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Ray Crippen is shown in a photo taken in 1966 during Robert Kennedy's visit to Worthington's King Turkey Day celebration.

Commentary: Lessons of the circuitous, fresh route to the office

One of the champion learners I've known in life was Ray Crippen, the executive editor of the Worthington (Minn.) Daily Globe.

I was at the Daily Globe from 1979 to 1983 and had the opportunity to learn from Ray. He had a deep love for his 35-year run in the business. Ray was a single man but never isolated. He died Dec. 27, 2015, at age 85.

He was eulogized as a chronicler and a "flesh-and-blood archive" of his community. He was a hometown boy who had majored in journalism and political science, served in Korea, wrote for Stars and Stripes and eschewed big-time politics to serve the regional scene.

As Ray got older, he never seemed to be bored. Only more curious.

I remember going from the Daily Globe offices with him for lunch as often as I could. He'd talk about other lunch options but we'd always end up at "The Gobbler Restaurant-by-the-Mall," a local establishment run by immigrants.

Once seated at his regular table, Ray, then in his early 50s, would make a comical production of considering the entire menu and then always ordering the same thing — a turkey sandwich and a cup of soup. (I picked the $5.29 dinner special — either a 12-ounce broiled cod fillet or two broiled pork chops, with baked potato salad, toast and butter.)

Eclectic, deep

Ray's conversation was lively, eclectic and deep. At one lunch we rendezvoused with former U.S. Sen. Eugene McCarthy, D-Minn. Ray listened to the poet/economics professor politely, but made it clear to McCarthy that he was sure his candidacy for president in 1968 had futilely, fatally undermined the prospects for Ray's friend — fellow-Minnesotan, Vice President Hubert Humphrey. It was an awkward moment, but only for McCarthy.

Ray always drove to The Gobbler by the same route, but always went back to the office by another route. He explained that it was one of his habits designed to remain aware of the goings-on in his town. His often circuitous routes were picked simply to study his community and see what was going on.

I think of Ray as I travel throughout the Dakotas and Minnesota for Agweek. In a real way, changing routes reminds me that in every community where Agweek circulates, there are farmers, ranchers and agribusiness people striving to prosper for their families and communities. I purposefully keep my eyes open to the unusual farm practices, buildings or machinery that I might see there.

A friend recently reminded me how learning is an antidote for sadness.

The woman sent an excerpt from "The Once and Future King," a novel by T.H. White, involving the wizard Merlin who trains his young charge. In the story, Merlin teaches the future King Arthur the concept that the only justifiable reason for war is to prevent another from going to war. He also teaches this simple truth:

"The best thing for being sad, is to learn something," Merlin says. "That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics ....

"There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting."

Ray lived like that. I hope you and I can, too.