PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. - Local 10 News journalists are trained to cover heart-breaking tragedies. They perform their duties under stress even when they are in pain, and they often mourn with the community. It wasn't any different on Monday when the newsroom lost one of their own.
At 56, Todd Tongen, a beloved Local 10 News veteran, died at home in Broward County's town of Southwest Ranches. For Jeff Weinsier, an investigative reporter who has been with Local 10 News for 25 years, Tongen was not just a colleague. He was a friend and a partner in crime.
"He was our prankster," Weinsier said, adding Tongen was always "the life of our party."
Weinsier was working feet away from Tongen's empty desk. He stopped typing to watch the 4 p.m. obituary on Local 10 News. Michael Putney, a senior political reporter, worked on a short biography that included shots of Tongen dressed like Superman, impersonating Elvis and doing interviews while driving the former 10 Taxi. Weinsier laughed and cried.
"He was an anchor. He was a feature reporter, a hard news reporter," Weinsier said. "He was everything, and there’s going to be a huge void in this building, and there is going to be a huge void in South Florida."
The father of two knew how to allow his inner child to have fun. If there was someone in the newsroom who would volunteer to wear a turkey costume on camera to greet Publix Supermarket costumers during the Thanksgiving food drive, assignment desk managers and producers could count on him.
Kerry Weston, an assignment desk manager, worked with Tongen for three decades. She said she knows the five stages of grief and loss include denial and isolation, bargaining, depression and acceptance. She expects that it will take about three or four months for the newsroom team to reach the low point of grief.
On Monday afternoon, Weston already missed him. She said she remembers his coverage of Hurricane Andrew and his willingness to go on risky adventures such as sky diving. Not matter what the story was about, she said he faced it with the same intensity, interest and commitment to the facts. But his best stories, she said, were the lighthearted stories.
"He would just bring a smile to your face or a tear, because he knew how to tell a story, how to weave a story, weave the video and the sound bytes," Weston said. "He was a very, very good story teller."
Tongen also had the brave heart of an entertainer, and the photographers who worked with him knew they were going to laugh if they had the opportunity to spend the day with him. William Damas, who worked with Tongen for two decades, said some of his best memories in the newsroom are with him.
"It was always fun to be with him in every aspect, not matter what the story was," said Damas, the chief photographer.
His positive attitude also made him a good team player. Bob Palumbo, a veteran photographer, said Tongen's quick wit and creativity were always on full display and it showed in their stories.
"I do my best work with Todd Tongen," Palumbo said. "He always brings out the best of me."
Yelena Orrelly, an associate producer, said Tongen had become a paternal figure for the weekend team. She said she saw how he coached the younger more inexperienced producers and helped them to avoid mistakes and stay motivated.
"Todd walked in and made us omelets. He put a smile on our face every morning and made us feel like we weren’t little kids," Orrelly said. "He made us feel we were a star team. He always appreciated us every single day."
On Friday, during the annual My Future My Choice Big Book Drive distribution Tongen brought that same joy to schools in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Everyone in the newsroom trusted him and his weekend co-anchor Neki Mohan with the mission. The Local 10 News team knew his silly ways were going to brighten teachers' days and make children smile.
This is how I will always remember Todd. My creative Soulmate and just a really great guy. Thanks to all of you who have reached out . Still in shock. https://t.co/1ZEwOdJNSa @TTongenWPLG pic.twitter.com/bTVit4UFnZ — Neki Mohan (@NekiMohan) June 3, 2019
Related social media:
Todd took over Neighborhood Weather at WPLG from me in 1990. He was kind and funny and the life of the newsroom. It was wonderful to see him still there with the same spirit when I came back last year. His passing is a tremendous loss for South Florida and all of us at Ch. 10. https://t.co/5gC8p4HKWv — Bryan Norcross (@bnorcross) June 3, 2019
An incredible mentor and co-anchor. The kind of person who you would go out of your way to see just because you know he’d make you laugh. Keeping his family in my thoughts today.
Rest In Peace, Todd. You’re incredibly missed.https://t.co/jqNB3F0MGw pic.twitter.com/b831CONpZu — Brandon Orr (@BrandonOrrWPLG) June 3, 2019
Still numb at the news of Todd Tongen’s death. Just hard to believe. As funny, kind and talented as they come. An incredibly proud father. My condolences and prayers to Karen and their sons Tyler and Ryker. — Will Manso (@WillManso) June 3, 2019
I still don’t want to believe that this is a reality. So heartbreaking. Todd Tongen was an extraordinary talent. Just a wonderful person full of love and light. He would always put a smile on your face. My heart goes out to his family. His wife and 2 boys. RIP Todd https://t.co/JqzvqCnj3q — Alex Finnie (@alexfinnieWPLG) June 3, 2019
So full of life, always making us laugh. It just doesn’t seem real.
This is so unexpected and I’m at a loss. I hope you know how loved you are ... Thoughts and prayers are with the Tongen family. https://t.co/kEzipGlcT3 — Andrew J. Perez (@AndrewPerezWPLG) June 3, 2019
At a loss for words right now... @TTongenWPLG was just as funny and caring off-air as he was on-air. Always making people laugh, bringing a smile to the @WPLGLocal10 newsroom. He will be greatly missed... https://t.co/VNeFbEK0tH — Trent Kelly (@TrentKellyWPLG) June 3, 2019
I’m speechless. He was a rockstar. Few are as genuine as he was. I always told him I aspired to be more like him. Rest in peace Todd.https://t.co/YKMHRCExp4 — Christian De La Rosa (@delarosaWPLG) June 3, 2019
Truly devastating news for all of my @WPLGLocal10 colleagues. This was totally unexpected.
We will remember the years of crafty storytelling & many humorous Todd Tongen moments. https://t.co/YXw0ZXPOc2 — Terrell Forney (@TerrellWPLG) June 3, 2019
Friends, we are beyond sad to share this news of a friend and colleague so full of life and love ... so smart, talented and fun..
This is one tough day ...
“Todd Tongen, beloved member of Local 10 family since 1989, dead at 56 https://t.co/jC4wj3vbrI “ — Glenna Milberg (@GlennaWPLG) June 3, 2019
Feels like a nightmare but sadly, it’s the truth. Our beloved @TTongenWPLG, everyone’s friend, incredible storyteller, with personality to spare, has passed suddenly. Please pray for his family, particularly his wife & sons, who are going through the worst thing right now. https://t.co/WYufSuOG9S — Liane Morejon WPLG (@LianeWPLG) June 3, 2019
Devastated & heartbroken 💔 Todd was the life of the party, hilarious, sweet, humble and so kind. He brightened up every room he entered. Rest in Peace dear Todd, fly with the angels. 😢 Todd Tongen, beloved member of Local 10 family since 1989, dead at 56 https://t.co/5sdMfGmEpi — Sanela Sabovic (@SanelaWPLG) June 3, 2019
This morning has been one of the hardest of my short career. You’ve been an incredible mentor, co-worker, desk neighbor and most of all a friend. You are so dearly missed. My heart is broken and my thoughts are with your family. Rest In Peace, Todd. https://t.co/Y4lU5zibYs pic.twitter.com/hsMk3coT0f — Ian Margol (@IanMargolWPLG) June 3, 2019
We are shattered and heartbroken. Todd was so much more than a colleague. He was our friend. He was our brother & integral member of the @WPLGLocal10 news family. This has left a huge hole in our hearts. Please send love & prayers to his family. https://t.co/IXOzI2Gl3T — Louis Aguirre (@LOUISAGUIRRE) June 3, 2019
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