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story.lead_photo.caption Karen Atkins, Brooklyn Pizza co-owner and 13-year Fulton Sun editor, sits down for a meal at her favorite Italian restaurant in New York City's Little Italy. She and husband Brian Atkins grew up in Brooklyn and were high school sweethearts. Photo by Courtesy of Brian Atkins

Karen Atkins, co-owner of Brooklyn Pizza and former Fulton Sun editor, died due to COVID-19 late last week.

Atkins, 67, passed away Thursday evening, husband Brian Atkins shared in a public Facebook post.

"Karen loved Fulton and was so proud to be co-founder of Brooklyn Pizza," he wrote. "She hasn't been able to physically be at the restaurant in recent times due to health issues but appreciated every customer and celebrated every great review. I'll miss her terribly."

Judging by the 700 comments beneath the post, the community will as well.

Karen Atkins, born May 23, 1954, grew up in Brooklyn, New York. She and Brian both attended Canarsie High School, where their relationship began when she was 15 and he 17. The high school sweethearts married a few years later, at age 20 and 21 respectively, and moved to Manhattan.

"She's been my partner for almost 46 years," Brian Atkins said. "We didn't have friends, we had each other. We spent time together and with family and that's it."

After graduating high school, Karen began work at a department store and then got a job at an ad agency on Madison Avenue as a receptionist.

"Her boss was kinda lazy — he gave her a lot of work," Brian said. "She was really smart; she started picking up everything like a sponge."

The two moved often, as Brian worked in the hospitality and restaurant industry. Karen took other jobs in advertising and marketing along the way, eventually working as a production manager at an ad agency.

"She'd learned so much about it, and paper purchasing and inks and print that people really respected her," Brian said. "She was a little cute girl. She'd want to go on-site and watch the job, and they'd be looking at her like 'What the hell do you know?' and she'd show them what she knew."

She even operated her own ad agency for a time.

"I was so proud of her and I always told her that," Brian said. "She didn't get to go to college and always felt bad about that."

The couple had two sons: Jordan and Blake. When the children were young, Brian started thinking about his own childhood visits to rural upstate New York. A visit to a family member who lives in Tebbetts convinced the pair that Fulton would be a good place to raise their children.

Brian was managing restaurants for pizza chain Sbarro, and there happened to be two Sbarro restaurants in the Fulton area at the time. He asked for a transfer, and the family moved to Fulton in 1996.

Around 2000, Karen got a job at the Fulton Sun as the newsroom manager. Before long, she was offered the editor's position. She held the role until 2013.

"They said she could do it, and not only did she do it, she did a good job at it," Brian said.

During her time as editor, Atkins stayed focus on news that locals could use and shepherded many young journalists through the early years of their careers, including a number of interns from the University of Missouri.

"Karen was always so kind to me when I worked with her at the Fulton Sun and to my family when we enjoy your pizza," wrote Nicole Elliott, who worked for the paper in the early 2010s, in a Facebook comment beneath Brian's post.

Though not a journalist by training, Atkins was an avowed lover of animals and wrote a column called "Pet Tales."

During Atkins' time as editor, newspaper earned awards from the Missouri Press Association's annual Better Newspaper Contest, including a general excellence award in 2004. The job meant many long nights for Karen, including the occasional evening trip to the News Tribune in Jefferson City when the Fulton Sun office's computers went down.

In 2012, Brian fulfilled his longtime dream to operate his own restaurant by opening Brooklyn Pizza (501 Court Street, Fulton). Karen started working there on the weekends, and in 2013 left her job at the Fulton Sun to work there full-time. As was typical for Karen, she picked up the needed skills quickly, ultimately becoming the restaurant's manager.

The couple's children stayed close by. Jordan Atkins lives in Holts Summit with his wife, Jessica, and their three children; Blake, his wife Bonnie and their child live in Ashland.

When not on duty at Brooklyn Pizza, Karen dedicated much of her time to caring for rescued Dalmatian dogs — up to five at a time. The well-loved dogs often reached the impressive age of 14, Brian said.

According to her husband, Karen's great loves were "her grandkids, her dogs and me, in that order."

He said no public memorial services are planned. Karen's ashes will be spread on a beach in Florida, under the sun she loved.

In lieu of sending flowers, Brian suggested donating to the Callaway County Humane Society — now operating as Spay-Neuter Initiative Program and Microchip Clinic, or SNIP and Chip. Learn more at snipandchip.org.

This article was edited at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 16, 2021 to correct the name of Karen Atkins' son Blake.

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