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Mike Creger: Joe helped a new editor feel at home

It's considered good practice in journalism to come into each story with an open mind. No preconceived notions or conclusions about what you might see or hear at an event or in an interview. Yes, be a little prepared, but be ready when someone veers left when you were expecting a right.

I broke that rule when talking with people about Joe Zastera this past week after his death Thursday. There was no doubt where people were going when talking about his impact on their lives and the community as a whole.

Joe was a hell of a guy. Thoughtful, kind, gregarious.

I didn't know him well. We met late last year to talk about the Two Harbors Area Fund that he took so much pride in. Joe was one of the first people your new editor met who didn't ask about the paper or provide any expectations veiled as threats to "not break it."

He simply asked me where I was from. Somehow, we got around to what became an odd commonality between us.

Joe was a Czech through and through and I came from an ethnic community in southern Minnesota that would have welcomed him with open arms and dozens of kolackies.

So now Joe would only greet me with Czech phrases. My knowledge of the language is limited to only a few, I told him, and many aren't polite to use. Joe didn't care. This was a teaching moment for him.

Taped to my desk is a piece of paper he slipped me during the holidays. It says:

"Happy New Year In Czech"

"Stastny Novy Rok"

"Pronounced: Shasnee Novy Roak"

I learned from Joe's daughter, Jody, that he relished in finding out a person's heritage and using their language to greet them. It was the kind of detail you can appreciate. And I'm sure he got a real kick out of meeting a fellow, although feeble, Czech speaker.

As I look at that piece of paper, I can't help but marvel. He simply could have told me what the phrase was and drilled it into my head each time I saw him. But he took the time to write it down, and even offered the pronunciation.

That's appreciated. And when I talked with others who bittersweetly remembered him this week, the story remained consistent.

I told Frank Zastera that while I didn't know his father well, I could vouch for all the good things I heard about him while putting a story together. Only a few meetings with Joe and you got the sense that he was a determined man full of substance peppered with that hint of mischief.

Frank said I was a lucky person to have met him. Lucky and blessed.

Pejít na míru, Joe.

Mike is the editor of the News-Chronicle. He can be reached at or 834-2141.