To the point week of 11-17-11

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‘DEAR HEART’. THAT’S HOW the column always started. Growing up in a small town, you get to know everyone and everything about them, and – like here – you can find most of what you want to know and need to know in the little, hometown newspaper.

In Centerville, Indiana, that newspaper was “The Crusader”, and when I was a kid, it was owned by, published by, and written by Joel and Carrol Rhodes. If you can imagine a paper filled with hometown, down home, news, then you can imagine reading The Crusader each week.

When I was a teenager, I knew that I wanted to write for a newspaper, and although I had very little experience, Joel and Carrol handed me a notebook and turned me loose. Sometimes it was sporting events; other times it was a town meeting or something that I thought was the most important thing ever.

That was back when we produced the newspaper using a typewriter. When we typed our stories, we justified our columns with the margins. Looking back, it was almost prehistoric; but for a small paper, we were cutting edge.

I remember one issue when the “a” key broke on the typewriter, but Joel simply inserted an editor’s note on the front page explaining the situation, and informing his readers that, “Whenever you see a sp ce, please insert your own “a”.

You might think that’s funny, and it was, but that’s how we did things at The Crusader.

Joel Rhodes handled the news of the community; and Carrol was the original “multimedia” personality; pairing her writing with a weekly local radio show that was basically an audio version of the weekly paper.

But it was Carrol’s weekly column that stands out in my memory.

“Dear Heart,” it began each week, and then it would weave a beautiful tapestry of life in a small town. No issue was too big or too small for Carrol Rhodes to write about, and somehow, even if you’d never been to my hometown, when you finished reading her column, you had a feel for the community and people who lived there.

She would fill small holes at the end of stories with little tidbits about small town life and the people who lived there; and even after I left town, it was her column that kept my heart warm for my hometown.

I remember once when she couldn’t do her weekly radio show, and asked me to fill in. Having never been on the radio before, she gave me the confidence to just turn the recorder on and “go for it”.

And I did.

Her show was as special as her column, even down to the commercials that she did herself; simply pausing during her broadcast to talk about some business in the community.

If you ever heard the show, you knew that her primary sponsor was Jody’s Restaurant, a family place located on the main intersection of town.

At different points she would talk about what was on the menu for that Sunday, prodding listeners to have Sunday dinner at Jody’s after church services.

Then she’d move through different foods with such wonderful descriptions that your mouth was watering by the time she was done, and you always waited on her final description:

“….And that ever-lovin’, golden fried chicken.”

I can hear it now, and I can taste it, too.

Joel Rhodes passed away shortly after I moved to Vevay; and Carrol eventually stopped publishing The Crusader in Centerville, and shifted her column to the neighboring newspaper in Cambridge City, which took over covering the community in a section in their weekly.

Week after week, all through the years, readers turned to the Centerville section, where they found: “Dear Heart…”

No matter how long you’ve been away, you always stop and read and – just for a moment – you go home.

In 2005 when I was blessed and honored to serve as the President of the Hoosier State Press Association, I asked Carrol to be my guest at the reception we have featuring the Governor of Indiana. She came to Indianapolis with the help of her daughter and son-in-law; and even with the state’s Governor in the room, she still made me feel like I was the most important person there.

The next week, I even made the column.

At the end of October Carrol McConaha Rhodes put down her pen and turned off her computer and stopped writing her weekly column after 65 years. Because she’s the type of person that she is, she did so with very little fanfare. She didn’t spend a lot of time talking about herself, but continued to do what she always did: she talked about the community that she loves and the people who live there.

There are people in your life that – when you look back – you suddenly realize that they were so critical to making you the person who you are today. Carrol Rhodes is one of those people for me, a person who gave a kid the chance to write and take pictures and chase his dream.

She is a foundational part of the community that I grew up in, and as she celebrates 90 years, I know that she will continue to be an integral part of my hometown.

I wouldn’t be the editor of Vevay Newspapers without Carrol and Joel Rhodes. They were both such a huge part of my life, personally and professionally, that I can’t imagine had I never met them.

Her family had a celebration for Carrol late last month, and I wasn’t able to attend; but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t want to be there. I think of what I would have said to her if I had gone – or what I will say the next time I do see her.

I know she’ll ask me about my family and my life; and she’ll tell me that she’s snuck a copy or two of our newspaper from my parents and she’ll talk about how proud she is of me. She’ll never stop to think about her role in my life, but that’s just how she is.

And what will I say to her?

Simply: “Thanks, dear heart. Thank you for teaching me to understand that being a part of a community newspaper was more than the paycheck and the title. It’s about the people and the community you serve; and it’s about making sure those who follow in your footsteps are encouraged and supported and loved.”