Amber Levenhagen’s spirit was infectious, her smile and enthusiasm spreading to everyone in our office whenever they made an appearance.
I can’t stop thinking about how much her new car brought both out a few months ago when she announced her purchase and made sure we all got to see it out in the parking lot.
That same car showed up on a TV news station’s aerial video Friday as an almost unrecognizable hunk of metal after a collision with a large commercial truck took our 25-year-old friend and co-worker’s life.
This tragedy, the most sudden of my life to this point, came just as Amber was finding her home in government and enterprise reporting after a recent promotion. She was likely, someday, to be my successor in the assistant editor position – with all the tools of a team leader who cared about her coworkers no matter what she was dealing with herself.
If there’s anything we must carry with us from her life, it’s that: Be there for one another.
In the days since her death, I’ve been reminded again and again of that spirit. In calling current and former coworkers to deliver the news and in sharing our grief, it’s been clear we’re a family here.
To lose a member of that family like this – rather than to a new job elsewhere or another exciting life development, like we normally do – was unthinkable until last week.
It will be a challenge these coming days, months, weeks and even years to try to put out a newspaper without her. Not because of the stories she would have written and photographs she would have taken, but because of her joy at creating them and being part of the team that put this newspaper out every week.
We will do our best, because it’s what she would have wanted – demanded, even.
Even through the stress of production days and the busyness of everyone’s weeks, that expectation of doing our best was always present from her. She mixed it in with a wisecrack or joke, but underlying it was her desire to put out the best product she and we all could, together, each and every week.
I had the pleasure of being her supervisor for two-and-a-half years, and as part of that, had the privilege of nominating her for a Future Headliner award from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association in 2018. It was easy to write about why she deserved to be one of five journalists under the age of 30 recognized for that two-year period – and it was no surprise when she was named one of the winners.
As part of that recognition, she created a video about herself and what she loved about her job.
“Being able to, at least as best I can, have my finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the community,” she explained in that video. “Most of my job is writing those features and business stories that make people feel good and are fun to read.”
She was so good at every part of that job, and watching that video again over the weekend only made me angrier at what the community and whatever world she would’ve moved to next will miss.
We’ve always tried to put out the best paper we could for you, our community. Now, we’re trying for Amber, too.
Rest in peace, Amber.