Five days a week at around 4 p.m., Inter Lake Sports Editor David Lesnick arrives to begin his shift. He’s a fixture at his standing desk, tucked away in a dark corner of the newsroom, where he steadily plugs away at the day’s copy, bringing local sports stories to life.
But tomorrow, the newsroom will be lacking a legend.
After 26 years behind the Inter Lake sports desk and on the local sidelines, Lesnick is retiring.
He is as much a part of this place as the walls that hold up the roof and has made a lasting impact on both the staff here and the newspaper itself.
He is the type of writer who shows up day after day without complaint, churning out quality stories with humility and offering up words of encouragement to younger staffers, helping to build a department, not just lead one. Lesnick, in his modest nature, would probably prefer we not publish this story in his honor — never mind the cards and cake to follow this afternoon. (Sorry, Dave)
But more than two decades of leadership demands recognition.
Lesnick’s career in sports journalism began at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. He earned his journalism degree in 1974 after taking two years off to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he deployed to Vietnam as a heavy equipment mechanic.
He started writing professionally a couple of years later when he was hired as the sports editor for the Wahpeton Daily News in North Dakota. In the years to follow, Lesnick honed his sports reporting skills at outlets throughout the Midwest before assuming the role of sports editor at the Daily Inter Lake on Dec. 4, 1992.
“I related well with people — that’s where I really stood out. And I tried to treat everybody the same and everybody fairly,” Lesnick said.
Over the course of his career, he said there have been too many big games to count, but noted he always enjoyed reporting on rodeos, high school football playoffs and state track meets. He recalled with fondness covering afternoon soccer games in Columbia Falls, where snow-capped mountains provided a majestic backdrop, or how jam-packed the gym in Bigfork would get for high school basketball games.
Inter Lake Managing Editor Matt Baldwin met Lesnick a decade ago on the sidelines of a Bulldog football game where Lesnick took the young reporter under his wing.
“From that very moment I knew that he was a great leader because he showed me the ropes,” Baldwin said. “He told me how to take notes for a football game and pull that off while taking pictures at the same time.”
He’s come to admire Lesnick for his even-keeled personality and ability to handle stressful situations with grace.
“It’s been great to have him here for so long. He’s built relationships in the community that you don’t get without somebody building that trust over, not just years, but decades,” Baldwin said. “He’ll be missed.”
For the past 20 years, Lesnick has regularly interviewed Glacier High School Athletic Director Mark Dennehy, who commended Lesnick for his steadiness and fair reporting.
“Dave’s been the consummate professional. From where I sit, I’ve never had to worry about what is going to be printed,” Dennehy said. “He’s always been right on the mark and always been in our corner.”
Over the course of his career at the Inter Lake, Lesnick has chronicled local high school sports with integrity and balance, season after demanding season, and has done it well.
Although he’d never say as much, his writing is nothing short of award-winning.
In 2013, he received a first place award from the Montana Newspaper Association for a feature story he wrote about Flathead High graduate and former Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler spending time with cancer patients.
“That was special to see the impact that [Brock] had on that person,” Lesnick said. “People can really impact other people in special ways.”
But it’s his character, not accolades, for which he’ll be remembered.
“I think he is someone who very much leads by example,” said Inter Lake sports reporter Katie Brown. “Relationships matter a lot. Just seeing how he has gotten to know a lot of the coaches and [athletic directors] …sometimes people will call him up just to chat.”
Brown will move into the role of sports editor beginning Sept. 5 and is excited to continue Lesnick’s legacy while bringing her own expertise as a former NHL beat reporter to the department.
“Katie has really proven herself over the last year here to be somebody who really cares about the sports department,” Baldwin said. “She has watched and learned a lot from Dave and I think she’ll take a lot of his attributes into the job.”
As for Lesnick’s next steps?
He’s planning to take a few months off and then seek out a new opportunity — anything but writing.
While he’s happy to give the keyboard a rest, he said he will miss being part of the newsroom.
It’s more than a workplace for him — it’s a family.
“I’ve got friendships with people in every department. As sad as it may seem, this has been my social life. I work every Friday, I work every Saturday, so when people are out enjoying themselves I am stuck in the building or covering a game,” he said. “I’m not going to miss the deadlines, trying to track down results, all of that … I’m going to miss being able to see everybody five days out of the week. I don’t know how to say it other than everybody’s like family to me here and that’s what I will miss the most.”
Reporter Mackenzie Reiss may be reached at 758-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.