I believe I've set a record in a narrow field.
I've been editor of the Ceres Courier longer than any other person in history.
My first day at the Courier was Sept. 12, 1987 - during the Reagan administration. This fall I will have been covering Ceres news for 28 years, which is 26.6 percent of the 105-year existence of the Courier. That kind of tenure is rare considering that the average worker stays at his job 4.4 years according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most Americans hop from job to job in their lives.
In those 27 going on 28 years, I've had a front-row seat to over a quarter-century of news and newsmakers in Ceres. And while the pay isn't stellar for newspaper editors in small towns, the experience has been extremely rich. I've met so many people and had some great relationships with most of you.
I'll admit that I was very green when I started out at the Courier. I remember looking at the map of Ceres hanging on my dark paneled office and thinking I was the king of a vast domain, considering my only other paper was in a city much smaller.
I also remember the panic of learning the equipment of the production methods of the day. Back then we produced the paper by the old cut-and-paste method. Technology eventually allowed us to do all the composing on the computer. While learning the computer method seemed daunting at first, I would never go back to the old archaic method.
One of the first things I did as editor at age 29 was to meet the movers and shakers. Paul Caruso was one of the first. He excitedly showed me renderings of how downtown Ceres was to look. Twenty-eight years later and I'm still writing about a downtown Ceres revitalization that hasn't really materialized yet (so pardon if I yawn as the talk continues).
I also remember choking on the cigarette fumes of Police Chief Pete Peterson during my first interview with him. I remember Police Commander John Chapman sizing me up like he didn't trust me. Media types are viewed with suspicion by some police. One of the best police photos that I ever took was one of John and Adam McGill wrestling with a suspect who escaped the police department and hid in a nearby shed. Of course, John came to trust me and it was with sadness I reported on his cancer death.
My newspaper experience became more seasoned and more confident. My writing, I hope, has improved.
I've tempered my columns over the years. (I get fewer pieces of hate mail than I used to.) When I look back and see the number of editorial stands I took against gay marriage, the views likely would be universally condemned today. My sharper edges have been rounded. I've grown a stronger backbone in some areas of my coverage, too.
Over the decades, I remember many people who have come and gone. I've said goodbye to dear friends along the way, people like Del and Shirley Davis, Jim Luton of Melody Corner Bible Book Store, Sandy de la Porte, John Chapman, Kay Beaver, Perle Brown, Ruth Jorgensen and others. Mae Hensley used to come into my office, place her hands on mine and tell me what a good man I was. She was a dear. Another school namesake, Virginia Parks, used to come in and buy a copy of the Courier from me every Wednesday afternoon straight out of her Soroptimist meetings at Alfonso's. I also watched Joel Hidahl - another school namesake - accept the Agribusiness Man of the Year Award.
When I think of all the years I've covered Ceres news, it's no wonder why the temples are grayer.
Here's a few:
In the 1990s, Ronnie Dale Cadwell Jr. was fatally shot by Officer Mark Neri after his brush with Officer Jared Puryear. I was there.
Art deWerk, arrived in high praise and left 15 years later in a cloud of secrecy. I was there.
Howard Stevensen was promoted to sergeant - a job that would eventually cause him to lose his life in 2005. I was there.
I've covered my small share of celebrity visits.
Flamboyant TV personality and fitness guru Richard Simmons made a surprise visit at Anne Aubert's Walter White School classroom on July 10, 1991. I was there.
At times I covered events in Modesto, like when Michael Dukakis popped in for a campaign rally in 1988. I walked with John McCain and Jeff Denham across I Street in Modesto to a press conference.
George P. Bush, son of Jeb Bush, sat in my office in 2000 to campaign for his uncle, George W. Bush.
I also watched George Bush and two members of the Beach Boys - as well as son Jeb - at a 1988 rally at the diamond near Beyer Park.
Gov. George Deukmejian came to the Modesto Centre Plaza, I lobbed one question at him as my heart was pounding.
