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Opinion

UWRF community remembers Reta’s contributions

Jonathan Reid

September 19, 2013

“Never stress about anything, give everything your all, and help others along the way.”

Meseret Chekol Reta’s compassionate, thoughtful words were no less meaningful when quoted by his humble daughter, Eden Chekol on a quiet Tuesday afternoon.

A reception to honor the publication of the late journalism professor’s book, “The Quest for Press Freedom: One Hundred Years of History of the Media in Ethiopia” held in the Davee Library breezeway reminded all in attendance that while professor Reta has died, his contributions to scholarly research are continuing to thrive.

Reta taught a number of journalism classes at UW-River Falls during his career. He has published books on mass media and ethics as well as presenting many papers at an international level.

Legally blind by the age of eight and small in stature, Reta always worked with a sense of determination while keeping a smile on his face. Hailing from Ethiopia, he learned firsthand what censorship in the media can look like while he served as a radio host early in his career. In late October of last year, Reta was diagnosed with liver cancer. He refused to let treatment and pain keep him from work and he served as a professor until just weeks before his death on Nov. 17, at the age of 55.

Journalism Department Chair Sandy Ellis opened the event with warm words about Reta’s presence in North Hall. She remembered his excellent track record in student course evaluations as well as how Reta could recognize students and faculty in the hallways just by the sound of their walk. Ellis presented quotations from student assistants Reta has had over the years.

Rome Gnostand’s quote was the most inspiring and encapsulated the way Reta impacted anyone who came in contact with him, “As an artist, Dr. Reta has influenced my work in a very dramatic way; prior to working with him, I mainly created art that was visually appealing. Having the privilege to work with him, the majority of my work now involves some sort of texture and are meant to be touched.”

Ellis presented a plaque with all of the kind words in remembrance of Reta to his wife, Belyou Belay, and his daughter, Eden Chekol.

Next to take the podium was retired journalism department chair, Colleen Callahan who worked intimately with Reta on editing sections of his latest book. She opened her comments with a greeting in the Ethiopian language or Amharic. Callahan shared how comprehensive and important “The Quest for Press Freedom” would be for Ethiopia and aspiring journalists in any nation. Callahan described the book as “the definition of scholarly” as it contains over 600 footnotes and a frank yet conversational style. The book concludes with 22 concrete actions to improve state and media relations.

Reta’s humble words explain why his book will have lasting impact for generations: “Oh, Colleen, this is bigger than me. It’s about the freedom to express oneself in my homeland.” Without a doubt, Reta’s text will impact journalism in Ethiopia and abroad.

The event was a touching reminder of how scholastic research and its dissemination can extend beyond the life of the author. Not only that, but the challenges Reta overcame in his lifetime serve as an inspiration and model for students at UWRF.

“He’s blind, but he’s more than that. He’s my GPS. I’ve never been afraid to find my way,” Reta’s wife Belay reminisced. “He never judged anyone: With anyone, at any time, he was always happy to help people.”

“The Quest for Press Freedom: One Hundred Years of History of the Media in Ethiopia” is published by University Press of America, INC and is available though amazon.com.

Jonathan Reid is a senior professional printing major with a digital film and television minor. He works as a tutor in the Writing Center and is a leader in Intervarsity Christian Fellowship on campus. After graduation Reid hopes to be an editor of film or writing.

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