Thank you, Upshur County

 “West Virginia! Why would you want to move there?”

My grandmother, who had spent a short time here early in her marriage to my grandfather, did not have the most favorable impression of the Mountain State.

It could have been my grandfather’s brief stint as a coal miner or the heavy weight of the Great Depression, but she was happy to have moved on from West Virginia. Now, nearly 70 years later her youngest granddaughter was choosing to move there.

My grandmother only lived three more years after I moved to West Virginia but she got to hear all about my new home and how I loved it.

In August 2004 – and three months post college graduation – I arrived in Buckhannon to a second-floor room at the Colonial Motel. I would spend the next week there while my apartment was readied. During the day I was in the Delta office and at night I was in the hotel room watching the Summer Olympics. OK, I spent my first night in Buckhannon sobbing into my pillow wondering why I had moved so far away. It did get better after that.

In the newspaper office, I spent my first few days cleaning out my desk from its previous occupant. (I vow to leave my desk clear of clutter even if it takes me all night.)

My first published story was an update on the renovations at Buckhannon-Upshur High School including the construction of a new auxiliary gym.

My second and third stories came from my first ever Buckhannon City Council I would cover. Mitch Tacy was announced as the new fire chief – and would go on to serve for the next decade. I would also be thrust into the middle of a discussion about city firefighters pay raises. I was in way over my head and felt like I walked in on a conversation midway through. I came back from the meeting and a coworker helped me spend time in the morgue – newspaper speak for our archives – digging up past stories so I could start to make sense of what they talked about.

By Sunday, I had a grasp on the issue and both my city council stories were published in Monday’s Delta.

One of the firefighters, the late Joey Bennett, actually came in the office to thank me for the story.  Whew! I was just glad to know I hadn’t screwed up any of the facts.

I saved those stories and many more from my first year in a scrapbook. Eventually, I realized that I couldn’t keep making scrapbooks because they took up too much room. 

Fourteen years later,  I know what needs to be done and I do it. Nothing surprises me any more. I  always tell new reporters to never assume anything.

There’s monotony in the constant news cycle. There may be new faces but it’s always the same type of story. I write the same crime stories over and over and over…just insert different names. Often, it’s the same person over and over and over. I cover the same meetings with mostly the same issues. If a new issue comes up, it’s usually just a spin on something that was written about previously.

There’s also comfort in that. I know that every May, Barbara Murray will ask me to write a preview of her Cancer Survivors Day celebration held the first weekend in June. In June, I will do a story on the historical society summer exhibit – one of my favorites because I love history.

In February, there is French Creek Freddie to report on.

Then there is the West Virginia Strawberry Festival – my favorite week of the year. I love the traditions of the opening ceremony, the sparkle of the coronation, the fun at the parades – all five of them.

I love being in the schools and taking pictures and seeing the kids in the stores afterwards. They always point me out to their mom or dad: “Hey, she took my picture!”

I love being a judge at the spelling bee which The Record Delta sponsors every January.

In later years, I have enjoyed sports photography. That has become one of my favorite things to cover. With the help of a borrowed lens, I have shot some pretty cool soccer, volleyball and basketball shots.

There was always the thrill of getting a good scoop, of helping someone get the assistance they needed, of telling the stories of people in the community who do good things. Once I helped someone establish his paternity and get visitation with his son.

Of course, there were sad things that happened in my time here. It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. There have been rough days.

I’ve cried at the scenes of fatal wrecks, at the Sago Mine Disaster and in my office after receiving word that someone I knew in the community had passed away.

We have experienced loss and heartache in our own Delta office.

I’ve made mistakes – many mistakes. I hope I have learned and done better next time.

I have spent hours and hours of my life sitting at this desk. There have been many late nights and some all-nighters, especially in recent months as my responsibilities doubled. For years, I have sacrificed my personal life, missing out on time with family and friends. There were many, many times where I would go away for a weekend only to spend a lot of it holed up in a room trying to finish the stories I knew had to be done for Monday’s paper.

I worked very hard and it was my choice to do that. I don’t regret it. However, at the end of my life, I want to remember time spent with family and friends — not the stories I wrote.

There are so many memories to take with me. The Sunday after the derecho, I spent the day at Robin Keough’s house working on a borrowed laptop to write a story on the storm while my editor figured out how to charge his laptop on a car battery so we could still get out a paper.

A few months later, we had to contend with Superstorm Sandy but thankfully the power was on at the office.

Lastly, I was part of a team that won first place General Excellence 12 years in a row for our division and I will always be proud of the work we did.

I want to say thank you to this community for welcoming me and hope that I was able to return the favor in my volunteer efforts. After 14 years, Buckhannon is more home to me than my hometown. When I was without power and water for a week after the derecho, I bounced from house to house.  

Thank you to the first responders for always being courteous. I know the last thing you wanted to do after returning from a bad wreck or fire was answer questions from the media, but you did. 

Thank you to the people who trusted me with your problems or your joys enough to let me write about them. I will always love my time as a journalist and part of me will always be a journalist — wanting to dig deeper to get to the bottom of an issue. As I transition to the next part of my life, I know the lessons learned here in my first real-world job, a career that lasted just over 14 years will stay with me. Please continue to support local journalism outlets.  There are lots of great, hardworking people dedicated to keeping Upshur County informed. I was happy to be a part of one outlet for so long.