After three decades, ‘Fixit’ columnist Youso departs

In an era of wisecracking blogs and chatty video, the Star Tribune’s “Fixit” is charming throwback, a bit like “Mark Trail” without the brilliantined irony.

Until recently, it would pop up at any particular moment (and at any particular length) in the Variety section, offering no-nonsense answers to reader questions such as, “How should one dispose of toilet paper or a Kleenex that is used to blow your nose? I grew up flushing it down the toilet, but my girlfriend puts it in the garbage. Which is better environmentally?

Hard-news sourpuss that I am, and even with the whole Internet available for such queries, I remain a “Fixit” junkie.

“Fixit” is now pretty much confined to Sundays, and this week came word that the woman who has written it for three decades, Karen Youso, has taken a buyout. Even though “Fixit” will apparently survive, the last of her 7,000 (!) columns will appear this weekend. Since you never know how writers will be allowed to say “good-bye” in print, other staffers forwarded me Youso’s note to them, and I thought fans would enjoy reading her perspective:

Goodbye

In 1981, I took over the Fixit column and was immediately delighted by the questions. The column, previously called Mr. Fixit, addressed the usual subjects that come with owning a home:  “How do we get rid of an ice dam?” “What do I do about the squirrels (mouse, bat, wasps, etc.) that are pestering us?” “Any tips for removing mold?”

But it was more than that: Fixit also tracked down answers to a broad range of questions that readers had on their minds: “If a fly is abuzz in a moving car, what happens to it if the car stops suddenly?”  “Is it true that Asians living in Minnesota live the longest of any people on earth?” “How does cold weather affect sperm?”

The mix of practical, useful and entertaining questions and answers resonated with readers, making it one of the most popular features in the paper. I’ve really enjoyed reading, researching, and answering Fixit questions. It’s been the best 30 years, every single day.

Now after more than 7,000 columns and 400 stories, many springing from the questions readers have asked, it’s time to climb out of the information booth and bow out.

Thank you, dear colleagues for letting me work shoulder-to-shoulder with you.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Jane McClure on 05/27/2010 - 02:44 pm.

    Nooooo! I love Fixit. . .

  2. Submitted by David Brauer on 05/27/2010 - 02:54 pm.

    Jane and others – just want to make it clear “Fixit” will, in all likelihood, continue. Copy adjusted to make that clearer.

  3. Submitted by Wm Morris on 05/27/2010 - 03:24 pm.

    All of us at Dunwoody will be sad to see her go. She regularly consulted with our instructors on items for the column and was always very pleasant to work with and very knowledgeable — she knew the right questions to ask.

  4. Submitted by Jason DeRusha on 05/27/2010 - 04:16 pm.

    Karen’s Fixit column is one of my favorites in the paper as well. I’m sorry to see her go! Good luck, Karen!

  5. Submitted by Phil Smith on 05/27/2010 - 05:25 pm.

    Working for the State, so far for just a little longer than Ms Youso at the Strib, Her Stories changed the “world” and have made us a better place.
    From weather or not to put a brick(or other vessel) in the water closet to displace and save water in our flushes, to exposing the endemic desire for agencies to get by on the cheap and endanger us…. those columns and stories either dope slapped us to a Simpson doh moment, or a gestalt of My god did an agency of our government really do that!

    I’ll miss them!

    They helped make us what we are.

    Hats off to you Ms Youso!

  6. Submitted by Neal Gendler on 05/27/2010 - 05:35 pm.

    Karen was one of the most-pleasant, most-overworked and most-underappreciated people in the newsroom. I’ve never understood how she managed to crank out so much accurate, valuable and readable information week after week. Most of us would have been hard-pressed to offer so much consistency even working full time, which she did not.

    She not only served readers exceptionally well; she was a wonderful, willing resource for her fellow staff members in need of experts. She had a great supply of reliable authorities on a broad range of subjects — and at least for me — she was more than willing to provide contacts when I needed someone to explain a topic or evaluate the credibility of what I was being told.

    I wish her happiness, success and a well-deserved rest.

  7. Submitted by Jane McClure on 05/28/2010 - 09:28 am.

    Well, I just hope her replacement is as thorough and accurate. As someone who has had to undo a lot of bad repairs to things over the years, I shudder to think of the Strib handing the column over to someone whose idea of “research” is to check Google.

  8. Submitted by Richard Parker on 06/01/2010 - 11:59 am.

    I’d like to second Neal’s remarks above, most enthusiastically. Karen must be the longest-serving Fixit in the column’s history, and she has done the newspaper proud as a consumer advocate and source of useful information.

    Gendler was at the Tribune when I got there, so he can correct me if I garble any of the history of Fixit, which I feel compelled to force on you (I’ll try to keep it brief).

    Ben Kern (no relation, I think, to current news team leader Jim Kern) was Mr. Fixit when I joined the staff in 1969. Ben also wrote outdoors stories, mainly about skiing, and spent a lot of his time outside the newsroom. As Mel Jass used to say, he had a good job. Don’t get me wrong — he did a fine job as Mr. Fixit. The column appeared in the second section of the old daily Tribune, and the layout guidelines required that it be presented as a squared-off block because readers clipped and saved the columns.

    Bob Crabb, one of the most interesting staff members in the Star Tribune’s history, took over the column in the early 1970s. Crabb, a Wisconsin native, had been a United Press correspondent in Manila at the outbreak of World War II and was interned by the Japanese for the duration along with his Australian wife. Their first child was born in the prison camp, I believe. Crabb — a copy editor, makeup editor and assistant city editor in the 1960s, outspoken about his opinions, a dictionary collector and a chess buff — tore into the Fixit job with a passion and became somewhat of a local celebrity as a luncheon speaker. The column also benefited from the thorough and dedicated work of Joan McGrath, Bob’s experienced secretary, who may also have worked with Kern. Bob was the last Mr. Fixit: He was reassigned in about 1973; his replacement was Joan McGrath, who was given no assistant.

    My wife, Debra Decker Parker, was Fixit for a period between McGrath and Youso, and she found the files of back columns and experts and their contact information, which McGrath had maintained meticulously, indispensable.

    So let’s trust that Karen’s successor — Mr. or Ms. — will carry on Fixit’s tradition of real usefulness to the readers.

  9. Submitted by John Clawson on 06/03/2010 - 01:23 pm.

    Best wishes, Karen, and thanks for 7,000(!!!) columns….I grew up as kid reading Ben Kern’s version and was bereft when he quit writing….paper would never be the same, thought…..he had a quirky profile of his/man’s head that adorned his column…..read them almost every day and always wondered at the incredible variety of questions that they adressed….(did she make up those questions? but why do that when reality is ALWAYS stranger than fiction!??!)…farewell and thanks so much….write a book

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