Dubois County farewell a difficult one to spit out

I’ve never been good at telling people how much I love them, so this is going to be hard.


My introduction to Dubois County came in December 2015 driving the streets of Jasper around 9 p.m. I figured I should check out the city before interviewing with The Herald the next morning. So I first drove past The Herald. Then I drove down Jackson and Mill streets. Jasper was silent, dead. I was living in downtown Denver, and wasn’t used to that kind of quiet, so I freaked out.

When I checked into the hotel, I called my parents. Why was I thinking of moving to Jasper? Where the hell was everyone? How could I ever make friends here? What could I learn here? How could I ever have fun here? My parents told me not to judge. They told me to meet the staff. They said I might be surprised. They said I might like it. They were right.

Fast-forward 21⁄2 years — 11⁄2 years as a news reporter and the last year in sports — and my time at The Herald is over. I’m moving to Portland, Oregon, to explore some teaching and writing opportunities, which is the best way I can say I’m currently unemployed. In the last week, I’ve written letters to co-workers and friends, so all that’s left now is this letter to Dubois County.

You come to The Herald, and you get your first assignment. It’s about Dennis McCauley, a Santa Claus resident who collects model cars. It seems simple, but you realize that his collection represents his life. Dennis worked as an administrator for the Illinois State Police for more than 22 years, so he collected model police cars and racked up models for 32 different state police departments. And he found his wife’s favorite model car, an orange ’70 Karmann Ghia, that looks like their first car as a married couple. You learn that these small hobbies mean something much bigger to the people who hold them. You learn that everyone has a story to tell.

You get an assignment about Darlene Deffendoll, a Jasper woman who won a national quilting contest. Your editor tells you it will be a quick interview and a short story. You meet Darlene at her house. You ask her about the quilt that won the award. She tells you she made it to help get through the first winter after the death of her father. You know this will not be quick or short.

A day after the story runs, Darlene walks up to your desk at The Herald. You’re scared she might be angry. Instead, Darlene hands you a handwritten letter and a pet rock she painted like a leopard since she says journalists always have to be on the hunt for their next story like a leopard. She thanks you for the article. She thanks you for putting what she couldn’t fully say into words. You learn how much your stories can mean.

You get the best story you’ve ever covered. Sean and Kasie Appel of Mariah Hill have two daughters, Alex and Zoe, who have Cockayne Syndrome and Trichothiodystrophy (or TTD), two extremely rare genetic disorders. So rare that doctors have told Sean and Kasie their daughters are believed to be the only two people with both disorders. And they live in the same house. The disorders make it so their bodies delay physical and mental development but accelerate aging, which is why Sean said they’re “20 going on 80.” Sean and Kasie must lift the girls dozens of times every day because they can’t walk. Both have back trouble. Their love for their daughters runs so deep that there is no physical pain they won’t put up with to make their daughter’s lives as joyous as possible. The girls are not supposed to have long lives. There will be no weddings or kids. You see these thoughts are not easy for Sean and Kasie to share, but they trust you with their story anyway. You learn there’s nothing more scary or beautiful than taking your most vulnerable feelings and letting them free. In my time with The Herald, source after source has done this. Thank you for letting me see your fear, anger, sadness, love and joy. Thanks for letting me in. Thank you for letting me experience that humanity. It was powerful and beautiful to witness. 

You come to this paper, and you learn to say goodbye. Newspapers are transient by nature, and The Herald is no exception. You came to The Herald to report and write, but the staff is really what sold you on moving here. During your time with the paper, good journalists came and went. Their bylines read as Ariana van den Akker, Joe Jasinski, Joe Fanelli, Sam Stites and Alisha Jucevic. You know them as Ari, Jasinski, Fanelli, Sam and Alisha. During your time at the paper, good friends came and went.

You say goodbye in Snaps. You say goodbye and watch a car drive away. You say goodbye to Sam three times. First at Snaps, then at your house one night after you’d thought he left, and then at your house the next morning once again after you thought he left. Turns out he still needed to do laundry. When they leave, everything stays the same, but it doesn’t feel the same. You still report. You still write. Deadline comes. Deadline goes. Yet they’re not there.

You hate it when they leave, but you love that you get to let them know what they mean to you. You always write something for the friends who leave. A letter or a note telling them to do what they love. Something telling them they shouldn’t be worried, because worry feasts on transition. You tell them to believe in themselves. You tell them you believe in them. You tell them that no matter what, you’ll always love them. You tell them how much you love them because you want them to know how much they should love themselves. And you tell them how much you love them because they showed you how much you should love yourself.   

In everything you covered at The Herald, love was at the root. Love of family. Love of friends. Love of community. Love of life. You can quickly meet people, but it takes time to learn their story.

You’ve been writing this letter the last 2 1⁄2 years, but didn’t quite know how to end it until now. You come to this paper, and you learn how to say goodbye, but that doesn’t make it any easier. So here comes the hard part.

Love, Wyatt.

If you want to send Herald sports writer Wyatt Stayner one last long, angry, ranting email, he can be reached at wlstayner@gmail.com.

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