In addition to being a photographer, I greatly enjoy writing. Reporting was a foreign concept to me before my semester as a reporter at the Columbia Missourian, but I was happy to get the opportunity to write stories and figured out the reporting as I went. It was a great learning experience.

Here are three stories I wrote while reporting for the Missourian.

Morel mushroom season kicks off with cooking, hunting lesson

COLUMBIA — It’s about being at the right spot, at the right time.

That’s how morel mushroom enthusiast Stan Hudson described hunting the rare fungus. Hudson gave a presentation about hunting and cooking morel mushrooms Monday evening in the Park Office Building at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park.

About 10 mushroom enthusiasts were there to learn about morel mushrooms and share stories of their own experiences while eating some fried morels that Hudson prepared.

Hudson coated the morels with a light batter of half egg and half milk, rolled them in flour and seasoned them with pepper and other seasonings. After deep-frying them, he added salt and passed them around for everyone to sample.

“All the ones I’m cooking up, I found at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park over the weekend, 10 feet off the path,” Hudson said as he cooked.

The presentation included tips on where to look for morels, though Hudson said he would never divulge specific spots where he finds them. Though it’s hard to predict where morels will be in any given season, they are often found around elm, sycamore, maple and willow trees, in addition to old apple orchards, Hudson said.

Hudson also discussed different ways to cook them – frying, sautéing, grilling or baking them are the most popular forms. Hudson posts recipes on the blog that he keeps about morel hunting. His blog, Mid Missouri Morels and Mushrooms, also includes videos, photographs and stories of his experiences.

One new enthusiast, Janice Gaston, was there to learn more about the process and took notes throughout the presentation.

Gaston became interested in mushrooms after reading an article about edible mushroom hunting by Maxine Stone in an issue of the Missouri Conservationist Magazine. She then found a five-pound Hen of the Woods mushroom, which she cooked following a recipe from Stone’s article.

“It was an experience that led us into great fun with mushrooms,” Gaston said.

Morel mushrooms are edible wild mushrooms that grow in the spring. They are dependent on the temperature of the soil and the amount and timing of precipitation during the season, said Johann Bruhn, an MU research associate professor of plant sciences.

“It appears that 50 degrees Fahrenheit is the key temperature for the soil, and if the warming of the soil is accompanied by abundant rainfall, then it is likely to produce a fruiting body – a mushroom,” Bruhn said.

Bruhn said it's shaping up to be a good year for morels.

Hudson said he knows it's morel season when he sees the first flowering dandelion growing in his yard.

Hudson said that to find morels, “You just got to get out and look.”

Mike Matthes hired as Columbia's new city manager

COLUMBIA — Demeanor, management style and experience were the factors that led the Columbia City Council to hire Mike Matthes as Columbia’s next city manager. He was one of four candidates for the job.

“Matthes is very smart, with a calm demeanor — almost a (Bill) Watkins-like demeanor — and he knows how to manage people,” Mayor Bob McDavid said after a news conference Monday evening, during which McDavid announced Matthes as the accepted candidate.

Matthes, 42, was the assistant city manager and chief information officer in Des Moines, Iowa, before being selected to replace Bill Watkins as Columbia’s city manager. Matthes will start May 1.

“It’s a big loss for the city,” said Des Moines City Council member Christine Hensley. “I figured it was a matter of time before another city snapped him up, and Columbia is very fortunate to get him.”

Columbia council members seem to agree — Matthes was picked by a unanimous vote Sunday.

“It was difficult to choose from this group,” Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl said. “All were superior candidates, but Matthes stood out above the rest.”

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe agreed.

“He’s smooth and deliberate and takes time to analyze things. He’s extremely ethical and extremely transparent,” Hoppe said.

Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill said Matthes was the best fit for Columbia.

"He wants to be here as much as we want him here,” Thornhill said.

During the selection process, the council focused on each candidate’s management style. At one point, each candidate was asked to give a 10-minute presentation to demonstrate how well they were able to command a room.

“Everybody has a different management style, and Matthes was able to articulate his very well,” McDavid said.

Matthes described his management style as being based on servant leadership.

“Fundamentally, it means hiring the best people you can find, defining a clear goal, and letting them get there and not micromanaging or backseat driving,” Matthes said.

McDavid described Matthes as performance-driven and genuine. He said that Matthes judges more on performance than personality and “will be demanding in a new way."

“You’ll all enjoy him as much as we did,” Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley said.

Matthes will be paid $150,000 per year, plus health benefits and a car allowance. This is slightly less than what Bill Watkins received, which was $154,000 per year. Matthes earned $135,000 at his position in Des Moines.

Matthes said he was impressed with the other candidates and said he thinks he was chosen because he was the right fit for the city at this time.

“I’m at a point in my career that matches well with where the council wants to move the city government,” he said.

MU Children's Hospital patients receive pampering from Glamour-Azzi

COLUMBIA — Margaret Romph, a 7-year-old outpatient at MU Children’s Hospital had three stylists pampering her at once, two doing her hair, and one painting her nails. It was at Glamour-Azzi, an event held to give girls in the hospital a chance to feel like a “superstar” for the evening. 

“That is the Hollywood treatment right there,” is how Damon Knight, radio personality on Q106.1, described the scene in the hospital conference room where girls, their parents and stylists had gathered on Monday evening.

The idea for the event originated through the radio station Q106.1, and they teamed up with The Strand Salon and Spa to offer this special treatment to the patients.

Knight said the station’s morning show did something similar in Texas, and they wanted to bring the concept to Columbia. This was the first time that this event was held in Columbia and Knight said they hope to continue it in the future.

“I think it’s going pretty good so far,” Knight said.

Christy Huggans, co-owner of The Strand Salon and Spa and full-time stylist, also wants to continue this in the future and is interested in trying to do haircuts next time, in addition to nails, hair styling and makeup for the girls.

“From the littlest to the oldest, every girl loves getting pampered,” Huggans said.

Coordinator of Children’s Miracle Network and Children’s Hospital Special Events, Michelle Kemp, said outpatients and inpatients at the hospital who were healthy enough to come down were invited to attend the event.

Margaret was one of 10 girls that came to receive a makeover by professional stylists on Monday evening. Margaret had been a competitive cheerleader before she was paralyzed in a car accident two years ago.

“She’s in heaven right now,” her mother Sherline Romph said as Margaret smiled while looking at her new hairstyle in the mirror.

“We just want to give everybody a break from the usual hospital routine and spoil them for the day,” Knight said.