Remembering Battle Creek Enquirer Reporter Trace Christenson

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Trace would hate that.

Our friend and colleague from the Battle Creek Enquirer never wanted to be the story, with the idea that local news should be about people in the community.

But you couldn’t write the history of Battle Creek and Calhoun County over the past 37 years without Trace Christenson.

On January 8, Christenson fell down the stairs of his home in Battle Creek and suffered head trauma. He was pronounced dead the following day. He was 72 years old.

Some current and past Battle Creek Enquirer colleagues share their thoughts on their late colleague and friend, and his immeasurable impact on our community:

Bill Broderick, sports

Trace Christenson at his desk in the Battle Creek Enquirer newsroom.

I can just imagine it. Trace sat at the back of the room at the weekly press briefing, as he always did, not wanting to be there, as there was news to gather. And then he would talk over everyone and let it slip.

Those seated around the table would agree to tell the story of a deceased friend and colleague. He was saying what he thought should be said, even though it seemed inappropriate, “Why are we putting this in the paper?” And most of the time he would be right. But this time he would be wrong.

Trace is part of the fabric of Battle Creek. He defined what the Enquirer was and should be for the public. And the fact that he is no longer with us is a story.

I knew Trace before I knew Trace. I grew up in Battle Creek and my dad was a policeman. Throughout his career, Trace has known all the cops, firefighters, and city officials, so he has known my dad.

But I didn’t really know Trace until the first day I walked into the Enquirer newsroom over 25 years ago. The first thing he said to me was, “Do you play softball?” And because I did, and maybe I could clean up, Trace and I became friends right away.

Trace organized the Enquirer’s softball team back in the day, proving he was much more than the hardened, no-nonsense crime reporter many saw in him. We shared softball, the love of our convertibles, talked about kayaking and his passion for the Battle Creek balloon community.

And, being the only person left with the newspaper longer than I, we shared a love for the Enquirer and this city. Trace was a 24/7 type of reporter for the newspaper. Not because his superiors had asked him to (no one had really told Trace how to do his job), but because he thought it was important to handle his responsibilities that way. A fire or a shooting in the middle of the night, Trace was there, often before the fire brigade or an ambulance.

He was very serious in his work. One of the last journalists from another era, Trace wore a jacket and tie to the office every day. And, while many of us today work in our sweatpants from home and meet on zoom, since the pandemic, Trace still wanted to be in the building, at his desk, taking his daily walk across the street to the ‘cop shop’, because work was his life.

Trace could have retired years ago. Has been asked several times about this. He just didn’t see the need for it. He loved what he did, despite the long hours and lack of respect for what good journalism is in this world of social media.

He always wanted what was best for history, for the newspaper and for the community, no matter who thought otherwise, whether it was a city official, his boss or a reader.

And what’s best for this story, this journal, and this community, is to remember Trace – whether he likes it or not.

Nick Buckley, news

Battle Creek Enquirer reporter Trace Christenson awaits the arrival of then-President Donald Trump on Air Force One at Battle Creek Executive Airport at Kellogg Field on December 18, 2019. Trump was holding a "Merry Christmas" rally at the nearby Kellogg Arena.

Trace started at the Battle Creek Enquirer in 1984. According to the newsnews.com digital archive, his signature appeared in the Battle Creek Enquirer approximately 20,000 times between his start here and the last story he filed on Jan. 7.

It’s probably an undercount.

Trace was not only prolific, but a gifted journalist with an intense dedication to serving the people of southwestern Michigan.

I can’t think of a better job of describing Trace’s commitment than her penultimate article filed on Jan. 6, titled “Mother Wants Battle Creek Men Accused of Killing Her Daughter to See Her Pain.”

In true Trace form, the article was not just about a court case following a 2020 double homicide – the seventh he had written about the incident in his dogged pursuit of the story – but about the ripple effect of gun violence. It highlighted the tears shed in the courtroom by the mother of one of the victims and the devastating impact of her loss.

I can only imagine the number of families Trace has helped seek justice or find solution through her reporting in our community for nearly four decades. Just talking to them and giving them a platform to share their grief told them and other victims that they were important and worthy of public attention.

Of course, Trace has done much more than report on public safety and the courts. He was a talented photographer and juggled the dual tasks of capturing words and images. He wrote on various topics with clarity and an unwavering duty to serve our loyal subscribers above all else.

Trace was not one to look back and reflect, instead focusing on the here and now and what lies ahead. He rarely talked about himself, and despite working together for nearly 20 years, I still learn more about the man I used to call a colleague, friend and neighbor.

Trace may be gone, but his words, his talent and his dedication to community service will live on in those digital archives, those scrapbooks, or the stacks of yellowed newspapers I put away. He remains in the hearts of all who had the pleasure of knowing him and working with him.

Trace was simply one of a kind. We’ve been very lucky to see it shed light on even some of the darker aspects of our community. His impact on me personally is immeasurable.

Eric Greene, former editor

Trace Christenson poses for a photo.

Trace Christenson meant a lot of things to a lot of people.

He was a fearless and trusted journalist who told the story of the Battle Creek community through thousands of stories over his long career. He was relentless in his fact finding, news gathering, and commitment to being precise, thorough, ethical, and fair in his writing and in his conversations.

He was a hot air balloon enthusiast and a reliable crew member. He was an avid photographer, kayaker, mountain biker and cyclist. He had a sharp wit and a sarcastic sense of humor, sometimes misinterpreted as cantankerous. He was kind, empathetic and generous with his time.

He was also my dear friend, as close as a brother. I will miss him terribly.

I met Trace in early 2001 when I started as a reporter for the Enquirer. On the first day, I worked directly with Trace to gather information for a story we were co-writing. I immediately felt how seriously Trace took his job as a journalist and how dedicated he was to his craft.

I learned a lot from Trace, including when I was technically her supervisor and even after she left journalism for a new career. During our time as co-workers – we were cabin neighbors for over a decade – we developed a strong friendship.

Over the years, through her example, Trace has taught me to earn the respect of others, to remain graceful in the face of controversy, to remain compassionate in a divisive world, to listen to what is being said and what is not. is not said. He showed me how to stay focused on what’s important. He showed how to be a true friend.

I have an abundance of Trace memorabilia that I cherish, some from the trenches of newspaper work and some that are not suitable for print. My favorites are the ones we spent kayaking the Battle Creek River, mountain biking in Fort Custer, drinking Killian’s Irish Red at Griffin’s, having Thanksgiving dinners at other people’s homes on the North Side, debating from using sound versus it’s, to talking about our childhood, exchanging friendly barbs as a form of affection.

Trace is gone now, hard as it is for me and many others to accept. But his spirit will live forever in the hearts of those who loved him.

Eric J. Greene was a reporter and editor at the Enquirer from 2001 to 2012. He is currently Vice President of Strategy, Relations and Communications at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek.

Contact reporter Nick Buckley at [email protected] or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter: @NickJBuckley

Contact sportswriter Bill Broderick at [email protected] or 269-966-0678. Follow him on Twitter: @billbroderick

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