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Published August 19 2012

Signed off, but not forgotten: Former TV news personalities recall their experiences in Fargo

FORT MYERS, Fla. - One August morning, almost 10 years ago to the day, Stacey Deffenbaugh left the offices of KVLY to get something from her car.

It was around 5:30 a.m., and Deffenbaugh would be hosting the “Valley Today” show in a few minutes. But as she went outside, a man who worked at the nearby Expressway Inn grabbed her from behind, tried to choke her and hit her over the head with a frying pan.

Luckily, Deffenbaugh was able to hit the panic button on her car to scare the man away. He was later caught by police.

After the attack, Deffenbaugh, who had worked at KVLY since 1998, needed several days to recover before she was able to go back to work at the studio.

Now a morning and noon anchor at WBBH-TV in Fort Myers, Deffenbaugh says she still thinks about the attack often, especially every year on the day it happened.

But she never let the attack define her Fargo experience, Deffenbaugh says. Rather, it was what happened in the days after, when she took time off from work, that she says is representative of her time here.

“The community there, they were tremendous,” Deffenbaugh says. “I have a box of letters that viewers sent me that I open every year on the anniversary of it. People were wonderful. It was probably the hardest time of my life.”

In 2003, about a year after the attack, Deffenbaugh moved to Fort Myers, where she’s been since. And even down on the warm Florida beaches, she still thinks of Fargo often and recalls it fondly.

“Whenever someone says ‘Fargo,’ I have the biggest smile on my face,” she says.

‘Fortunate to start my career there’

Many other former TV reporters and anchors who hit the airwaves in Fargo have since moved on to larger markets throughout the country.

And, like Deffenbaugh, they say they were lucky to have spent time here.

After graduating from Boston University in 1990, an ambitious young Vineeta Sawkar sent tapes (“Back then you actually had tapes,” she laughs) to news stations all across the Midwest looking for a job.

Now a morning and mid-day anchor at KSTP-TV and KSTC-TV in Minneapolis, Sawkar was offered a position at KXJB in Fargo as a weekend weather anchor and weekday news reporter.

She had no previous experience doing weather, but she says she would’ve “swept the floors, whatever” just to get her foot in the door.

As with Deffenbaugh, Sawkar says the support of the community was one of the biggest things she took away from the two years she spent in Fargo.

“Something about that Fargo community, when you’re a newcomer, you feel welcome,” she says.

More than that, though, the size of Fargo as a news market – not small, but not large either – also helps make it an ideal place to start a journalism career.

This is because new hires take on significant responsibility and may be expected to do more than at a larger market or larger station, says Stacie Schaible, a weekday evening anchor at WDAY from 1993-97.

Schaible now anchors the news in Tampa, Fla., and says the fact that she helped produce her own newscasts in Fargo helped make her a better anchor.

“Wearing a lot of hats in a smaller market makes you more on your toes in a big market,” says Schaible, who was an anchor in Duluth, Minn., before coming to Fargo.

But when the young journalists made a mistake or needed help, there were seasoned industry veterans who could be turned to for advice.

Schaible points to Marv Bossart, her veteran co-anchor at the time, while Sawkar specifically refers to Mike Morken, still anchoring at KVLY, as journalism vets who helped provide that kind of guidance.

“I was working with people who taught me a lot,” Sawkar says. “In your first job, you make mistakes, and it’s nice to work with people who are understanding and are willing to teach you to help you get better.”

“I felt really fortunate to start my career there,” she adds.

Of course, in the years since TV news reporters and anchors like Sawkar, Deffenbaugh and Schaible were on the air in Fargo, much has changed. The TV news business itself is different, and the women’s careers have brought them to bigger and better things.

But when they look back on Fargo, and on their time as a 20-something journalist starting out in the industry, it’s almost as if they’re right back on the air at KVLY, WDAY or KXJB.

“The two years I was in Fargo were some of the best I had in the television business, because of the fact that we were all so young, and that we were all so idealistic,” Sawkar says. “We really wanted to put together good stories. We wanted to go out there and be good journalists.”

Where are they now?

Plenty of TV news personalities have come and gone through Fargo’s news stations over the past few decades. Here are just a few names you might recognize:

• Stacey Deffenbaugh – Deffenbaugh was a morning anchor for KVLY from 1998 to 2003 before moving away. She’s currently the noon anchor for WBBH NBC news in Fort Myers, Fla.

• Stacie Schaible – Schaible has been a news anchor for WFLA-TV in Tampa, Fla., for 12 years, after being a 6 and 10 p.m. anchor for WDAY in the late 1990s.

• Kelsey Soby – Soby was a former 5 p.m. anchor and reporter for WDAY, and now works as a morning reporter and traffic anchor for FOX 9 KMSP in Minneapolis.

• Dennis Woltering – A weekend anchor for KXJB back in the 1970s, Woltering now anchors the news for WWL-TV in New Orleans.

• Amy Hockert – A former KVRR and KVLY news anchor and reporter, Hockert moved on to KARE 11 in Minneapolis for several years before moving to Washington, D.C. She currently works with the Bring Me The News website as well as SmartMouth Strategies, a training and coaching organization.

• Carol Han – After reporting for KVLY from 2000 to 2002, Han has been the Washington correspondent for Cox Broadcasting, a national network of TV stations, since 2006.

• Vineeta Sawkar – A weekend weather anchor and reporter with KXJB from 1990-92, Sawkar currently anchors the morning and midday news for KSTP-TV and KSTC-TV in Minneapolis.

• Kelly Bartnick – Bartnick was a reporter for KVLY before he pleaded guilty in 2006 to charges of fifth-degree assault and motor vehicle tampering stemming from a 2005 incident in a Fargo adult book store, according to Forum archives. Bartnick is currently a video journalist for KELOLAND television in Sioux Falls, S.D.

• Mike Licquia – A reporter for WDAY in the mid-2000s, Licquia made headlines when he was arrested after scaling a fence at Hector International Airport while working on a story. Licquia is currently a senior reporter at The FLORIDA Channel, a public affairs programming service in Tallahassee.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535