Due For a Review
You might not have known that I’ve been on probation for the past three months. I’ve been trying to keep my activities under the radar this past week as to not draw attention to the fact that I reached the 90-day mark of my employment as news editor of the Rocket-Courier on June 27. I figured that, if I didn’t make a big deal about it, the Keelers might actually forget and allow me to keep doing what I’ve been doing—because I truly love this job.
Joking aside, my relationship with David and Nancy Keeler has been exceptional—not just on a professional level but also a personal one. They have been more than understanding about the dual life that I have maintained since my arrival, as I continue to look for buyers for a house and business in Lancaster County so that I can fully realize my potential here. The Keelers have accommodated my need to return to the Lancaster area as necessary, and, when the computer board in my pickup truck broke down, David loaned me his Jeep until it could be fixed.
The good news on that end is that I have made arrangements to temporarily move into a family-owned property in Terry Township, which will put me closer to the core of our operations here and help me to avoid the increasingly heavy traffic between Tunkhannock and Wyalusing each morning.
Any milestone, even the end of a standard probationary period of employment, is cause for reflection in my book. I pulled all of the editions of the Rocket-Courier to which I have contributed since March to remind myself of how much I have learned since I came back to the area, as well as how much I have enjoyed applying the writing techniques that I have developed over the years to a variety of topics that require me to learn something new every day. What follows is a fairly chronological overview of the stories and columns that I have written so far and my reflections on the same.
The first article that I was assigned was an introduction to the readers of the new Wyalusing Area School District (WASD) superintendent, Chester Mummau, who will step into Ray Fleming’s shoes in September. I believe that Mummau, who also has ties with Lancaster County, will be a great addition to the WASD administrative staff, and, in the meantime, I have appreciated Ray’s professional approach to any story-related topic that I proposed to him and will miss working with him.
I appreciated the opportunity to meet the movers and shakers of Herrick Township—home to many a Hiduk through the years—at the annual HOPS Ambulance Association banquet. I was eager to work with Patty Otis and Cora Sutton in nearby Camptown to address possible solutions to erosion and other problems caused by fluctuating water tables there, even though there has unfortunately not been much action taken to resolve the issues.
The alarming epidemic of bath salts-related crimes that was creeping down the river valley from the Sayre and Athens area to Towanda prompted us to devote much of the April 7 edition of the paper to efforts by state and local lawmakers to ban the sale of bath salts and other synthetic drugs, as well as to inform parents about the situation. Sadly, after several months without significant stories released concerning the scourge, bath salts crimes reared their ugly heads in recent weeks in both Monroeton and Wyalusing.
I have observed and absorbed much from my weekly attendance to Bradford County Commissioners meetings, which I continue to view as the public’s most accessible and viable forum for bringing important issues to the forefront. I appreciate my association with each of the commissioners, whom I feel are genuinely civil with me, even though I have sometimes disagreed with their opinions or approaches to some issues. Conversely, I have enjoyed my acquaintance with a variety of advocates for numerous causes, including gas-drilling issues. I’ve learned that I can maintain a neutral perspective while being congenial to the people on both sides of an issue, no matter how contentious the topic may be.
I complained along with everyone else about a winter that just wouldn’t quit that evolved into a spring with excessive rains, high winds, and high water. Then, it suddenly became hot, which seemed to melt the whining right out of us.
In Wyalusing, we watched the drawn-out demolition of the former Welles Mill complex and the steady increase in traffic on Route 6 through Wysox and Towanda. We shared our concerns about deteriorating roads and advocated for their restoration, only to be dealing now with the seemingly simultaneous overhaul of every other road and bridge in our four-county coverage area. Despite the detours, more people are smiling again, and one can’t deny that some stretches of highway, including the completed part of Wyalusing/New Albany Road, provide a nicer drive than it has in years.
Wyalusing was struck by an abnormally high number of business break-ins in April that police neither publicly reported nor adequately pursued. Despite a lack of cooperation with investigators, the Rocket-Courier made the decision to publish all of the information that we could collect about the burglaries because we felt strongly that the public deserved to know what was going on. In my interviews with owners and managers of the shops and eateries that were affected, I heard repeatedly, “We don’t care (so much) if there is ever an arrest. We just want it to stop.” And—knock on wood—it has.
I met the Ballards, a charming pair of pastors who coordinated their graduations and receipt of their respective Doctorate in Theology degrees, and I had the opportunity to work closely with our Wyoming and Susquehanna County writers, D.C. Koviack and Ann Whynman, to produce back-to-back election issues that I felt rivaled any attempts by other area publications to do the same.
As the end of the school year approached, I had the privilege of visiting three of the four WASD elementary schools that were slated to close their doors forever in June as part of a grand consolidation that I truly believe will provide so much more for the children, despite the longer bus ride to school.
I have been reacquainted with a number of people in the area whom I had not seen since my school days here, including Towanda High School Class of 1980 graduates Kim Kulick, who now works for the Progress Authority in Towanda, and Cynthia Beers Ackley, who works for WASD. I regret that I haven’t had a minute to visit one of the few old schoolmates—David Martin—with whom I had maintained contact. I’ve taken on the uncomfortable responsibility of writing up police stories about long-time acquaintances, something that former news editor Wes Skillings told me was inevitable. But, I’ve also been humbled and even somewhat embarrassed to realize that some people in the area remember or know more about me than I of them, including Wyalusing Relay for Life honorary chairperson Jan Bouse-Stoddard, who had been my sister’s Sunday school teacher when we both attended New Albany Baptist Church in the ’70s.
With the May 26 edition, I dove deeply into the controversial world of Marcellus shale drilling to investigate the impact that the industry has on different areas within our readership. I did so in part to learn as much as I could about the industry and how it affects so much more than just the economy, but also to show that perspectives on the gas boom vary greatly from one community to another. Unfortunately, the final installment in the five-part series, which focuses on the Wyalusing area, is on hold this week due to an unexpected glitch. Nonetheless, as I wrap up the series next week, I will also sum up what I have learned about the past, present, and future of gas drilling in the Endless Mountains with a companion column.
Even more so than the people I have met and interviewed for these stories, I have come to appreciate our readers more than any other aspect of this job. I’m not simply referring to the fact that you readers buy the paper and support our advertisers, I’m genuinely impressed by the active role that you take with the paper and the topics I have written about and comments that I have made that I can, quite honestly, forget within a matter of weeks because my job requires that I keep moving toward the future.
It had never occurred to me that, when I was asked if I could produce a weekly column, people might actually find it interesting enough to take up conversations with me on the street about the things that I had written. I can’t help but be concurrently honored and amused that I went from “Colonoscopy Man” to “the Cat Guy” in the course of two weeks. I thank you for that, and I encourage your continued involvement with our publication, which I regard as a news magazine that chronicles important and interesting events in a manner that daily publications simply can’t do.
So, all of that being said, if I’m still here next week, my period of probation is over, and I’m here for the long haul.