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Edgerton journalist, historian unexpectedly dies at work

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Neil Johnson
June 12, 2013

— The sun cut through the hazy June air and reflected on the streets of downtown Edgerton on Tuesday morning. The smell of morning coffee and bacon wafted from a diner, mingling with the scent of bright pink flowers hanging in pots from the lampposts all along Fulton Street.

Outside the Edgerton Reporter newspaper office on Henry Street, from high in a tree above a shaded park bench, a finch sang a three-note tale. Two boys rode past on bicycles, laughing and sweating in the sun.

It was as timeless a summer day as any in Edgerton.

Edgerton Reporter staff reporter Mark Scarborough might have waxed poetic about this morning in his hometown. But Scarborough—journalist, historian, poet, teacher and Edgerton native—did not get to see the simple beauty of his downtown on Tuesday.

Scarborough died unexpectedly Monday evening after an apparent seizure while he was on break at work, co-workers at the newspaper said. He was 53.

Scarborough was sitting on a park bench outside The Reporter news office, visiting with three other colleagues, when he suddenly became quiet. He then went into a seizure, his co-workers said.

Scarborough was taken to Edgerton Hospital, where hospital staff tried to resuscitate him for nearly an hour, Everson said. The efforts were unsuccessful. The cause of Scarborough's death was still unclear Tuesday.

Co-workers at The Reporter grappled Tuesday morning with the shock of Scarborough's death as they scrambled to meet deadline to publish Wednesday's edition.

While employees worked, Scarborough's chair remained empty, yet every inch of his desk remained piled high with a mess of books, papers, months-old news page proofs, odd curios and old black-and-white photos of Edgerton.

Scarborough's desk provides a snapshot of a man who threw himself into his work as a news reporter, writer and local historian—and never threw any of it away.

Mixed in with books on vampires, Babe Ruth and boxer Jack Dempsey were a John Wilkes Booth bobble-head doll, a faded portrait of Scarborough's mother and stacks of journalism awards.

There were children's books from the Edgerton Book and Film Festival—an annual adult and children's book festival centered on local-born author Sterling North that Scarborough had worked tirelessly to help organize.

Hidden somewhere on the desk were ancient photos that colleagues said are the finishing touch for a book Scarborough wrote on Edgerton's history. He'd recently submitted the book to a publisher.

Edgerton Reporter Publisher Diane Everson said the newspaper plans to do all it can to get Scarborough's book published posthumously.

She said it's the least the paper could do for someone who's made such a huge impact in his community in such a short time.

Scarborough wrote for the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Reporter newspaper for 17 years, published poetry and local history books, and was a high school English teacher in Wisconsin Rapids before moving back to Edgerton four years ago to write for the Edgerton Reporter.

Although his involvement as a booster for local festivals, a champion of local history and literacy could make Scarborough's work as a news reporter seem like a footnote. Not so.

Everson and others at the paper say Scarborough brought an asset to the newspaper that few reporters for small newspapers possess: He had the aggressiveness, fearlessness and tenacity of a pit bull when it came to getting an important story.

Scarborough was apt to stand up in the middle of an Edgerton City Council meeting and voice his displeasure if he felt officials weren't following open meetings or open records rules. He made it no secret that he'd balk if he caught wind of the city planning to demolish any of its historic properties.

City administrator Ramona Flanigan said Scarborough's penchant for confrontation was something she'd never before seen from the local media.

"Initially, it was … wow. It was very interesting. You'd think, ‘OK, how do I address that,'" Flanigan said.

She said Scarborough knew open records and open meetings law up and down, and he'd call frequently to press the city for transparency in public matters. Flanigan said he was always polite, yet relentless.

"He'd keep you on the straight and narrow," she said.

Yet, where Scarborough's aggressiveness left off, his kind spirit took over, colleagues said.

Co-workers said if they had cake, Scarborough would run out to get milk to go with it. If they had pie, he'd get them ice cream.

Flanigan said it makes her sad to think that what's happening now in Edgerton is history that Scarborough will never be able to collect.

"Imagine if he'd lived to 85, what kind of perspective he'd have had on this city's history," she said.

Tuesday, co-workers recalled Scarborough's first foray at The Reporter. He was a junior-high student in Edgerton when he learned that Democratic U.S. Sen. George McGovern was stopping by The Reporter.

Scarborough skipped school that day and snuck into the newsroom. He couldn't resist witnessing history—and news—in the making.

Everson said that Scarborough possessed acumen and fascination with his hometown that The Reporter likely will never replace.

"I wish that when we wanted to know something, we could just channel Mark," she said. "We need him."



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