Kelly Jo McDonnell is often asked, “How do you get a job like that?” Her answer: “It was so long ago!” The Minnesota Bound program started in mid-1995, and by 1996, Ron Schara was looking for his first employee. McDonnell’s father, who worked in the fishing industry, heard about the job and told her about it. “I have a BA in Mass Communications. The few jobs I had before nestling here included working at a TV station, working at KDWB in the Twin Cities, and writing for newspapers and doing PR,” she said. “I picked up the phone, had the interview, and started the next week.”
It also helped that McDonnell is, as she says, “outdoorsy. I grew up hunting, fishing, camping.” In short, she was OK with wearing a lot of hats — even if some of them have earflaps.
Still, she said, back in 1996, “I don’t think we thought we’d be approaching show number seven hundred! When I started we were working with three-quarter-inch tape. Now everything is so fast, everything is electronic, the cameras are tinier. We started with one edit suite, now we have six and are building on that.”
Her job has also changed through the years. “I still produce and write for Minnesota Bound. I also took on commercial traffic for all the shows — there are eight shows now. I continue to do events like the State Fair and the Lake Minnetonka Crappie Contest. Of course, there’s just keeping Ron Schara on schedule. His schedule is very full. I handle all that so he doesn’t have to be bothered by it.”
The company itself has gone through cycles, McDonnell said. “There were glory days before the recessions. In the first half, we really were rockin’. The company was young, and we were upstarts. In the middle part, when we started hiring more employees, there’s a transition period where people are wondering who’s going to do what. I would say when Mr. Schara sold the company five years ago, it breathed some new life into us. I think it was his master plan all along. It’s a new, different focus than what we were used to. But it’s been a good thing.”
What does it take to be successful in a job like yours?
Being flexible to do every step of the process right down to logging hours of video, writing the script, passing it to someone who voices it and someone who edits it. You’ve got to have a thick skin. It can be kind of a grind. You get a lot of negative feedback. You just have to keep on keepin’ on.
Can you recall a favorite story?
We did a story on Seven Pines Lodge, a fly-fishing shack in Wisconsin. I went there with my dad and thought, “Let’s do a father-daughter, ‘We’ve never fly-fished’ weekend.” It was nice to get e-mails from people saying, “I want to do that with my dad or my grandpa.”
What has kept you in the job for 18 years?
We are great storytellers. Mr. Schara was always known for that. I think we believed what we were doing was telling great stories and people liked us. It means something to us. You feel like you’re a part of something important. □