Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Covering Elma and district for 45 years

Reporter Patsy Kozak sets provincial record

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ELMA -- She's Manitoba's longest-serving news correspondent, yet hardly anyone knows her name.

Patsy Kozak has been filing dispatches from her bureau -- her kitchen table in Elma -- for the Carillon weekly newspaper for the past 45 years.

"Eddie said it wouldn't last," Kozak said about her weekly news column. Eddie, her husband, predicted she'd quit within a year.

"She took a knitting class and quit. She took ceramics and quit," he explained in an interview.

He was wrong, but she's thinking of quitting now, maybe after Christmas, when it will officially be 45 years on the job. It's been a long haul.

"One day I say to myself I'm quitting, and the next day I want to keep going," Kozak said.

Most rural newspapers have rural correspondents writing weekly columns from their small communities. The Carillon has almost 50 rural correspondents, the most of any rural newspaper in Canada, filing weekly columns from places such as Dominion City, Ste. Anne and Zhoda.

Kozak writes from Elma, about 80 kilometres east of Winnipeg, on local issues, events, weddings, anniversaries, births, birthdays, the weather and who's gone where on vacation (but only after the vacationers return so it doesn't invite burglars). She's old-school, so when someone had a baby recently, she called it "a little peanut."

Now 69, she relates how she started as a reporter in 1967. A friend from the area who had moved to Steinbach lamented how much she missed home and suggested Kozak write for the Carillon so she could keep up on home news.

"I went to the Carillon and they told me to knock on the side office door. I tapped lightly, my teeth chattering. I was so nervous. When I opened the office door, I saw the kindest-looking man." That was former owner Eugene Derksen. "He said, 'Welcome to our family.' I walked to my car on air. 'I'm going to be a reporter!' " (The Carillon is now owned by FP Newspapers Inc., as is the Winnipeg Free Press.)

Kozak has been dedicated. "I could count on one hand the columns I've missed. I would be sick in bed and have a book under my notepad and be writing."

In the beginning, she mailed her columns in. In a pinch, she flagged down motorists she knew (she used to be a flagwoman for road-construction crews) and have them drop off her columns at the Carillon office in Steinbach. A frequent courier was the man who drove a feed truck out of Steinbach.

Kozak still does not file her columns by computer. She writes them longhand on foolscap, tears off the sheets and runs down to the Spicy Radish Restaurant, owned by her cousin, to use the fax machine to send copy. "That computer is dumb," she said, nodding towards a monitor in another room. "And now it doesn't work."

She'd rather not say what she's paid. It's based on column-inches and comes to about $10 to $15 per column.

"I do it because I like writing," Kozak says. "It's rewarding until someone phones you and says you spelled someone's name wrong."

Editors can drive her crazy. "They'll edit. You know, it's not funny anymore after they edit, as it was when I told it in my own Ukrainian dialect."

She's kept every column she's written -- enough to fill five orange garbage bags. "My kids say, 'Are you ever going to read them?' They call me a hoarder.

"People say to me, 'Don't quit, don't quit.' I do it for my friends who really want to read what happens in Elma."

It's difficult to fill a column every week from a community of probably fewer than 500 people from Hadashville to Whitemouth. If she doesn't have any material, she writes about her family, such as when her then-five-year-old son, Ryan, tried to track down the Easter bunny.

After everyone had gone to bed, Ryan sprinkled baby powder through the house, down the landing, out the door, down the walk and out into the street. When he woke up and found no footprints -- his parents had hidden the chocolate eggs before he spread the baby powder -- he was inconsolable because that meant the Easter bunny didn't exist.

The Carillon has used rural correspondents from its inception in 1946, said editor Peter Dyck. "They help make the paper relevant to the community."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 20, 2012 A15

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