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Grateful Hometown Pasco coordinator says farewell

I've completed Hometown Pasco for the final time. It's bittersweet but I know that change often brings new adventures and I look forward to that.

Fear not. Hometown Pasco is in the best hands possible, those of Jean Hayes in the Times' Hernando bureau. Jean was creating Hometown Hernando long before I was hired in 2004 to create Pasco's version. Jean showed me the ropes and we became good friends. I'm confident Pasco's community news will thrive.

Hometown Pasco celebrated its 10th anniversary on April 18. In that decade there was never an edition missed and most weeks there was such an abundance of news I puzzled if there was space for it all.

Editors, page designers and photo techs were incredible with their skills and my job seemed a small role.

I'm thankful for the opportunity to have compiled community news each week and become friends with some of the finest people I know — Pasco County residents. It's often been an emotionally packed experience to gather and prepare news sent in envelopes and emails. I've tried to keep in mind the immense impact on those smiling from pictures.

This hit solidly during my first days on the job in the spring of 2004. A young Land O'Lakes father was dying and community members rallied with fundraisers to help his family during his last days and see them through the difficult days after he was gone. The depth of caring from the people in the community was touching. They reached out with no thoughts of recognition in a newspaper. They were just being good compassionate people.

As the years rolled on, I'd often get a phone call or email from someone relaying the importance of a Hometown photo. Several years ago, an elderly woman was in hospice care. Her birthday was approaching and, with her days numbered, the hospice staff planned an early celebration. They sent pictures and asked how soon they could run. I moved to get the news in quickly, while the hospice staff urged the patient to hang on because she was going to be "in the paper."

Lying in her bed, smiling, she stared at the Hometown page. A few days later she was gone.

This defines the power of community news that's clipped, stuck on refrigerators, pasted into scrapbooks and mailed to relatives in faraway states. I've often heard my favorite response, usually said quietly with a grin, "I've never been in the paper before."

Thousands of faces have graced Hometown Pasco's pages. A menagerie of animals including dogs, a guinea pig, a llama, an armadillo and a possum among others, have appeared. Hundreds of children have been included, including 5-year-olds — they're high school age now — in an Easter parade back in 2004. As years passed, volumes of pictures highlighted those who contribute in many ways to make communities stronger or win awards for their efforts. It's been a joy to post every picture and to type each name.

With an enormously grateful heart, I am thankful to many — Bill Stevens, who hired me to create Hometown Pasco; five editors — Lisa Buie, Jon O'Neill, Sharon Tubbs, Bridget Grumet and Molly Moorhead — who've tolerated my staunch allegiance to Pasco people in running every tidbit of news I could cram onto the Hometown page.

It's to Pasco County people whom I've honored and loved through 30 years of teaching and 10 years of news reporting that I owe the most profound thanks. I have realized that a joy of life comes from believing there are everywhere among us, good people doing good things for good reasons, all the time.

It has been gratifying and humbling to have been your Hometown Pasco news coordinator. From that role, I bid you a fond farewell.

Hometown Pasco news can be sent to jhayes@tampabay.com.

Grateful Hometown Pasco coordinator says farewell 04/25/14 [Last modified: Friday, April 25, 2014 1:39pm]
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