Good-bye to all these great people

By MIKE FERGUSON Baker City Herald July 17, 2009 09:09 am

Public goodbyes aren’t my thing, but in the newspaper business they sure can be efficiently handled.

In one column I can wish you all well and say nice things about the people I’ve worked alongside the past nine years.

Both are easy tasks, but neither is a job I tackle with relish. Except for the nice-making part.

First things first.

You people — you know who you are, because you’ve graced our Page 1 over the years — have been wonderful, a privilege  to profile. Ned Steele told me the moving story of his Marine Corps service during the Battle of Guadalcanal — a story so painful he’d just started sharing it with family members in August 2002, the 60th anniversary of that fierce battle.

Baker High School wrestling coach Dee Gorrell told me how a chance course in a trick move, something called the Bondola, helped Heath Paxton to a state wrestling title.

I’ve written stories about very gifted people, like Manfred Radius, a glider pilot and star of what I described as a nighttime aerial ballet, set to Bach’s “Air on a G String” and punctuated gracefully with plumes of smoke, during a Wings Over Baker air show. Or, more locally, a piece about Leslie Leviner, an en plain air artist who ought to have a national reputation.

I’ve profiled people who grow things, including wildflowers, cattle and mint. I’ve told about people who kill things, like Arnie Grammon, the county’s weedfighter,  who hates weeds and loves Baker County with a passion and Jim Lunders, our best hope against those divebombers who would suck our blood — and I’m not talking about the IRS here.

After nine years of fun and laughs and even a little work getting done, today’s my last day at the Baker City Herald. My wife, a pastor, has accepted the call to a church in Lone Tree, Iowa, a town of about 1,200 that’s 15 minutes from Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa and the town where I hope to (soon) find work.

Work that probably won’t be nearly this fun.

In the past few years here at the newspaper, my beat (a newspaper term that refers to the topics we write about most often) has been refined to covering government — state, county and city. You probably know this already, but Baker County and much of the rest of Eastern Oregon are blessed with some astonishingly accomplished and able public servants, people who could well be doing something else for more money but chose instead the hard work of providing services and solving problems and getting opposing groups to work together.

What I like best about local politics is that partisanship really has no place: we’re so underpopulated out here, and our bench is so short, we can’t spend even five minutes discounting each other’s plans or motives because they belong to the wrong party. I’m especially thinking of Baker County Commissioners here — all three of them locally-prominent R’s or D’s who don’t believe in letting labels derail their work together.

Legislators Cliff Bentz and Ted Ferrioli share one quality I wish everyone in Salem extended — they return your phone calls promptly, and they both somehow answer your questions both honestly and thoughtfully. I’ll miss them both.

Mostly I’ll miss my colleagues in the newsroom and throughout the office — Jayson Jacoby, Chris Collins, Lisa Britton, Ed Merriman, phototographers John Collins and Kathy Orr, intern Nate Hellman, sports editor Gerry Steele and publisher Kari Borgen.

This is an unbelievably fun place to work, easily the best job I’ve ever had. Even while we’re cranking out three editions per week we’re laughing and cutting up, alternately pointing out each other’s foibles and noticing the feet of clay all around us. Except for, perhaps, Dr. Evil’s secluded lair in the Austin Powers films, there’s no kind of energy like a newsroom energy. It’s a drug that’s totally legal and will be totally difficult to do without.

Thanks for reading. Keep it up after I’m gone.