As longtime editor of the University of Minnesota’s alumni magazine, Michelle “Shelly” Fling would get requests from inside and outside the U, from alumni and non-alumni, for puffy “feel good” pieces.

Elegantly she’d sidestep those issues, opting instead to cover significant U news.

“She was so adamant about doing the stories that really mattered and just getting to the heart of those,” said her husband, Mark Luinenburg, a St. Paul freelance photographer.

Fling, of St. Paul, died Sept. 21 after a five-year fight with metastatic breast cancer. She was 49.

Highly regarded in the Twin Cities publishing community, she worked for Minnesota alumni magazine for 16 years, collecting and researching story ideas and commissioning freelance writers. Fling previously worked at Twin Cities Business, Skyway News, McGraw Hill and other regional publications as a writer and editor.

“At an institution as big as we are, there are stories and innovations that are big or small in scope, but their impact is often significant regardless,” said Daniel Gore, vice president of communications for the U’s Alumni Association. “She was able to shine a light on the smaller ones as well as the bigger ones. She could find a good story in a small tale. She had a good instinct for that.”

With her humor, optimism and energy, Fling had the personality to match her dream job, he said.

“She was quick to identify right from wrong, good from bad, in her work,” Gore said. “She had great institutional knowledge and layered on top of that was her professional connections in the Twin Cities publishing world.”

“What an incredible force,” said Tom Garrison, communications director for the city of Eagan and former Minnesota editor. “I was the one who hired her, but she was the one who taught me more about writing and editing than anyone I’ve ever known.”

Fling was personable “but would still push everyone around her to be better,” Garrison said. He called her “fiercely independent, honest as the day is long.”

Adam Wahlberg, founder of the local Think Piece Publishing, was a copy editor at Skyway News when Fling was editor in the early ’90s. Extremely precise with language, she held high expectations for writers, he said.

“Nothing got past her,” said Wahlberg. “She had great editing chops. She never gave a word away, or a single comma.”

Fling’s family moved from Slayton in southwestern Minnesota to Bloomington, where Shelly began writing stories in grade school, said her mother, Margaret Fling. When the quiet “Shell” was 8 or 9, she began lugging home stacks of books from Penn Lake Library.

Her brother, Steve Fling, later eulogized: “I believe this lifelong thirst for reading and words provided the foundations for the wisdom she developed in her later years — and ultimately imparted to many of us lucky enough to be close to her.”

A graduate of Jefferson High School in Bloomington and the College of St. Benedict, Fling married Luinenburg in 2004. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009.

In November, she took medical leave, writing in her last column of gratitude for the privilege of telling so many inspiring stories: “I have seen evidence of awe-inspiring resilience all around me in my nearly 16 years at the University.”

In his eulogy, Steve Fling shared what Shelly had said not long ago: “You know, as hard as this life has been, there is no one else’s life I’d rather have lived.”

She was preceded in death by father Paul Fling, stepfather Bill Rolandelli and sister Jennifer Fling. Survivors include other siblings Julie, Matt and Becky Fling.

Services have been held.

 

Staff Writer Mary Abbe contributed to this story.