presence from radio veteran Bob DeHaven. I particularly enjoyed chatting with producer Margaret Moos after she re-listened to the program. She made a good observation that despite the rough edges, even in that first program you could hear all the essential elements that would make it so successful. — Jim Bickal

U of M Marching Band director makes history, quietly

McCann shows off the new uniforms.
Betsy McCann, new marching band director at the University of Minnesota.
Richard Marshall for MPR News File

One of the best parts about being a reporter is meeting passionate people doing wonderful things. Betsy McCann is exactly that. She's humbly taken on the honor of being the director of the University of Minnesota Marching Band, but she's also — very quietly — taken on the mantle of being the first woman to lead a Big Ten marching band. Getting to see her lead the band through its first practice in Northrop Auditorium was really great — the freshmen all think they are just doing a walk through and the upper classmen come in to surprise them. Richard Marshall's photos captured those moments, and McCann's personality, beautifully. — Peter Cox

For Burnsville family, driver's flight from police took a terrible toll

Aida Leticia Sevilla O’Campo
Aida Leticia Sevilla Ocampo was killed Monday, Oct. 10, 2016, when a man leading police on a high-speed chase crashed into the vehicle she was driving.
Courtesy of Octavio Iniquez and family

I liked this story because it reminds us of the many losses we've had this year, in our diverse community, and tragically, by accident. — Doualy Xaykaothao

Jayhawks' Gary Louris on painkiller addiction: 'I didn't do my best work loaded'

Gary Louris
The Jayhawks' Gary Louris spoke with MPR News host Cathy Wurzer earlier this year about his painkiller addiction.
Nate Ryan | MPR file

The interview that Cathy Wurzer did with Gary Louris of the Jayhawks was memorable because of the subject matter and the timing. Louris talked candidly about how he became addicted to prescription painkillers and how he was able to beat that addiction. That interview aired on April 21, just hours before Prince was found dead of what was later determined to be an opioid overdose. During that interview, Louris began by telling Wurzer what got him started on the path to addiction. — Jim Bickal

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