Thursday, August 30, 2012

Passing the Torch

Passing the Torch

Jackson County Advocate owner & editor Andrea Wood reflects on moments of synchronicity during her 10 years with the newspaper, announces new ownership that will proudly continue the tradition of our hometown newspaper being family owned and operated by those who also call this area “home.”

I remember clearly the day I was hired at the Jackson County Advocate, nearly ten years ago.
Aggie Turnbaugh was sitting at her famous desk just inside the front door of the office at 5th & Main, her trusty typewriter and canine companion at her side. No job had been posted for the newspaper, and I wasn’t sure why exactly I had felt compelled to walk in with my resume. 
But I did.
Later, Aggie told me she felt Jim had sent me.
The passing of her husband in spring 2003 had been incredibly hard on the family, as well as the entire community. Jim had started the Advocate in 1953, and the Turnbaugh family had run the newspaper for 50 years. My own family has lived in Grandview for generations, so I knew how important the Jackson County Advocate was to our hometown. I was happy to help in any way I could.
Through the years, as I worked my way from reporter to editor, and from editor to owner, I took to heart that moment of synchronicity that had brought me into the Advocate. I was proud to be a steward of something precious that our community has, and to continue the tradition of Grandview and South Kansas City having a top-notch newspaper that was run by one of their own.
Now, synchronicity has once again stepped in to guide the future of the Jackson County Advocate.
(Thanks Jim!)
For the past few years, I have had a number of health issues arise, and this summer, I underwent neck surgery to have an non-cancerous tumor removed from my parathyroid gland. I needed desperately to have time to focus on my health. At the same time, we were looking for someone to fill Seann McAnally’s shoes after he had the opportunity to become the editor of a locally-produced magazine.
That’s when I met Mary Wilson, the editor of The Raymore Journal, and her parents Mike and Becky Davis. When Mary was a kindergartner at High Grove Elementary School, my husband Gavin had been her sixth-grade “big buddy.”
Within moments of talking to this wonderful family, I knew it was time for us to pass the torch. Next week, their first as the new owners of the Jackson County Advocate, I’m sure they will introduce themselves more fully. But suffice it to say, their history with our area is rich, and one that also spans generations. I’m excited to announce that the newspaper is in safe, capable, and caring hands.
So now, as I look back on nearly a decade of involvement with my hometown newspaper, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. I’d like to take a moment to talk about what it has meant to me to be a part of the Jackson County Advocate.
To all of you who wrote us kind letters and e-mails over the years--even notes at the bottom of your subscription renewals--thank you! Your words brightened my days, and I posted each of them on the wall behind my desk as a reminder of who I was really working for all these years.
A big “howdy” to Eileen McCoy, whose adorable cartoons adorned my office walls, and to Velma Pittman, whose treats and smiles were always appreciated!
Thank you to our office neighbors, Lauri and Tammy, for working with us over the years!
A huge hug to all my former teachers and parents of schoolmates who wrote me saying how proud they are of me. (Hi Kathy Brown! Yes, we remember Karyn, and please tell her we said hello! Thank you for your kind notes!)
A shout-out to the Boy Scouts who toured our office and wrote us thank you letters--in particular Max Christy, whose family I first met when working with the Turnbaughs. We did a story on the return of Max’s father Roy who had been deployed in the Middle East. Years later, when Max’s pack toured the Advocate office for their Communicator badge, I pulled out the archives and showed him the story. “Thank you for showing me my Dad in the newspaper. Love, Max” His note said, pinned on my wall.
By far, my favorite part of this job has been writing about the amazing people in our community.
There’s a saying among media professionals that “if it bleeds, it leads.” Just watch a few minutes of local news to see the truth in that statement. But I could never muster that philosophy, not when I saw so much “good news” in my fellow neighbors, whose stories I found a valuable thing to share.
I was fortunate enough in my first year as editor to have the time to spend Thursday afternoons eating lunch with a lovely group of people at the Hillcrest Community Center. Wilma Heckart took me under her wing, and introduced me to a number of true American heroes, whose stories I will never forget. They inspired me to begin a series I called, “A Story to Tell...” which featured, among others, Charlie Platz--a WWII aerial gunner, John Irvin--a WWII and Korean vet, Bun Olson--who re-wrote the safety manual in the early days of the U.S. Air Force, and Jack Williams and Josie, his WWII “war bride” from England.
The first veteran brave enough to allow me to share their story of wartime memories was the incredible Ben Alvarado. Many may know him as the owner of Ebenezer the Donkey, who was himself an icon of our community. But Ben’s story touched my heart.
In 1944, 18 year-old Ben arrived on the front lines of WWII armed with a shovel, a raincoat, a canteen, a mess kit, a rifle, and a letter from a girl named Vicky, who he had only met twice before being shipped off to war. Ben and Victoria have now been married for 60 years, and the Ruskin Heights residents and former local business owners have left quite an impact on our community.
In 2006, I wrote about GHS Senior Brandon Thibault-Burkett, a brave young man who dreamed of competing in the paralympic games and had won several races using a standard, manual wheelchair. After hearing about his story, the community rallied to buy him a wheelchair racer, and he was invited to the Paralympic Academy in Torino, Italy.
Although I may not have written an article about each of them as individuals over the years, there are the unsung heroes of our community whose activities we tried to bring to light in nearly every issue--the community organizers like Carol McClure, Orrin Ellis, Karry Palmer, April Cushing, Tim Henry, Vernon Wilson, JoeAnn Herron, Irene Lynch, Ann O’Hare, Lou Austin, Sharon Kinder, Carol Bird-Owsley, Jim and Judi Beckner, Grandview Mayor Steve Dennis, Alderman Jim Crain, Councilman John Sharp, teachers, school board members, librarians, veterans and elected officials who are unpaid or underpaid to serve their community--the list goes on and on!
