Writing this farewell column is a lot like eating my favorite chocolate. Bittersweet. With a few tears and a side order of smiles.
When I say journalism saved my life — then ate it — I am only partially kidding. Today, technically, was supposed to have been a personal day off. But here I am at the Mail Tribune filing my final Southern Oregon Journal column. Because the stories always come first. That, in a nutgraf, is what it means to be a journalist.
Several years ago I said as much to a group of journalism students at Southern Oregon University at the request of my mentor, editor and friend, Cathy Noah. She got me this reporting gig. Against all odds. For I am an accidental journalist who came to this career late in life. After being widowed in 1999. After moving into a little cottage on the Rogue River to try and heal my broken heart. My broken life.
Little did I know I'd tumbled headfirst into work that would teach me how the world really works, or that I'd cross paths with so many dedicated professionals who help keep it spinning. From the unsung heroes in the social services agencies who advocate for the young, the old and the voiceless; to the prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges who seek justice; to the first responders who protect our health and safety; to the educators and community leaders who inspire greatness in others and work to better our community. My shout out also includes all my MT colleagues who continue to work so hard to tell important stories, without fear or favoritism.
You can thank Bob Hunter if you've enjoyed these musings. Or blame him if you haven't. It was Bob who ... errrm ... nudged me into taking the lead in what was originally intended to be a communal Sunday Page 2A writing exercise. And it was this column that led me to my new career. Actually, it was a reader. Just like you.
A couple of weeks ago, CASA Executive Director Jennifer Mylenek invited me to lunch with her and one of the CASA donors. "She loves your column, and she'd really like to meet you," Jennifer said. I worried this mystery woman would be woefully disappointed to meet me in the flesh — without an editor. But who can say no to a woman who heads an organization whose sole purpose is advocating for children? Not me. Still, I about choked on my panini when our casual conversation ended up in a sudden career shift. Pretty sure no one at the table was thinking I'd end up as the new program manager for CASA of Josephine County when we sat down.
To say that I consider CASA volunteers to be heroes is to minimize my feelings for court-appointed special advocates. CASAs collaborate with attorneys, caseworkers, parents, foster parents and mental health providers to advocate for children in the foster system. Judges love them because they literally save lives. And I have never been able to get through covering a CASA story without bawling. Frankly, it's a little embarrassing. Especially when one is trying to pass as a hard-bitten journalist.
But I'm happy to report I managed to meet with several CASAs last week. I brought a decadent chocolate torte as a bribe. And only got slightly sniffly shaking their hands.
Speaking of sniffly, it's time to wrap this up. I always pretend I'm yakking with a dear friend when penning these columns. Turns out I really am. Your encouraging calls, cards and emails, sent when life was at its highest and lowest points, have been wonderful inspiration.
I'd have to be a thumpin' idgit not to realize I walk a pretty well-blessed path. You'll never convince me it's a coinky-dink I'm saying goodbye to so many beloveds on what would have been my wedding anniversary. Or that The Professor arrives next week to start a new chapter in both our lives. Along with this fresh opportunity to serve our community's children through CASA. I close with this simple wish for us all: "And they lived happily ..."
Sanne Specht can be reached through email at email@example.com