Ben Karkela

Hello Rapids. It’s been a long time.

Let me reintroduce myself. My name is Ben. I’m a new staff writer at The Herald Review. I was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

Even though I grew up here, I moved away 20 years ago. I’ve been all over the place since then. I attended junior high school down in the cities, high school in North Dakota, and college in Moorhead.  My career has taken me all over the state. I even spent some time teaching English in Tokyo.

Most recently, I was living in Northfield, Minn. When COVID-19 hit, I was told I needed to work from home. Since a pandemic was uncharted waters for most of us, I opted to stay at our family cabin in Itasca County.  

I figured I’d be there for a few weeks. Maybe a bit longer.

Those weeks stretched into months. Now, it’s been nearly a year and I decided to stay here on a more permanent basis.

It’s good to be back home. I missed the trees. I missed the lakes. I missed the Grand Rapids-Greenway hockey rivalry. Does it still exist as I remember it? I’d love to watch a hockey game in a packed house again.

Although I graduated from West Fargo High School, I’ve always considered myself a Thunderhawk at heart. I’ll forever be a Forest Lake Flyer, too. I spent hundreds of hours skating at Forest Lake and other local rinks in my youth. I’m happy to see the rinks still filled with people playing hockey. I’m hoping to hit the ice this weekend.

As I drive around town, I notice few changes, but it mostly seems the same. Most of the change has happened to me. I’m not the carefree kid who used to ride his bike around the neighborhood anymore. I grew up. People tend to do that.

I now spend my free time chasing my rambunctious toddler around the house. Lately, he’s been climbing all the furniture as he babbles on about baby stuff. He loves going outside, regardless of the weather, but putting on his mittens sure is a pain. I’m just happy to see him enjoy the same things I enjoyed as a kid.

Another benefit of being back in town is showing my wife where I grew up. I like to show her where I went to school and where I used to hang out with friends. She’s a big city girl, so there’s stark contrast between our upbringings. We made plans to tour the state this year. We wanted to attend the state fair, check out the swap meet, and go see a rodeo. Typical Minnesota stuff. Unfortunately, all those events were canceled this year.

This is her first Minnesota winter, too. She’s visited Grand Rapids several times, but only during the summer. She’s never lived through the freezing winters we are accustomed to enduring. So far, the weather has been mild this year, but she can’t imagine it getting any colder. I have to say, she’s been a trooper.

With January behind us, things can only get warmer. I’m still going to enjoy as much skating, sledding, and fishing with my family while I can.

That’s my story. I’m looking forward to telling your story, too. It’s good to be back, Grand Rapids. 

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