by Olivia Martin
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — What do “lives well-lived” and the scribblings of a “compulsive doodler” have in common?
Both contributed to a total of 12 Catholic Press Association awards won by The Leaven staff at its annual convention June 12-15, held this year in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Freelancer writer Jill Ragar Esfeld received an honorable mention in the category of Best Reporting on a Special Age Group for “Welcome Central,” a piece on the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth and the volunteer transportation system that a handful of the nuns run for their clients.
But Esfeld also won a first place in the category of Best Personality Profile for “100 Candles,” an article she said was a joy write.
“I was delighted this article got recognition because it brought attention to a wonderful Catholic gentleman, Willie Hall of Our Lady and St. Rose Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, who lived a long life grounded in the ethic of reciprocity,” said Esfeld.
Writing personality profiles is especially important to Esfeld because “they give us real examples of lives well-lived.”
In the meantime, senior staff writer and undercover cartoonist Joe Bollig won second place for his illustration of the infographic “Do’s and Don’ts of Confession.”
The key to a good infographic is creativity and digestibility — a combination the judges of the Best Use of Art or Graphics category saw in Bollig’s collaboration with production manager and designer Todd Habiger.
“Joe did a wonderful job breaking down the aspects of confession and drew a great cartoon which really anchored the infographic,” said Habiger.
Bollig, however, characteristically deflected the praise.
“I wouldn’t consider myself an artist or an illustrator,” said Bollig, “but I am a compulsive doodler.”
In fact, he used to get in trouble in school for doodling instead of taking notes — a power that McSorley noticed and encouraged him to use for good.
Teaming up against trafficking
But the big winner for the paper at this year’s convention was a special investigative piece on human trafficking by Topeka freelancers and husband-and-wife team Marc and Julie Anderson. Their four-page piece won the paper three awards: a first place for Best Writing on a National or International Event, second place for Best In-Depth News/Special Reporting and third place for Best Investigative/Analysis News Writing.
Marc Anderson said he was surprised and humbled by the wins.
“It was such a powerful story to be a part of, for both Julie and me,” he said.
The article investigated human sex trafficking as more than an issue that is gripping the world and nation, but as something that is happening right here in northeast Kansas.
“There are two aims of any article that we write,” said Julie. “To inform and to inspire to action.”
The Andersons said one of the gifts of reporting on this issue was that they were better able to join the fight against sex trafficking by sharing their knowledge and awareness with others.
“I’ve mentioned some of the things I’ve learned to co-workers,” said Julie, “and they’re, like, ‘Whoa, I didn’t realize that’s happening right here in Topeka.’”
Habiger also took home an award for the design of the Andersons’ “Human Trafficking” piece: a first place in Best Layout of an Article or Column.
The layout includes informational sidebars, stark headings and a black- and-white aesthetic.
“Human trafficking is a really sobering topic,” said Habiger, “so I think the black-and-white design helped set the mood for the piece.”
It was a story, Habiger said, that needed to be told.
“Marc and Julie did a great job researching and writing the story. . . . I’m just happy to have a small part in this great article,” he said.
In addition, Habiger took home a third place for his layout of “Generations,” and third place in Best Sports Journalism for his own reporting on Bishop Miege quarterback Carter Putz called “Simply the Best.”
Not to be outdone, freelance photographer Lori Wood Habiger won a third place in the category of Best Use of Photos in Social Media. The winning gallery featured images of a hard-fought football game between St. Thomas Aquinas in Roeland Park and Bishop Carroll in Wichita.
Winning two writing awards on subjects particularly important to him was like icing on the cake for Bollig.
The first, an honorable mention in the category of Best Reporting on Vocations to Priesthood, Religious Life or Diaconate, was called “These are my best Masses.”
For the assignment, Bollig accompanied Archbishop Emeritus James P. Keleher to the Leavenworth federal prison camp, one of the archbishop’s regular stops on the circuit of prison ministry he has undertaken since his retirement.
Bollig then took a second place for Best Writing on a Local or Regional Event with “Hope Amid the Ashes,” a story reporting on the aftermath of the fire that charred massive amounts of land in southwest Kansas.
Being from western Kansas himself, Bollig had seen similar destruction before, but nothing compared with the vastness of destruction in the southwestern region of the state.
“The things [the interviewees] saw and the stories they told were very dramatic — and tragic,” he said. “I was tremendously moved.”
But he was inspired, as well.
“It was a story of hope, faith and resilience,” he added, “not mere victimhood.
“I thought readers ought to know what the people went through and how they responded.”