Two Lillie staffers win statewide awards

The design for this piece, which focuses on Alaska’s diversity of nature as seen via various transportation methods, displays a delicate touch that showcased lush foliage and natural vistas and had readers’ hands itching for suitcase handles.

Graphic designers wince when they hear these directions: “We don’t have any art for this story. Oh, and it’s about city finances.” However, Nik VanDenMeerendonk rose to -- and beyond -- the occasion, making plain all the programs that were being crunched in the “Budget Squeeze,” also his headline. The layout won second place in the “Use of Information Graphics” category, and judges noted it was “Very original.”

In “Ghosts among the Stacks,” VanDenMeerendonk took a reporter’s snapshot of the South St. Paul Library -- one taken on a sunny summer day -- and transformed it to match its reputation as a spooky spot that’s been said to be haunted for decades.

As Ken Burns did with his iconic “The Civil War” series, VanDenMeerendonk used the kinds of materials and media that veterans themselves would have used during World War II to set the scene for their story.

Linda Baumeister

Nik VanDenMeerendonk

One is longtime resident, one H-M grad

It was all about vision for two Lillie Suburban Newspapers staffers in the 2013 Minnesota Newspaper Association’s “Better Newspapers” awards.

Photographer Linda Baumeister, who’s worked at the paper since 1991, and Nik VanDenMeerendonk, a graphic artist for six years.

After an interest in photography that started young, Baumeister sees a lot of touching moments on routine assignments, even at petting zoos.

She took home first prize in the Ramsey County-Maplewood Review’s circulation category for “Here’s lookin’ at ewe, kid,” where a toddler, his mom and a friendly sheep seem to be locking gazes.

And VanDenMeerendonk, who’s had an unbroken string of state awards in the last few years, won second place in the “Use of Information Graphics” and an honorable mention for his design portfolio. To see the variety and depth of his approaches in the full portfolio, go to this story on

From science fair to career

Baumeister probably already had ink in her veins -- she and her twin sister and two brothers grew up in Maplewood and spending some time at the printing business owned by their parents, Anne and the late George Fosburgh.

The children were paid for running errands and handling various tasks at the print shop, and Linda used her earnings to buy her own camera, a “Canonet” made by Canon.

While a ninth-grader at Maplewood Junior High School, she entered the school’s science fair in the “Photography as a Hobby” category.

Of course, the “developing” process back then meant closing off a room entirely from light and printing negatives onto paper in a chemical bath.

It was a time-consuming process in which a photographer could spend hours trying to get just the right exposure and enlargement. That meant Linda’s “hobby” became her family’s hobby by default -- at least when they had a load of wash to do.

“I took over our bathroom and laundry room to do all the darkroom stuff,” she admits.

But those hours in the darkroom were mesmerizing. Whether she was developing photos of winter scenes at area parks or just closeups of the family cats, that moment when the scene shimmered up out of the developing bath hooked her. “It was magical seeing the images come up in the developer.”

“Photography as a Hobby” took a blue ribbon at school and went on to regionals.

By high school, now armed with a SLR, she pursued photography classes. “Luckily, I passed the design portion to get right to taking photos.”

She worked junior and senior year as a photographer for Tartan High School’s Plaid Press.

She appreciated Tartan instructor Richard Doolittle encouraging her to step out the darkroom.

Doolittle wrote on her “Art Studio” class portfolio: “You should become a ‘pro’ photographer, not chain yourself to the darkroom.”

Out of the darkroom and into the community

Baumeister attended the University of Minnesota and the School of Communication Arts, where students were assigned to cover the rodeo and other highlights at the Isanti County Fair. The assignment was an almost prophetic precursor to all the county fairs and summer festivals she’s covered for Lillie News -- a number somewhere in the hundreds by now.

In 1991, Baumeister was ready to try her hand at newspaper photography and applied to the Review for a newly created part-time position that let her fit her schedule around those of her husband, Bruce, and daughter Julie, born in 1987.  She quickly established her own style -- quiet, unobtrusive, and capturing magic moments without distracting from them.

She still loves summer festivals, with their mix of ages and events and, of course, interaction with animals. “And I like the assignments I do for feature stories -- all those fabulous people in their own environments.

“I like taking photos of the everyday things, not the shocking news events.”

At this point, she’s running into people she photographed as kids back in the day -- while taking photos of their children at similar activities. And, thanks to the tendency of area collegians to head home for summer internships, she’s even gotten to work with a few former subjects.

And Baumeister, with her cheerful, modest approach, has become an expected and welcomed facet of the local community. She’s been honored by area booster organizations and even high schools for her work depicting their efforts.

Looking back, the longest line in Baumeister’s three-sentence 1991 application letter: “I believe I can be an important addition to your staff” stands as the understatement of the past two decades.

Baumeister herself is a little abashed by the attention the award brought her. She didn’t even enter the newspaper contest -- a pair of editors who recognized the can’t-look-away draw of the trio of gazes in the photo entered it on her behalf.

Describing the award-winning photo herself, Baumeister says simply, “Just trying to capture the moment, what Henri Cartier-Bresson refers to as ‘the decisive moment.’”

Capturing those moments keeps Baumeister on the go, press pass and camera around her neck. “It’s fun to find that moment.

“And when you don’t get it, there’s always next year.”

Sound foundation in drawing, soaring possibilities with technology

Graphic designer Nik VanDenMeerendonk has been with the newspaper since 2007.

This is his fourth time winning Minnesota Newspaper Association contest honors.

In 2012, he won first place in design portfolio and both first and second place for use of information graphics and illustrations, which basically covered all the entries he’d submitted. Columnist Heather Edwards, who also won an MNA award that year, noted, “By the second time Nik had to walk up to the podium to get an award, heads were turning. You could see people thinking, ‘Who is this guy?’ By the third award, he had his arms full.”

In 2011, VanDenMeerendonk won an honorable mention for a portfolio of five feature-page layouts.

And in 2010, he won first place in information graphics, for a touching layout of a story and photos about a dance tribute to local dance instructor Michele Larkin-Wagner, who was fighting cancer at the time.

VanDenMeerendonk is a Hill-Murray alumnus who graduated with a double major -- art and advertising -- at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

The double focus makes him something of a double threat; he can “see” the possibilities of even a few snapshots for a creative, appealing layout, and he can write headlines that grab interest or inspire a chuckle.

For a feature on a beloved East Side barber forced to close shop due to health problems, VanDenMeerendonk wrote “Shave and a haircut -- cut short” and positioned it over a pair of barber shears.

For last June’s array of storm-damage photos, most of mature trees draped across roofs and roads, it was “Down on the corner, out in the street.”

And, for a store that specializes in tropical fish, “Fin-tastic pets.”

VanDenMeerendonk has an avid interest in all manner of media - movies, book covers, posters, paintings, sculpture, websites and photos, all of which he pulls from to craft his newspaper graphics.

VanDenMeerendonk himself pursued drawing through most of his education.

“I was always into art -- I had been doing mostly charcoal drawings until college,” he says.

Surprisingly, he was in his 20s when he encountered his first design course using computers, but he quickly adapted the technology to reflect his visions.

Unfortunately, VanDenMeerendonk is leaving the newspaper company, in part to carve out more time to pursue another of his talents: acting. He’s appeared in the 2013 release “He Gave Her His Phone,” which was shown in a preview screening at St. Anthony Main Theater in northeast Minneapolis last fall, and keeps busy in live theater productions such as “Don’t Shoot the Masseuse,” written by a group of Hill-Murray alums and staged at the Historic Mounds Theatre last summer.

Holly Wenzel can be reached at or at 651-748-7811.

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