The Success of an ‘Annoying Child’

October 22, 2023

I LOVE TO TELL HER STORY. She is an inspiration that you can bloom where you are planted, you don’t need a high affirmative-action score or special favors to succeed. Heck, you don’t even need a college degree.

Bobbi Ann Mlynar and I had the same English teacher our senior year, an eccentric word fiend who had figured out how to instill in teen-age miscreants a love for Shakespeare, Walt Whitman and a dozen other literary giants. Bobbi Ann soaked it up. I had better things to do.

We both got jobs at the local newspaper, Bobbi Ann because she was a fast, accurate typist and me because of family connections. I moved on to journalism school, world adventure and a career in big-city newspapers. Bobbi Ann, who married a rancher out of high school, languished (I assumed) in a part-time, dead-end job as a keypunch operator for her failing hometown daily.

But that’s not the story. I reconnected many years later. My wife and I, big murder mystery fans, had settled down with our popcorn to watch “Murder Ordained,” a true-to-life CBS television movie about how a reporter solved a scandalous murder of a minister’s wife despite the discouragement of everybody else in town.

We weren’t too far into the movie before I realized it was set in my hometown, More shocking, Bobbi Ann was the reporter. She had uncovered the motive and the evidence. She should have won at least one of the two Pulitzers for which she was nominated.

In any case, her story made a captivating film with Kathy Bates playing Bobbi Ann and also starring Keith Carradine and John Goodman. Much of the dialogue came straight from Bobbi Ann’s articles and the court transcripts. It is playing on Prime Video. You’ll enjoy it.

Bobbi Ann and I have exchanged text messages since then, mostly about why I can’t make it to the class reunions and what has happened to our once noble profession. Solving murders, it turns out, was only one of her achievements. After more than three decades at the newspaper, the last several as city editor (“forcibly promoted”), she won election as mayor. I am told she saved the city from fiscal ruin.

It doesn’t surprise me that Bobbi Ann doesn’t put much stock in a journalism degree. The secret to the profession, she says, is to have been an annoying child: “Forever tugging on a sleeve and asking, ‘Why, why?’ The most obnoxious of these children become reporters — as I did.” On Nov. 3 she will be inducted into her state press association’s hall of fame.

Besides her example of hometown grit, I owe to Bobbi Ann a punctuation mark. She introduced me to the “interrobang,” a combination exclamation and question mark used to expresses excitement, disbelief and confusion all at once — just the thing for our times.

How could I have called myself a journalist all these years without it‽ — Craig Ladwig


Leave a Reply