Prior to this week, the last time I stopped by Unified Newspaper Group’s main office was a Tuesday afternoon this June.
It was a convenient place to rest and get a drink of water during my bike ride through Verona, but really it was an excuse to see my friends and former coworkers – some of the people I care about most in the world.
I had expected to see Amber there, but she was out sick. We tried making plans when she felt better, but our schedules never matched up.
And then last Friday, I got the news, which my former colleagues blasted on their website Monday:
“UNG reporter Levenhagen dead at 25.”
The last three words are tragic alone, but combined with the first three they are unfathomable for a newspaper to publish about one of its own. My friend.
Amber and I worked together for part of her first year here on a team that has done some great work. UNG has been among the first on the scene covering tornadoes in Verona and Oregon in 2014, an explosion in Fitchburg in 2016 and a stabbing in Stoughton in 2017.
But nothing compares to the news of Amber’s accident.
This staff had so many reasons to sit this edition out or delay printing, but they showed up and worked even harder. Because Amber would have, too.
Amber was always, always there for her team, and she was always there for me. When my close friends moved away, she was there to lend an ear or offer a hug or words of encouragement, as she did for countless others. Because her love was boundless.
I admired this about her, just as I admired her ability to dream big and continually step outside her comfort zone, blossoming from a budding community reporter to a gritty and giddy government reporter.
The last time we spent time together, I had told her about a job opportunity that would have matched her personality, could have eased her financial worries and would have helped her find work-life balance. She thanked me but said she had just been promoted to the government reporter position at UNG, and she gushed about the stories she was already digging into.
Because in that moment, she was already doing what she loved.
We all know that how a person confronts challenges reveals their true character, and the way the UNG family has rallied together – even when separated by distance or time – has reminded me that this team is made up of some of the most compassionate and dedicated people.
Amber was one of the best.
She was the first person I thought to invite to the Brewing for Bigs event at Great Dane Pub scheduled for Aug. 13. I hoped she’d go so I could share with her the incredible need in our communities for adult mentors through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County, where I had just applied to become a Big Sister.
With her bubbly personality, an openness to try new things, and her love for every living person and animal on this planet, I knew Amber would make an incredible Big, too.
But I never told her any of that, because it was on a Tuesday at 6 p.m., and I knew Amber would surely be at the office on a production night.
And now, there are flowers at her desk instead of a laptop and an empty chair no one could ever replace.
In the days since we lost Amber, I realized she not only would have been a great Big Sister, she was actually my Big Sister.
I can’t catch up with my Big Sister tonight, but I’m with my Big Family.