Archive for Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Departing news editor recalls highs, lows at The Mirror

March 28, 2007

I left the office Friday afternoon with my key ring two keys lighter.

It was my last day as news editor of The Mirror newspaper of Tonganoxie.

Words I never thought would come from me -- "I'm leaving" -- had sprung up a couple of weeks earlier.

I've loved my work at The Mirror these past 7 3/4 years. In fact from time to time, I had envisioned myself as a working news editor some 30 years from now, holding down the fort as an octogenarian.

But things change, and in my instance, it was a writer's job opening at Kansas University Endowment. I applied knowing it was a win-win situation. If I got the new job, fine. And if I didn't, I still had a job I loved at The Mirror.

I got the job.

And so the last few weeks I've been thinking about what I'll most miss from working at The Mirror. People come first to mind. Of course my co-workers. At The Mirror, we treat each other as family. That's how it's always been with us.

Then there's a loyal reader, Annie. Each week for as long as I can remember, Annie has come into the office to buy her copy of The Mirror in person. Five years ago, I began giving Annie a potted plant each year on May Day. On my calendar is a note for that tradition to continue.

There's Jackson the dream child. I met Jackson when he was 2. He was standing, motionless, in the middle of the closed street at Tonganoxie Days, watching the cloggers kick up their heels. I lay on the street behind him to take the photo that won first place in feature photography in Kansas Press Association's annual competition. That frozen moment in time forged our friendship. Since then, Jackson has known when he came to our office that there would be a toy for him stashed in the upper right-hand drawer of my desk. Jackson will go on my calendar as well.

In my work at The Mirror I've helped track our community from the inside out.

I've covered almost every school board meeting since August 1999 -- back when enrollment was dropping, until now when enrollment has climbed and we're close to completing a $25.3 million construction project.

I've seen the community pull together to show respect for fallen soldier Cpl. Lucas Frantz. On the day of his funeral the city swept the streets and VFW members hung hundreds of flags throughout town and at the cemetery.

That's the up side of a small town -- how people pull together when times are tough.

And I've seen the other side -- gossip that can turn malicious enough to destroy careers. Through the years, there were occasions when people would ask us why we didn't write about the rumors. They should have known we could not do that. Truths we can report, rumors we can't.

Throughout my tenure at The Mirror, I've felt a sort of maternal care -- taking responsibility when it came to Tonganoxie. I wanted whenever possible for "my people" to look as good in print as they did in person.

And I learned just how many interesting people there are in this area. I must thank my readers, but particularly my father, for giving me story ideas. Dad would call up, having asked permission from the people he met, to tell me about interesting people who would make great stories.

As I leave, I realize I will miss knowing the community inside out. I will miss being welcomed into the lives of people who for whatever reason are in the news. I will miss driving north on County Road 25 each day, and viewing the Tonganoxie valley from the top of the hill -- each day with awe as if I had never seen it before.

I long will remember flying over Tonganoxie in small aircraft to take photos -- once in a hired plane that seemed to sputter a bit as we topped Hubbel Hill, another in a friend's plane during the flood of 2001. I'll never forget seeing the water splashing on the plane's wheels as we readied for takeoff on the soggy grass runway. I wondered what I was getting into. But then the plane soared above the trees, I was floating, Stranger Creek looked like the Ozarks and I thought I was the luckiest person in Leavenworth County.

My job took me to other relatively high heights -- my first and only helicopter ride when Kansas Speedway opened. My first ride in the bucket of a cherry picker shortly after the war in Iraq started and the community christened a yellow ribbon. A ride with Norman Walker in a dump truck to the gravel quarry when writing about his career.

In my column, I think, my readers came to know me.

That's where I announced my marriage, talked about my son's back surgery, celebrated the graying of my hair, said goodbye to my late sister-in-law and in the early years here extolled time and time again the virtues of the beautiful countryside that surrounds Tonganoxie.

My Tonganoxie roots are strong. I graduated from Tonganoxie High School in 1971. A walk through the cemeteries for me is like perusing the old high school yearbooks -- or walking along Fourth Street decades ago.

My work drew me into the community -- to events I might not have otherwise attended. I attended every St. Patrick's Day parade, every Memorial Day celebration, every fair parade, and most of the high school graduations.

The things I won't miss are night meetings, other evening events, working late on Tuesdays and scheduling weekend family activities around events I was going to cover.

For me, working at The Mirror was truly a seven-day-a-week job. If I wasn't working, I knew, if something came up that had to be covered, that was part of my job. No different in that respect from the dairy farmer down the road or the school administrator who takes care of the flock. Even though I won't miss being available round the clock, I will miss being at the newspaper -- the heartbeat of the community.

But change is good, a friend recently told me. And another friend said last week that "The Mirror will go on without you." So aptly put.

And so it was with a positive view of change in mind that Friday I turned over my keys to The Mirror and walked out the door.

All in all, it's been a great career at The Mirror and I thank my readers, co-workers, and The World Company, for providing the opportunity to spend 7 3/4 years reflecting on life in my own hometown.

What a privilege it has been.

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