Bob Hope appeared in Modesto in 1989. I was the one who held the door open for him as he walked into the Modesto Centre Plaza for a press conference.
I've covered the building of the TID Almond Power Plant, Ceres Walmart, the Ceres Community Center, Westpointe, Eastgate and Home Depot and wrote about things that were coming but never did, such as San Carlos Cinemas and an ice skating rink.
I wrote about the demise of Memorial Hospital Ceres in a day when Cereans had no idea how they would exist without one. It seems most did.
I covered the building of Virginia Parks, Sam Vaughn, Adkison, Berryhill, Sinclear, Lucas, La Rosa, Hidahl elementary schools as well as Central Valley High and Blaker Kinser and Cesar Chavez Junior High School.
When there were talks between the city and teenagers about a skate park, I was there, too.
I took a historical stroll with Grant Lucas who showed me where the 1880s school house sat in Whitmore Park.
I've watched untold tragedies, far too many dead young women in car crashes. The most graphic was when I saw the lifeblood of Melody Lynn Dixon, 21, of Turlock, draining into the side of Highway 99 on Feb. 18, 1998 after her northbound vehicle lost control, jumped the center median and was smashed up by two southbound tractor-trailer rigs. The 1997 Nissan Sentra was unrecognizable.
I've visited the site of deaths on the train tracks, and watched people cry as their houses were burning with pets or loved ones inside. Seeing such things gives you a sober view of life.
Thousands of obituaries were written by me until it became a money-making proposition by papers and that job was taken out of my hand.
I've covered hundreds of Chamber ribbon cuttings, done a multitude of new business stories and the disappointing stories of businesses closing, such as Landon's or Raley's or Richland Market.
Old copies of the Courier often catch me saying to myself, "I don't remember that." That phrase came out when I stumbled upon a 1992 issue that had a photo of a young Officer Adam Christiansen holding a radar gun on Whitmore Avenue. I don't even remember meeting the future sheriff and was shocked that I took the photo.
Politics has always been one of my favorite subjects and covering those has been no chore.
When Clare Berryhill announced in Whitmore Park that he was running against Gary Condit in 1989, I was there.
Condit cast his vote for himself for Congress in 1989, and I was there at Harvest Presbyterian Church to watch it. I was also there at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds that night when he accepted victory.
I was also the only member of any media anywhere to interview Gary's parents, Adrian and Jean Condit, after the Chandra Levy scandal broke dominated national news and eventually took Ceres' favorite son down. My appearances on Good Morning America, Entertainment Tonight, CNN, the O'Reilly Factor and Paula Zahn drew mail from throughout the United States.
I've covered a multitude of elections, such as the bizarre 1993 race of unknown Kevin Johnson who breezed into town and tried buying his way to a mayor's seat but was defeated by the first lady mayor in Barbara Hinton. There were the perennial candidacies of Mike Rego and Richard Felix. (Whatever happened to them?)
I was there on the steps of the McHenry Museum in Modesto when Tom Berryhill announced he was running for Assembly in 2005.
I've made trips to Sacramento to interview Gary Condit and Sal Cannella.
I've watched city managers come and go ... Jim Marshall, Gary Napper, Tim Kerr, Brad Kilger and Art de Werk. The mayors I've seen in action were Jim Delhart, Richard McBride, Eric Ingwerson, Leo Havener, Louis Arrollo, DeLinda Moore, Barbara Hinton, Anthony Cannella and now Chris Vierra. There have been fewer Ceres school superintendents in that time as well: Bob Adkison, Bruce Newlin, Bea Lingenfelter, Walt Hanline and Scott Siegel.
There have been great stresses in my job - meeting deadlines rates highest - but everyone should have a job that gives them so rich and varied an experience - such as being given permission to climb to the top of the Ceres water tower or fly aboard a KC-135 out of the now defunct Castle Air Force Base - and one that puts them into contact with so many wonderful people. And for that I have been grateful.
Here's to many more years at the Courier!
How do you feel? Let Jeff know by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org