But if I had to pick a favorite article I’d written over the years, it was about Grandview FD Captain Tom Marinan, who was receiving a Medal of Honor in 2009 for saving the life of fellow firefighter Colin Richards in 1988. Tom and Colin had been trapped in the basement of a burning house, when Colin’s oxygen tank ran out. As Colin’s helmet began to melt in the intense heat and he began to lose consciousness, Tom was able to share his own oxygen and locate a basement window through the thick smoke, punching a way out to safety.
There were few dry eyes the moment that the medal was placed around Tom’s neck in honor of his bravery. But notably missing from the ceremony was Colin, who had left firefighting in the years following the near-death experience to become a nurse. No one could track him down to be part of the ceremony.
So I put on my investigative reporter’s cap and spent a few days tracking him down to a hospital on the East Coast. When I told him about Tom receiving an award after all these years, Colin was overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude.
“I still think about that day all the time,” he told me, adding that he had goosebumps just thinking about the day he nearly lost his life. “If it wasn’t Tom down in that basement with me that day, I don’t think we would have....”
He couldn’t finish his sentence.
I was able to put the two former partners in touch with one another again, and was honored that they allowed me to share their story. Following the publication of the article, Tom sent me an e-mail that was also promptly printed and hung on my wall:
“What an unbelievable job you did writing this. I was able to keep my emotions in check throughout this recognition but you got me with this article. I can’t express my appreciation and thanks enough...”
To be able to meet heroes like this man, who serve our community every day, made the past ten years completely worthwhile.
The timing of Captain Marinan’s medal of honor was done so that his father William Marinan, a WWII veteran, would be able to see his son receive the award. In another moment of synchronicity, his father passed away at nearly the same time last fall as my grandfather, Huey Thompson. My grandpa represents another category, one that fishermen sometimes call “the one that got away.”
When I hired Arthur McGregor in 2007, we soon discovered that our grandfathers had been competing milkmen in Grandview and South Kansas City around the 1940s and 50s. My grandpa had worked for Country Club Dairy, while his had worked for Sunrise Farms. We thought it would be wonderful to share their milkmen adventures, competing to serve the families who were stationed here for the Richards-Gebaur Air Base, running into President Harry Truman and his family...
Needless to say, Arthur’s untimely passing in a car accident in late 2009 was a low point in my years here. The milkman story never got written, and my grandpa joined Arthur in October last year.
Not all of the stories in the “ones that got away” category are tear-related, however. In fact, one brings a smile to my face every time I think of it!
In 2007, we got a report that a cow was missing in Grandview and South Kansas City. It had escaped a trailer while the owner was stopping to get gas off Blue Ridge, and had run away. I could not resist putting a picture of the cow on milk carton with the words “Have you seen me?” to accompany the article! Some had seen the cow in the woods near Wayside Waifs, and in fact, a young man named Joe Paine came very close to roping the cow and returning him home.
That was in 2007. Just last week, a young woman named Lora contacted me about the trials she has been through in the past year. (Look for her remarkable story in an upcoming issue of the Advocate.) She wrote to me a few days ago after remembering that her brother, Joe, had been in the newspaper when he had nearly caught a missing cow...
Small world.
We are all connected, our stories and lives, and this newspaper is a place where those connected paths have often intersected. Maybe that’s what synchronicity is: When we become aware for a moment that our stories are intertwined with others in a meaningful way.
With that in mind, I am so incredibly thankful for the opportunity to work with people over the years that have often felt more like family than co-workers: Aggie and Annette Turnbaugh, Linda Weise, David Weikal, Colleen May, Nicole Higgins, Nate Taylor (Who is now a sports reporter for The New York Times! I’m so proud of you!), Stephen Hale, Arthur McGregor, Mary Kay Morrow, Sally Morrow, Seann McAnally and Paul Thompson...such talented, creative individuals.
And to those who dedicate their writing talents as well to our pages--Emmerson Brown, Everett Lee, Cheryl Wills, and Joe Dimino--your work is appreciated!
Thank you also to John Ivey and Diane Wolfe, as well as Jonathan Freiden, who believed in the importance of local newspapers, and without whom the Jackson County Advocate may have slipped away.
To my actual family, who made it possible for me to make sure that the Jackson County Advocate was one of the best, award-winning weekly newspapers in the state of Missouri, my endless love and thanks: My husband and partner in this adventure Gavin Wood, his parents Hal and Lyn Marie Wood, and my parents Gary and Kathy Thompson. Each in their own way has sacrificed to make this newspaper possible, particularly in the past four years. Gavin, as co-owner, spent countless hours doing the bookkeeping for the newspaper after a long week teaching middle school science and math.
My family, along with our little boy Ethan, are the absolute treasures in my life.
Shortly after we purchased the Jackson County Advocate in 2009, the radio station KCUR, Kansas City’s National Public Radio affiliate, did a couple of stories featuring the Advocate. I said in the interviews that the newspaper business is about people, connecting neighbors and bringing to light the news from city halls and school districts that directly impact our back yards.
“There’s something special about sitting down with your hometown newspaper,” I said then. “It ends up in scrapbooks, and being sent to grandparents. There’s a special-ness about newspapers that I don’t think you get from the internet or any other medium.”
As I look back, this business has never been about owning a business. It was about the people, the community, and being a good steward for something we felt was important and special.
There are many, many stories left to tell, and I will continue to write them for the newspaper I love. With your continued support, as well as support from local businesses and our community, the future is bright. I can’t wait to see what is in store in this next chapter of the Jackson County Advocate!
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If you’d like to contact me, I can be reached at

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