2013 Communicator of Achievement Cathy Jelsing

Cathy Jelsing, executive director of the Prairie Village Museum in Rugby, N.D., and owner of CJ Communications, is NDPC’s 2013 Communicator of Achievement.

Communicator of Achievement is the highest honor NDPC bestows. It recognizes members for their accomplishments in and outside of the communication profession.

Jelsing has been an NDPC member for 31 years. She has served in a number of positions in NDPC, including college communications contest chair, southeast district director, state conference chair and first vice president, who oversees membership. Under her leadership, membership increased by 23 people in just one year. Plus, she served two years as at-large chair of the National Federation of Press Women’s high school communications contest.

She began her communication career at the Devils Lake Journal. She says she had no journalism experience, practically no typing skills and only years of college, and was perhaps the worst speller ever to set foot in a newsroom. By the time she left the paper eight years later to work at The Forum, North Dakota’s largest daily newspaper, she had written award-winning stories and columns, edited and laid out award-winning pages, and – in her last four months at the Journal – proved she could manage a newsroom.

In her 13 years at The Forum, she spent eight years as arts and entertainment writer and five as features editor, and continued to win many writing and design awards. Following that, she became grants manager for Fargo’s Trollwood Performing Arts School and then senior feature writer for University Relations at North Dakota State University. At NDSU, she picked up new skills writing brochures, newsletters, annual reports, website content and advertising copy. She also collected more awards and achieved a career goal by becoming NDPC’s 2004 Communications Contest sweepstakes winner.

In 2006, she and her husband, Terry, moved to Rugby. The only job in town related to her experience was selling ads for the local newspaper. She applied and was hired. But after seeing the size of her first paycheck, she opened her own business, CJ Communications.When her business followed the newspaper industry slump, she took a second job working in the print shop at North Central Printing in Rugby.

This is how Jelsing describes this stage in her career: “In addition to printing business cards, envelopes and forms, North Central prints several area newspapers, and sometimes I had to help with inserting and labeling the newspapers. I told my daughter that I’d come full circle: I started as a stringer in Devils Lake; I was features editor at The Forum; I’ve sold advertising for The Tribune; and now I’m working in the mail room.”

Jelsing got out of the mail room when the North Dakota University System hired her to overhaul and organize the writing on its new website. She then took on a major website project for Rugby’s Heart of America Medical Center and got her first-ever book editing assignment.

Her career then took another turn. She was serving on the board of directors for the Geographical Center Historical Society, which operates the Prairie Village Museum in Rugby, when the museum needed a new executive director. The board asked Jelsing to apply. She did and was hired. She is in her third season as executive director.

In addition, she plays viola with the community orchestra and serves on the Pierce-Rolette County Thrivent board, and just started volunteering at the community-run Lyric Theatre.

This summer, she becomes president of NDPC. In the fall, she will be NDPC’s nominee for the Communicator of Achievement award at the NFPW conference in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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