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Reprinted from: Green Bay Press-Gazette

November 13, 2005

When you think of Teresa, smile


By Andy Behrendt

Photographers always seem to want people to smile, and Teresa Halbach led by example.

Even now, after the apparent atrocity that took her life, I can't picture Teresa without a smile on her face. She always seemed to be having a good time with the people around her. She was adventurous and ambitious. The world and its challenges never seemed too big for her.

In the one year I knew Teresa, while I was editor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay's student newspaper, I can't think of a single instance when she wasn't smiling. Janet Brahm told me the same thing Thursday as I was making the rounds calling some of Teresa's old friends.

Janet, who was one of the photographers on our staff when Teresa was assistant photo editor, said she started looking at an old portfolio and found the photo she had taken of Teresa for the newspaper's send-off to its graduates. It was haunting because Janet has asked Teresa to wave like she was saying goodbye. The comforting part is that, of course, Teresa was smiling.

When Teresa started as a photographer on the newspaper, the Fourth Estate, in fall 2001, she listed her life goal as becoming a photojournalist for National Geographic. At the end of the year, on the graduate send-off page, she had changed her outlook a bit. "I just want to be financially comfortable, enjoy life and see the world," she said.

Her first big assignment for the paper was shooting the dedication for Mary Ann Cofrin Hall on campus. For whatever reason, I put one of my own lousy photos of the vent on the front page and only used one of her many professional-quality pictures inside. Pour frustrated photo editor, Beth Wanninger, quickly helped me realize my stupidity. But when I apologized, Teresa had no signs of a bruised ego and told me it was no bid deal as I recall, she even smiled.

I had learned to rely on Teresa by the next semester when actor-comedian Jimmy Fallon performed for the student body on the night of our weekly deadline. Fallon's show allowed us no flash photography, and our digital cameras were useless without a flash. Teresa stepped up with her old-school film camera and by the end of the night hand-developed some top-quality pictures of Fallon's performance for our front page.

We all remember Teresa being up to any challenge. Some of her photographer friends shared with me that their professor complained of seeing the same pictures over and over again. But while others were taking pictures of birds at the wildlife sanctuary, Teresa would photograph "ghosts" at spooky-looking buildings by having someone move in front of a camera that we set at a low shutter speed.

Beth, our photo editor, told me she tried the same trick in tribute to Teresa at a farm in the Madison area on Thursday night, Teresa's had turned out better, she said.

Teresa disappeared on Halloween, which is especially chilling when I consider that the one time I hung out with her outside the newspaper setting was at a small Halloween party. It was a rare occasion when I took the time to step away from the aggravating work I had to do and really appreciate the people around me. I wish now that I had done that more.

But Teresa mastered that, as all her colleagues recall. While strong-willed, passionate about her work and sometimes piercingly honest, she would always take the time to encourage people and make them feel good about themselves.

And forever smiling, she always seemed to be having fun. Many of her college friends remember seeing her at work at The Picture People in Bay Park Square mall in Ashwaubenon while wearing the employees' standard propeller-topped beanie hat. She would be posing crying kids with crabby parents and trying to make them smile. She seemed to enjoy every minute of it silly hat and all.

In talking with her friends, I've been assured that Teresa was not indeed smiling all the time. She had rough days. She even cried. But she kept her focus and smiled again. And somewhere, we believe, she's smiling once more.

Even now, through a lens of sorrow, it's hard not to focus on her smile. Because with or without her camera, Teresa spread her smile to so many of us.

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