Before I signed up to spend a week working for The Missourian, the two things I knew about the town of Washington were that there were local breweries and that the town was the corncob pipe capital of the world.
I also knew that the newspaper had been voted best in the country many times. Beer, pipes and good journalism? That’s the kind of place I can spend a week in, no problem.
Over the past week, I have not been disappointed.
Two things struck me as I began calling and meeting Washingtonians: their general friendliness and their genuine willingness to help people out.
Everyone I met in Washington volunteered, donated and served. I met people who were Rotarians, council members, church members, hosts and organizers. I got to hear about efforts to clean up the river, start a band and host an exchange student.
My favorite interview was with Betty Nelson, a resident of Grandview Healthcare Center. I’m a knitter, and I was delighted to sit with Mrs. Nelson as she sewed Christmas ornaments and told me how much she liked Washington. She’s lived here ever since she married her husband in 1962.
Mrs. Nelson now spends her days at Grandview making ornaments and trying to get other residents interested in crafts. At 82, she’s still focused on others.
“I made everything for them, and I have loved every minute of it,” she said, speaking about her lifetime of sewing everything from clothes for her children to doing piecework at the nursing home.
That’s a life philosophy and perspective that I strive to have. My own great-grandmother, Irene Waggoner, was also a lifelong seamstress and volunteer. I still have a quilt she made me on my bed. I hadn’t thought about Grandma Irene for a while, but sitting with Mrs. Nelson made me remember her and remember how invested she was in her family and in her town.
During my time as a student at the University of Missouri, I have been fortunate to report for The Kansas City Star, The Columbia Missourian and The Oklahoman. I’ve written about everything from tornadoes to protests to city council meetings.
Through those past experiences, I have developed two layers of cynicism: one as a person who has grown up in the city and is not used to small-town friendliness, and another as a journalist, who often deals with people who (sometimes for good reason) don’t trust the media. I’m not used to trusting strangers and I am not used to having people trust me as a member of the media.
During my first day in Washington, three different people told me how much they love The Missourian and its work. Throughout the week, people often repeated that statement, and were happy to give me their time and explain their work. I have never had that happen before.
It speaks volumes to the professionalism and commitment of The Missourian that community members have such faith in them. Journalism requires trust, and it’s refreshing to see a community and a newspaper that each trust and respect each other.
So, Washington, thank you: I came expecting to spend a week writing for a newspaper and enjoying good beer. Those expectations were fulfilled, to be sure. But I also learned a lot about the spirit of volunteering and about appreciating good journalism.
I’m headed back to Columbia to finish my degree in journalism. After graduation, I’ll be lucky to find a town as enjoyable as Washington and a newspaper as good as The Missourian.
As we say in Oklahoma, “Thank you much.”