When You Come to a Fork in the River, Take It

The river calls

The river calls

Farewell column for the T-G

Oct. 31, 2013

Thirty-three years ago I came to Ashland County to go canoeing with a group of friends. I had no particular interest in canoeing, I just came along for the ride. But, the second the canoe settled into the water, I knew this was what I wanted to do.

As the canoe floated downstream, it felt as though I’d entered another world — gliding beneath a canopy of maple and sycamore leaves, banks draped in wildflowers, steep forested hills peeking through in the distance. I knew this was where I wanted to be.

I returned many times during the next 17 years. At first, it was a few weekends in the summer. Then I started coming in the spring and fall — and eventually the winter.

Mostly, I came to canoe. Sometimes I’d stop off on my travels between Cleveland and Columbus for lunch or a quick hike in Mohican Memorial State Forest. Or I’d pick up a newspaper or stop at the Loudonville Public Library to read up on local history.

The more I visited, the more I wanted to be here. In the summer of 1997, the Times-Gazette ran a want ad in the Columbus Dispatch for a city government reporter. I sent in a few story clippings and a crude résumé and landed an interview with Gere Goble, who was editor at the time.

For some odd reason, she hired me. Maybe she was impressed that I had spent 14 years at Cuyahoga Community College.

It was a big adjustment at first — for me and the Times-Gazette. I hadn’t worked for a daily newspaper before. Or in a real office, with coworkers, bosses and schedules. Eventually, I got used to all that. And my bosses and coworkers got used to my eccentric behavior and strange handwriting (after I explained to them that it was shorthand).

In time, the people on my beat and Times-Gazette readers got used to me, too.

That also took some adjustment. Mostly on my part.

In this job, it’s not so much about figuring out what we do as why we do it. It took a little while but I figured out that journalism isn’t about journalists. It’s about the people we cover. It’s about telling their stories fairly and accurately as possible.

Through telling your stories, I’ve become a part of the community that I was drawn to 33 years ago. Thank you for trusting me to tell your stories. And thank you for trusting me to spell your names right. Most of the time.

In the past 16 years, we’ve shared joy, pain, some laughter and, yes, a few tears.

My father told me the hardest thing about getting old is watching your friends die. This job exposes you to that. During my watch, some people I had come to know and admire died. And there were those I came to know through death by natural causes or tragic circumstances. They were never faceless statistics to me.

Over the years, I wrote many eulogies. Not just for people considered pillars of the community, but for common folk, such as Richard Baumgardner, a much-beloved regular at Friendly’s on Claremont Avenue. And John and Peggy Edwards, owners of Nardini’s restaurant on Church Street. To me, writing their eulogies was the most sacred of trusts — to do them justice, to put into words the essence of who they were and what they meant to us.

During my watch, a number of local institutions also were laid to rest, including Nardini’s and Friendly’s. Richard would have been devastated.

On the other hand, there were a few happy endings, such as the eleventh-hour wrangling earlier this year that kept the prized Thornburg insect collection in Ashland.

When word spread about my impending retirement, people began to speculate about the fate of the Times-Gazette. I wouldn’t be too concerned. The Times-Gazette survived 150 years without me. And 16 years in spite of me.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the river is calling.

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