Sweet reflections: How a retiring Tribune food writer’s stories left an early mark on a future colleague

Tribune reporter looks back on becoming a fan of Kathy Stephenson’s writing during her formative years.

Clipping from The Salt Lake Tribune.

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Armed with a bright green pair of safety scissors, I used to tear through the pages of The Salt Lake Tribune when I was around 8 or 9 years old, searching for articles to cut out about my favorite things.

Usually, those had to do with dinosaur fossils or far-away reports from Egypt or anything about candy. (My interests were, as they say, diverse.) And I would file away my favorites in a manila folder labeled “Storys.” (Thankfully, my spelling has improved since then.)

In time, this little ritual cemented my love of journalism. And I’ve saved that folder for the past 20 years, although I did eventually graduate to adult scissors. I’ve carried it with me to my college dorm and my first apartment, unable to part with the first bits of reporting that shaped me.

So when I was hired at The Tribune in 2016, I was beyond excited to be working at the paper I grew up reading.

I realize now, though, even more so, just how lucky I’ve been that I got to do that job alongside one particular reporter whose clippings most filled my “Storys” folder: Kathy Stephenson.

It helped that Kathy wrote primarily about food — one of my favorite interests as a kid and into adulthood.

I kept the article Kathy wrote about Peppermint Palace in American Fork. Peppermint Palace was, at one time, my favorite place to visit in Utah. (It still breaks my heart that it eventually closed down.) Kathy’s writing perfectly captured my glee of seeing candy canes come down the factory line in neat rows ready to eat. It’s where I wanted to go every year for my birthday — or any other time I could convince my parents to take me there.

I loved, too, the piece she did on boxed chocolates for Valentines’ Day. My cutout of that has a tear down the middle from being weathered and treasured. And I still think about her opening sentiment from that article, holding on to it as good life advice today: If life is like a box of chocolates, make sure yours isn’t waxy and cheap.

Kathy has mastered how to capture readers’ attention — even young readers she might not have realized were out there, scissors in hand. Like candy, her reporting make me crave more. The worlds she invited us into were warm and witty and colorful and caring. And everyone was welcome to sit at the table — not shuffled off to a separate kid’s table. She somehow wrote for every reader and made each of us feel special.

She’s continued to do that for 39 years, and we overlapped at The Tribune for five wonderful years. I got used to hearing her laugh on phone interviews, and I continue to look up to her as a writer, mentor and friend.

Now, as Kathy leaves The Tribune for a much-deserved retirement, I’m going to miss sitting alongside her, literally, in the newsroom. And I can’t blame her for being ready for new adventures.

But I can say that without her, my parents’ copies of The Tribune would’ve looked a lot less like Swiss cheese origami. And I would’ve been a lot less likely to end up in a newsroom without her words showing me the way.

Clipping from The Salt Lake Tribune.