Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

How to write an obit 101 from Jim’s family March 1, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

THE OLDER I GET, the more I find myself reading the obituaries published in the Faribault Daily News. And, yes, I’m old school. I still subscribe to a print paper.

I also have education and work experience in journalism, including writing obituaries. It’s one of the first skills I learned in the journalism program at Minnesota State University, Mankato. If you can’t write an obit—and make damn sure the name is spelled correctly—then you best choose another career.

But much has changed since I graduated from MSU in 1978. Newspaper staffers no longer write obits that once published for free. Today obits are paid-for pieces written by survivors of the deceased or penned in advance before death. That allows for creative obits reflecting personalities rather than the straight-forward factual death notices I once composed.

Source: Faribault Daily News

Source: Faribault Daily News

On Tuesday I opened the Faribault paper to find probably the longest obituary I’ve ever seen published. It runs 38 column inches, which takes you from the top of the “Matters of Record” page to the bottom, spanning two columns.

I figured, given the length, that I would find stories and humor therein. I did. I always appreciate humor in an obit. We all need moments of laughter in the midst of grief.

So here, for your entertainment, are some stories from the obit of Faribault resident James Dale Kittlesen, 87, who died on Sunday, February 19:

While at Gustavus, he met his future wife (Karen), of 59 years, although there is confusion as to how this happened…Others blame Karen’s brother Morrie who gave his fellow geology student a bag of brownies and told Jim that his sister Karen had made them especially for him. It became obvious to Jim that Karen knew nothing about the brownies while he was thanking her in the library.


In 1991, after 16 years, Jim retired from his position as Director of Business Affairs of the Faribault School District having been hung in effigy only once.


In recent years he became a fan of the Minnesota Windchill… After sitting in the bleachers for an entire game he discovered he could barely stand as his back hurt too much. When people would ask about his sore back he would explain it was a “sports injury.”


At Trinity he worked with the pie makers where he learned “mad chopping skills.”


Recently, while Jim was sitting in his comfy chair, Karen asked, “Is there anything on your bucket list you would have liked to have done?” He replied, “No, not really. I think I’ve done everything I wanted to do.”


I never knew Jim. But I feel like I do now after reading his life highlights, stories and quotes.

There’s one more thing Jim’s family wants mourners to know regarding his funeral: Jim will not be wearing a tie so feel free to follow suit.

TELL ME: How do you want your obituary written? Straight forward journalism style? Or a mix of straight facts and stories? How do you want to be remembered?

FYI: Click here to read Jim Kittlesen’s complete obituary published on the Boldt Funeral Home website.


24 Responses to “How to write an obit 101 from Jim’s family”

  1. I read your post- a gem as usual- and then the next blog post I read was an interview with author Elizabeth Marro who said that she reads obituaries for inspiration and stories for her characters. her MIL helps her collect interesting obits. I wonder- are there blogs that post meaningful obits? Not planning to write mine yet!

  2. “…. and in lieu of flowers, we are sure that Jim would have appreciated the idea of the “tip/donation jar” that we have placed on or near his coffin in an effort to defray the cost of his funeral services upon his loving family.. So please be as generous as possible, so that we can all have a “vacation to remember”… ah, Jim properly. Thank you… The James Dale Kittlesen family. RIP James!

  3. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson Says:

    Ha ha ha! Well this was unexpected. I want Jon Stewart to write my obit, although I supposed I’d have to actually meet him first.

    • Yeah, it’s not like me to throw an obit onto my blog. Bob Collins over at NewsCut on MPR inspired me to read obits given he occasionally finds gems to feature.

      I expect Jon could pen a great obit. Speaking of comedy, I’m off to see comedian Scott Long here in Faribault this weekend. I need to laugh.

  4. Almost Iowa Says:

    I ran across what has to be the best obituary ever (well…maybe not the best but one of the best).

    Blanchard, Michael “Flathead” ”
    1944 ~ 2012 A Celebration of the life of Michael “Flathead” Blanchard will be held on April 14th, 3 pm 8160 Rosemary St, Commerce City. Weary of reading obituaries noting someone’s courageous battle with death, Mike wanted it known that he died as a result of being stubborn, refusing to follow doctors\’ orders and raising hell for more than six decades. He enjoyed booze, guns, cars and younger women until the day he died.”

  5. Jenny Says:

    Hi Audrey. Since I work in the funeral industry, I have seen the best and the worst of obits. I actually get paid to read the obit section of the Star-Tribune…! My kids have strict instructions to NOT write about the last years of my life, i.e. “she liked to read, crochet, and watch game shows…blahblahblah” (which I see way too often) but to say instead: “She loved to DANCE, laugh, sing, climb mountains, and paddle her kayak through rapids!”
    PS…I love listening to Bob Collins

  6. I want it to be one grand adventure of a story that tells of a life well lived. Like my girlfriend has stated to me sliding into heaven with a glass of wine in one hand and a big arse chocolate bar in the other – ha! One rockin celebration of life! Thanks so much for sharing. Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  7. Bernadette Thomasy Says:

    I too read obituaries, even though as a recent transplant to CA I seldom know anyone. I usually glance at all the photos and pick one at random each day to focus one life. Here in California, I am always amazed at the number of people who were born in the Midwest and finished their lives in CA.
    As for my obit, since I’m a storyteller and a journalist, I want my obit to reflect a few stories mixed in with the facts and everything correctly spelled. Right now, I have no idea what I would include: I’m planning on living lots more years, God willing. Thanks for providing my obituary reading for today.

    • I often think of California as a place where people land after moving there from somewhere else. Not always true as I have a California-born son-in-law.

      Like you, I want everything spelled correctly with tight, yet creative, writing.

  8. Littlesundog Says:

    I was a bit appalled to learn from my sister, who recently lost her son, that obituaries can be quite costly. For her, the local town paper did not charge if the obit was submitted by a local funeral home. But to publish in the Lincoln or Omaha papers (or any other major city in Nebraska) it was a minimum of $200 and went up, depenging on word count.
    I know it sounds strange, but I do not wish to have an obit published at my death. I do not wish a public funeral either. I hope to vanish from the earth about as quietly as I arrived the day I was born. 🙂

  9. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Our local paper still posts obits for free but we were charged $200.00 for Brittany’s obit in the larger paper in the area. I think the price was based on a square inch area and they just printed the basics info. Love reading interesting obits that describes a life well lived

  10. Keith Kittlesen Says:

    We were having an argument about when/who had hung Dad in effigy when we stumbled across your write up. I’m glad you posted the link to the Funeral home as that is the original (and longest) version of the obituary. When the funeral home submitted the obituary to the paper it crashed the computer program that they use. Turns out 1271 words was more than they could handle. We had to cut the obit down to 995 words to get the computer to accept it. The obit I actually read at the service was 1258 it was a combo of the original with parts that were worded better from the newspaper version.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.