Reporter reflects on his own Herald storyNovember 19, 2020
By ALLEN LAMAN
Special to The Herald
It was supposed to be a story about a Christmas tree.
But like so many stories published in this newspaper, it ended up being so much more.
Not long after tracking down the 90-year-old man who donated the towering 32-foot-tall pine that stood on the Courthouse Square in Jasper last December, I sat in his garage, with tears in my eyes, mourning the long-ago death of a woman I’d never met.
Leo Eckerle of Jasper donated the tree. It had belonged to his late daughter, Sheila. They uprooted it from a forest together in 1973 and planted it in her front yard. Years later, Sheila was diagnosed with breast cancer. She died in her father’s arms at the age of 44.
Leo loved her and didn’t want to lose her. But seeing that Christmas tree shine for the place she loved so dearly reminded Leo that his daughter is still with him.
I cried again when this came to my mind as I cruised along a desert interstate in Nevada last week. No longer a Herald employee, I sped past canyons and valleys, reflecting on my four years in Dubois County while driving to my new home in Mariposa, California.
I wrote more than 1,000 stories for this newspaper. Some were straightforward and explanatory. Others were complicated and emotional. The ones that ended up surprising me — those were my favorites.
Wednesday, I began my new job as a staff writer at the Mariposa Gazette. The rural publication’s office sits at the rugged foothills of the Sierra Nevada in Central California. My beats include education, sports and Yosemite National Park.
The next chapter of my life is beginning. And I could never have made it here without all of you.
I thought a lot about Dubois County on my four-day drive to the West. The trust. The openness. The shared belief that what Herald writers and photographers do on a daily basis is valuable. I thought about the honesty that would follow after I’d introduce myself. I thought about the respect that comes with The Herald name.
At its best, this job affords an unobstructed view of the big picture that few people actually get to see — let alone share. That view contextualizes the world for the one carrying the notepad. That view is the reason why I learned more about myself in the past four years than in my 22 years combined before landing in Jasper.
I thought about my colleagues as I drove farther and farther away. The veterans who welcomed and trained a young and inexperienced writer like a son. My peers, who showed me that I wasn’t alone when I started on the job in 2016, and who made my time in Southwestern Indiana some of the best years of my life.
We gorged on pizza on late election nights.
Packed into my tiny apartment to celebrate holidays.
Played board games together. Stumbled around at Strassenfest and danced to polka music for hours. Climbed to the roof of the Herald building and talked about the future as our lives were just beginning.
This staff is resilient. These people are strong. Yes, the Herald has changed.
The team that puts the paper together, however, still cares. Everyone on that team is still putting their all into everything they produce. And that isn’t going to change anytime soon.
I thought about myself when I finally crossed into California. Not only how I had grown professionally, but also how I had matured personally during my time in Dubois County. How over the course of four years, I transformed from someone who was constantly afraid and unsure of himself into a man confident enough to drive across the country and bet everything on himself in pursuit of a lifelong goal.
That’s when I realized that my own Herald story was full of surprises, too.
When I first arrived, I thought I was supposed to leave with a few good bylines.
But like so many journalists who worked in this community before me, I left with so much more.
Thank you all for believing in me.
When he’s not gallivanting around mountains, Allen Laman can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 209-966-2500.
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