Confehr: Passing of era in community journalism

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I never met Mrs. Doyle Hastings, the long-time community columnist who had readers so interested that they'd have their sister mail them a copy when they were finished reading the Tribune.

However, I've come to know others with such a calling at a few other local papers who've been just as dedicated to chronicling their neighborhoods, towns, church life and simple gossip, sometimes, and found it useful for myself.

Here are a few examples.

When I moved to Tennessee, I rented the upstairs quarters of Marvin Zimmerman's home at his dairy farm in Belvedere. He wanted a son and quit trying after his sixth daughter was born.

He set three rules before I moved in: no smoking; no drinking; and no women. I'd been trying to quit. I don't drink alone and didn't know anybody in the state other than my employer, co-workers and him, so we had a deal.

Time went by and there was a news lull, so I went home and read the paper cover to cover that afternoon and soon realized that the visitors in the Zimmerman residence below were members of the Women's Christian Temperance Union for that part of the county.

There was sort of a time-lag machine aspect to that moment. A series of people had planned an event, told a community correspondent who filed a story that was published, distributed and then read by me in a room directly above the event at the moment that column was being read.

A few years later, my wife and I had rented a house in Decherd and found a better place to rent in Winchester, but to do so we had to give our landlord advance notice. We'd called the man's home in Chicago, left messages, but there was no reply. We were concerned that the automatic renewal would keep us in the house for a year unless we could give him notice and in those days answering machines were not really the way to give notice. I tracked down an address for him, but the postal service couldn't get it to him fast enough. Same for FedEx.

Then I read in the Cowan community columnist's report that the grandparents of a Cowan couple's child were visiting for the girl's birthday. The grandfather's name was the same as my landlord's so I called the Cowan house, asked for him, verified that he was my landlord, gave him notice and wished his granddaughter a happy birthday. He wanted to know how I knew. It was in the newspaper.

Tribune readers who've treasured Mrs. Hastings' columns, recipes and general information with timely comments on life, the seasons and such will miss them. Her annual payment for her writing was always requested just prior to Christmas to be spent on Christmas for family and friends.

There's really no way to replace something so unique. The Cowan community columnist was a real piece of work. There's a real lady on an electric co-op board who writes a column. Another columnist gently wrote about a neighborhood daredevil who was cherished for his independent spirit and the child whose funeral was connected to his reform.

No, I never met Mrs. Doyle Hastings, but I know her community spirit.

Rest in peace, Ruth.