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Column, in memory: Duluth East English, journalism teacher enlightened students

The halls of Duluth East High School are a bit dimmer and quieter this week, as students and staff mourn the loss of one of their beloved teachers and colleagues.

Sarah Packingham
Sarah Packingham

The halls of Duluth East High School are a bit dimmer and quieter this week, as students and staff mourn the loss of one of their beloved teachers and colleagues.

News spread like wildfire via social media that English teacher Joan Knutsen had died on Friday, Feb. 8, after a battle with cancer.

Knutsen was a teacher in the Duluth schools since 1996, with most of those years being at Duluth East where she made an impact on thousands of students, including me.

I was 15 years old when I first entered Knutsen's journalism class. She had a passion that was contagious. She had an energy that was infectious. And she had style that matched her outgoing personality.

Duluth East senior Lucas Rollo paid tribute to Knutsen in his Facebook status the day she died. Known for her animal print fashions, he posted: "Keep rocking the animal print."

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"She mentored me and really helped me find my love for journalism and communications," said 2001 East graduate Aaron Swanum on Facebook.

Owen Fifield graduated in 2006 and was part of Knutsen's journalism class.

"She had eyes that believed in the potential of the person she was talking to," he said.

Knutsen's love of teaching and kids went beyond those in her own classroom. Those who didn't have her for a teacher remember her friendly face and "hello" in the hallways.

"I never had her, but she was so sweet," 2006 Duluth East graduate Courtney Anelli said on Facebook. "I always saw her in the halls and she'd smile and say hello to me as if I was one of her students."

My feelings about Knutsen were exactly the same as the others. I knew the first day I walked into her classroom that she believed in me. I knew that learning journalism was something I wanted to do, but didn't realize the passion I had for it until Knutsen helped me to discover it.

With the help of Knutsen, I began to develop who I was as a journalist, and learned tricks and techniques that I still use to this day.

I draw on what she taught me in every article, column and interview.

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There isn't an article or column I write that I don't think about Knutsen and what she taught me and how she helped me to love journalism.

Without her, the Duluth East community will not be the same.

Duluthian Sarah Packingham writes about sports for the Budgeteer. Contact her at budgeteersarah@gmail.com .

Joan Knutsen
Joan Knutsen

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