Reasons & Remarks – Future & Past

Newly appointed editor-in-chief takes the reins of PN magazine

My name is Al Kovach Jr., and I start July 1 as PVA Publications’ 10th editor-in-chief. 

You might remember my name from a few years ago when I served as Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) national president from 2014 to 2017. Back then, I was submitting monthly columns for PVA From the Top, which I hope you enjoyed. If not, I’m sorry to report that as the new editor-in-chief for PVA Publications, you’ll be subjected to many more of my monthly editorials in PN and SPORTS ’N SPOKES.  

I never pursued a degree in journalism, nor would I consider myself a great writer, but as Discovery Channel series Dirty Jobs host Mike Rowe says, “Not all knowledge comes from college.”

I do have a 30-year history with PVA and have been involved at the highest levels of the organization, including PVA Publications. As a matter of fact, as PVA’s national president, I hired the previous editor-in-chief, Tom Fjerstad, in 2017.

Tom was so enthusiastic about his new job that very few things mattered to him outside of his role, with the exception of his twin sons, Ben and Noah. In June 2019, I had the pleasure of joining Tom and his sons for a scuba diving excursion in Bonaire, a little island off the coast of Venezuela.

Between the multiple daily dives and fruity drinks spiked with Caribbean rum, Tom shared with me the many things he wanted to accomplish in regard to PN and SPORTS ’N SPOKES. Unfortunately, many of those grand ideas never came to fruition due to his diagnosis with a rare and aggressive form of leukemia in 2021. 

Most people in Tom’s situation would be focused on their own survival, yet between the many rounds of chemotherapy, he worried about the magazines and who would succeed him as editor-in-chief. It has been the tradition at PVA Publications that each editor-in-chief picks his successor.  

Unexpectedly, I received a call from Tom asking me to assume the role as the magazines’ editor-in-chief in the event his health prohibited him from doing so. Without giving much thought as to how this would impact my wife and two daughters in the long term, I immediately assured my friend that I would do whatever it took to make sure the magazines would continue to thrive in his absence.

It wasn’t long after that phone call that Tom began to drop clues he was struggling and remission wasn’t guaranteed. Likewise, I was beginning to realize my exuberant response to Tom’s request might have been shortsighted. After all, I still hadn’t told my wife about my commitment to Tom, and if his condition didn’t improve, I might actually be the next editor-in-chief. Oh, and by the way, commuting to my new office would require the use of an airplane and many nights in hotels.

Tom called me on Dec. 8, 2022, and considering his circumstances, we both knew it was going to be the last time we had a chance to speak with one another. Tom was beset with fatigue and seemed to have no desire to reminisce or get mushy. He was brief and simply offered me some encouragement as the incoming editor-in-chief.  It lasted no more than a minute — that’s it. Tom passed away the next morning with his two sons and former wife and caregiver, Cindy, at his side.  

There are no words to describe the feeling I have in regards to filling Tom’s shoes, and assuming I can match his proficiency would be foolish on my part. But, give me some time. I realize that just because I’m passionate about this new job doesn’t mean I won’t suck at it.

As PVA’s national president, I wrote 36 articles for PN, the first of which triggered a complaint from a reader who subsequently canceled his subscription. Honestly, I don’t mind being criticized; I’m just glad someone is paying attention.

Fortunately, PVA Publications has a professional staff that’s been producing great magazines with quality content for decades. With that being said, as the new editor-in-chief, I’m looking forward to the future and feeling grateful for the past. 

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