Viewers of KAAL-TV in Austin, Minn., recently welcomed a new anchor to the 10 p.m. news. She’s Laura Lee, a 2007 graduate of University of St. Thomas with a degree in broadcast journalism.
Her promotion, as a co-anchor with James Wilcox, is remarkable for someone with less than a year’s reporting experience. What’s even more remarkable is that Lee graduated from St. Thomas as she and her husband were raising two small children. She was only a freshman when she and Abe Knudson married and had their first child, Nevelyn, now six years old.
“Abe and I came from two different worlds,” Lee said, “but somehow landed in each other’s paths. Like my grandmother would say to me in Hmong, ‘It was written, dear.’ ”
Written, maybe, but Lee and her husband had to fill in plenty of blank pages in seven years, juggling work, marriage and children. Today she’s keeping up a three-day reporting stint at the station, plus anchoring the 10 o’clock news five days a week. That amounts to a lot more than 40 hours, but she’s not counting.
“I uprooted my family to take this job last November,” she said, “and they came along on this journey with me. Abe and I knew this was going to be hard, but we both knew that if I didn’t take this risk, I would regret it for the rest of my life.”
I thought it would too hard for Lee to continue at St. Thomas when she got pregnant. She was on a scholarship from ThreeSixty, a journalism program operating out of St. Thomas for students of color, and I feared she would miss too many classes. She missed one semester but hardly missed a beat – balancing her time between broadcast, books and babies. Four-year-old Halle was born while she was still at St. Thomas.
“I did everything backwards: got married and had two babies before finishing college,” she said. “The key to that is hardly any sleep and a very supportive family system (especially her sisters).”
After she graduated, Lee took a job as a production assistant at KSTP. She worked there two years and gave birth to the couple’s third child, Konur, 2. “I worked with some really amazing people, amazing journalists,” she said. “And boy, did I ask a lot of questions. First and foremost, ‘How can I get a job here in the newsroom?’ ”
She did make it to the newsroom of a Hubbard-owned station, ABC 6 in Austin and Rochester.
Lee said she knows that her skills of writing, shooting and editing are important in her television job. But, she added, it’s her family that gives the maturity and security to tell stories that make a difference. “It’s how you tell those stories,” she said, “that touch the people of your community.”
When I first met Lee in 2002 at the ThreeSixty workshop as a Henry High School senior, I was impressed by her smile, sweetness and sincerity. What I would later learn was her grit, gumption and grace.
Here’s how she sums up the nine years: “A husband, three kids, no money and almost a decade later, I still love it.”
(Editor’s note: To see Laura Lee on the air, click on http://www.kaaltv.com/. On Friday, Nov. 11, ThreeSixty will hold its annual fundraiser, featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson. To find out more, link to www.threesixtyjournalism.org/celebratethejourney)