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Life is funny

One thousand four hundred fifty-six. That’s roughly the number of weeks I’ve been involved with publishing the Marion County Record. Add to that the six years Hoch Publishing Company has owned the Peabody Gazette-Bulletin and Hillsboro Star-Journal and you add another 624 newspapers. In any event, it adds up to 28 years. That’s longer than I’ve been out of high school, longer than I’ve been married. The point is — it’s a long time.

When I started thinking about writing a last editorial, I had all sorts of ideas in mind. Now that I’m sitting here facing a blank screen, it’s not so easy.

I’ve written lots of editorials. Some have made people laugh. Many have made people angry. Those were the tough ones. The funny thing is, I never knew what would set people off. When you write an editorial, you can agonize over every word in every sentence. But, the thing that will stir up people can be as mundane as the placement of a comma, the wording of a headline.

Life is funny.

Through the years I’ve gotten a few letters from folks who appreciated something I wrote or something the newspaper did. Those were few and far between, but those are the kinds of things that kept me going.

There are many, many people who have been angry about things I’ve written, decisions I’ve made. I’ve gotten letters from those folks, too. Some signed, some not. Some genuine, some just plain ugly and threatening. Those are the things that kept me up night after night.

There have been scores of supportive people along the path of my newspaper career. Family, friends, co-workers. I couldn’t begin to name them all. Sometimes words of encouragement came from the most unexpected sources. Those are the things that matter.

The critics — and there were many — were vocal. They never hesitated to tell me what a dirty, rotten, uneducated, can’t-think-for-myself, negative person I was. There are people who will never speak to me again because of something I wrote or something the paper covered. It might have been 15 or 20 years ago or 15 or 20 minutes ago. They won’t talk to me now and chances are, they still won’t speak to me 15 or 20 years from now. Those people — their opinions and their petty grudges — don’t matter.

Life is funny.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with some talented, dedicated people. Melvin Honeyfield has been here longer than I. Talk about talent and dedication. I worked here a long time before I realized Melvin didn’t actually live here and work 24/7. I will miss hearing him discuss/argue politics with Mike and Rowena.

Jean Stuchlik also has been here a long time. In her quiet, unassuming way, she’s the anchor that holds us all in place. I’ll miss sharing the grandchildren stories.

Melissa Parmley is the most organized individual I know and a great ad salesman. There’s never a dull moment in her life and I often marveled at how she keeps all those balls in the air. I’ll miss hearing all the dramatic details of her life.

Rowena Plett has been at the paper for a while as well. Although she only works part-time, I could always count on her to write stories, take photos, and turn things in on time. She made my life so much easier.

She doesn’t think so, but Susan Marshall, editor of the Peabody Gazette-Bulletin, is one of the best writers I know. She’s also fearless — a quality I highly admire. I never saw her flustered — even when she was on the hot seat about some issue. We could all take a lesson from her.

I didn’t see much of Hoch sports writers Ryan Richter and Janet Post. Ryan has an encyclopedic mind about sports. I was always in awe of all the sports information he had stored in his brain. I admit I never got to know Janet very well. Our paths didn’t cross much. I just knew she was doing her work because the sports stories came in on time and we always had awesome Janet Post photos to grace the pages of our papers.

If you’re keeping track, you might notice I left out a couple of employees.

Life is funny.

I remember interviewing Mike Norris for a sports writer position a few years ago. That same day he stopped for a bite to eat at McGillicuddy’s, where oldest daughter Jamie was working. I hired Mike and before I knew it, he became my son-in-law. He’s a great sports writer and asset to the paper. He’s also a wonderful son-in-law and father to my two grandchildren.

Susan (Cooper) Berg has a tough road ahead of her. I was thankful to add her to the staff about five years ago. She’s done a masterful job tackling local government issues and I’m sure she’ll make a fine managing editor of the Record. In another of life’s funny twists, she married my dad a few years ago. Some might think it awkward having a stepmother for an employee. We were friends first and foremost and that hasn’t changed. The best thing I can say to her is, “Good luck.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Meyer family. Bill was my mentor. He “raised me from a pup.” For whatever reason, he decided early in my employment that I was capable of running this newspaper. I was quiet and shy, with little self-confidence and absolutely no thoughts of becoming the editor of this or any newspaper.

As time went by, Bill taught me about the newspaper business and I gained some confidence. There were times when he’d remind me that I still had much to learn. I’ll never forget the time he kicked a trash can across the room and told me to “rejoin the human race.” I don’t remember what prompted the remark, but I got the message. He was the teacher, I was the pupil. The greatest compliment he ever gave me was the day he said, “You’re one of the best newspapermen I know.”

He groomed me for the position of editor and publisher. I’m sure he’d be puzzled and a little saddened by my decision to leave the paper.

The thing I know about Joan is that she is kind-hearted. It took me a long time to figure out her bark was worse than her bite. I think Eric inherited that quality from her as well.

When Matt Newhouse left here about six years ago, he called us a dysfunctional family. I guess that’s still true.

My newspaper career has come full circle. I spent my first week here, in 1980, in the back shop of the Record with Zeffie Marler, mailing JR Cigar papers. We mailed thousands of them. I don’t think I ever saw daylight that whole week. This past week, Jean was on vacation and I spent Wednesday morning mailing newspapers.

Life is funny.

So, here I am, counting down the final few days of a 28-year career. The decision to leave Hoch Publishing wasn’t an easy one. I’m not leaving in anger. I wasn’t “forced” to resign. There just comes a time when a person has to evaluate where they’ve been and where they’re going. It’s my time to figure that out.

I don’t know what the future holds. It’s a little scary. I’m searching for a job. I’ve never had to do that before. That’s also a little scary. All this uncertainty is a little stressful. It’s also exciting. After all, while life might be funny, it’s also good to remember it’s not the destination, it’s the journey that counts.

— DONNA BERNHARDT

Last modified Oct. 8, 2008

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