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Marx: Warm, strong, caring and independent. That was Laura Fraembs
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Marx: Warm, strong, caring and independent. That was Laura Fraembs

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Laura Fraembs, strong, independent, warm-hearted and dedicated to her craft, has left us at the all-too-young age of 60.

Few, if any, was a better listener or problem-solver; unafraid to speak her mind, and forever willing to open her heart.

The associate managing editor of The Dispatch-Argus and Quad-City Times, Laura died Wednesday at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, the result of injuries from a fall at her home.

"Laura dedicated her life to newspapers. She was the kind of editor who simply did whatever it took," said Matt Christensen, executive editor of the Quad-Cities' daily papers. "With no expectation of praise or glory, Laura ground out the greasy stuff like editing calendar items with the same care she’d give to a reporter working on a hot story about political corruption.

"Nothing shook her. Laura had all the best hallmarks of an old-school editor — behind the scenes, a sharp mind and quick wit, no tolerance for nonsense but secretly sentimental. She was a fantastic editor and a good friend, and I regret not telling her that more often.''

Laura, you always knew, loved deeply her family, her partner Kurt Allemeier, her animals, work and the Lynn Center farm where she lived for three-plus decades.

It must be noted, Laura was my boss the past 25 years; the world's best boss. She was a friend, not just to me, but to anyone who needed one; a sounding-board for the worried — this business can do that to you — and for those not yet ready to speak their minds. 

So filled with good and so full of life, there are few — in business and in life — I respected more that Laura Fraembs.

At work, Laura was the ultimate professional and mentor, armed with a creative mind, an eye for detail and the ability to sort through miles of indecision. She lived for accuracy, loathed redundancy and demanded an honest, unbiased telling of both sides of a story. Few possessed her flair for page design.

"Laura and I had an arranged marriage of newsrooms, forced together as the papers blended,'' said Liz Boardman, city editor for the newspapers. "It could not have been a happier arrangement for me. Two strong-willed, independent, tough broads, who worked together to run the newsroom without ego or in-fighting, united in a desire to create the best journalism every day. I’m devastated.''

It was local journalism's good fortune when Laura — a graduate of Eastern Illinois University's "J'' program and editor-in-chief of the The Daily Eastern News —  in May of 1981, took a job covering East Moline for the Moline Dispatch.

For four decades, Laura held many titles, from reporter, to copy editor, to assistant Life editor, to associate managing editor. In good times and in bad, she embraced every challenge. Already a respected fixture when I arrived to the sports department after the 1986 merger of Rock Island Argus with the Moline Dispatch, Laura treated me with care and respect from Day One.

While much of the newsroom was annoyed with the loud, brash and sophomoric goings on in the "toy'' department, Laura was often amused with the frat-like atmosphere in sports. A horse owner and skilled rider, she was even our go-to every May when dropping a buck or $20 on the outcome of the Kentucky Derby.

"I was fortunate to have worked side-by-side with Laura for more than 20 years at The Dispatch-Argus,'' said Joe Payne, communications manager for IMEG and longtime associate managing editor of The Dispatch and the Rock Island Argus.

"I could not have had a better work partner — our different talents complemented each other and we always had each other's back,'' added Payne. "She was extremely skilled and super intelligent, and without a doubt the hardest-working, most dedicated person in the newsroom.''

In November of 1994, I was asked to replace the legendary Murray Hurt as columnist for The Dispatch and Rock Island Argus. I speak of this for if not for Laura Fraembs' walking me through the toughest 12-month stretch of my working life, I would not be here to share these thoughts. People did not take kindly to the late legend's replacement.

"I loved Laura. She was the older, smarter sister I needed, especially when the waters of local journalism got choppy,'' said Todd Mizener, the director of marketing and communications for the newspapers. Mizener was the longtime photo lead for the Dispatch-Argus.

"For 30 years our relationship was akin to soldiers in a foxhole. She had my back, and I had hers. She was a word person who understood the power of photos, and that’s a rare gift in the newspaper business,'' added Mizener. "When I was in charge of the Dispatch-Argus photo staff, and she was my boss, she gave me and my staff the freedom to do our best work. But when we pushed the envelope too far she wasn’t afraid to reel us back in. She was every photographer’s dream boss and an even better friend.''

In times of change Laura's ability to adapt, endeared her to all.

"When I moved from director of photo to associate editor, it was an awkward transition for both of us, but we quickly made it work,'' Mizener said of his relationship with Laura. "Sitting beside her every day I got an even better perspective on how hard she worked and how frustrated she could become when someone didn’t turn in their best work or missed deadline. She taught me to be a better editor and I will always cherish those nine months we sat next to one another fighting the good fight and sharing a bag of Chex Mix.

"She led by example,'' Mizener added. "Being respected by everyone in a newsroom is also a rare gift. She didn’t talk to hear the sound of her voice. When Laura spoke up people listened. To understand how hard Laura worked and how good she was at her job imagine a plumber sealing a broken pipe and not getting wet. The news never stops and neither did Laura.''

As much as we marveled at Laura's work, she drew rave reviews from her peers for her independence. You were amazed how she would find ways to keep the farm in working order, tend to her dogs and her horses, mix in a ride — she loved to ride — and still put together a daily newspaper.

That she mastered the rut-filled, winding, demon of a mile-long lane to get to and from her house left us all in wonder. I still see her pulling into the parking lot, getting out of mud-caked pickup truck, wearing calf-high rubber boots, dress shoes in hand, ready for another 12-to-14-hour challenge.

In addition to leading, Laura inspired as well.

"Laura was more than just a news person, she was an inspiration to women in the field,'' said Meg McLaughlin, a Quad-City Times and Dispatch-Argus photo journalist. "I walked in as kid just hoping to have a job shadow and was overwhelmed by the amount of men in the newsroom. But then there was Laura. She was an essential voice for the paper. Had I not seen her, I'm not sure I would have tried to pursue journalism. Her work transcended gender.''

Laura Anderson-Shaw is the digital content editor for the newspapers. Anderson-Shaw, Fraembs and newsroom assistant Laura Yeater were known as the "Three Lauras.''  There was good-natured adventure in these parts whenever anyone asked for "Laura.''

"A  former coworker affectionately nicknamed Laura F. and I "Good Laura" and "Bad Laura," respectively,'' Anderson-Shaw said, hinting at the fun the trio shared. "Laura Yeater, of course, was deemed 'Captain Laura.'  I know that her being Good Laura and me being Bad Laura always made us laugh.''

Though guarded with her personal life, Laura, despite her first marriage failing, found the perfect person to share the last quarter-century of her life. Kurt Allemeier, one of life's truly good men, save for his misguided affection for the Chicago Cubs, loved Laura, but knew enough to give her the space someone fiercely independent needed. To know, love and care for her was to understand she could fend for herself.

"She was tough as nails, living by herself in a farm house way out in the country, taking care of her beloved horses and dogs, and enduring challenge after challenge that came her way,'' Payne said of Fraembs, who also found time to serve as vice-president of the Quad-City Dog Obedience Club. "We were good friends and I will miss her dearly."

There is loss and emptiness for many.

Fare thee well, Laura Fraembs.

Columnist John Marx can be reached at 309-757-8388 or jmarx@qconline.com.

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