Natalie Shaak ’05

My first week on campus, I walked into my first Snapper meeting.  As an English major, I knew it was the place for me. I never knew the impact it would have on me outside of just writing.

While I have countless memories of late nights in the SMC basement, eating more Sugar Bowl than anyone should consume and spending time with friends, it was that first year which impacted me most.

I started as a copy editor and quickly moved to entertainment. There was some drama and some parties (my first at the ‘Ville but certainly not the last), and I met the friends that would stick with me through good times and bad. I made friends who impacted me inside and outside the office, but one in particular I think about more than a decade after my time at the ‘Ville – my first editor-in-chief, Mike Kaire.

Mike was tall, lanky and slightly awkward, but he was passionate and an incredible photographer. I don’t remember much about those first late nights except arguing with Mike almost weekly about something. None of it was important in the grand scheme of our work, but our weekly repartee was just part of The Snapper experience.

We butted heads. Yet somehow we understood each other. He was the first to teach me publication layout, which I still use professionally. He offered advice when I took my first photography class that spring. Despite the fighting and frustration, I looked up to Mike, yet never told him.

He pushed us to do the best paper possible, but he never forgot to have fun. My favorite memory of him was the late night “Snapper toss” where we took turns chucking stacks of old papers as far as we could. He took it so seriously. I found his strength impressive for someone so scrawny.

One night, we sat perched on the tank-like metal desks that filled the office. Editor selection for the upcoming year was in a few weeks, and he asked me what position I planned to run for. I don’t think I was certain but mentioned that someday I wanted to be editor-in-chief. He turned to me with a serious look in his eyes and said, “ You would make a great editor-in-chief.” Surprisingly, that is one of the conversations that stuck with me most over the years.

While I never became editor-in-chief, I went on to hold other roles on staff the next three years including webmaster, managing editor, business manager and photo editor, the final two both during my senior year, while an RA and sorority member.

As the year ended, Mike took a photography job at The Courier in Houma, Louisiana,  and moved to Thibodaux in September. We said our non-emotional goodbyes at the end-of-the-year Snapper dinner. That was the last time I talked to him.

Shaak photo
Natalie Shaak Natalie Shaak / Snapper

I remember the call clearly; it would not be the last I received delivering bad news on my Lenhardt dorm phone. As I packed for winter break, waiting for my dad to pick me up after finals, a Snapper member called and delivered the news.

Mike was dead, murdered in his apartment by a man with a baseball bat on Friday, December 13, 2002. I was stunned. It made no sense. He would never hurt anyone. Yet he was taken in such a brutal way, by a man who only gave the reason that “he wanted to know what it felt like to kill someone.”

I was shaken by Mike’s death. It was the first of a friend my age, and I regretted not keeping in touch or telling him how much I looked up to him.

I attended his memorial service with Snapper members and listened as Intelligencer and Courier staff spoke of his talent and impact. His Louisiana staff worked with him a few short months, but it was evident by their insistence on travelling to Lancaster for the service that he impacted them too.

Afterward I approached his family with a sympathy card and introduced myself to his sister, also named Natalie. Immediately her eyes lit up and a huge smile stretched across her face. She said, “Natalie! Mike talked about you all the time.” Then she hugged me.

I always assumed I annoyed him, but she said he spoke highly of me when he mentioned the paper. The feeling in that moment, and every time I think of it, cannot begin to be described.

I will never forget Mike. Every time I pick up a camera or school newspaper or hear a Moby song, which he requested every Tuesday night from the WIXQ techno radio show, I will remember his passion, talent and positive spirit. I hope he would be proud of the work I did for The Snapper and how I developed over the years.