After four decades in the newspaper business, I am supposed to be an idle beach bum, enjoying a leisurely retirement, drinking Tetley tea and eating Walkers shortbread cookies.

Except that pesky editor of the Chinook Observer keeps finding things for me to do.

It has become my duty to tell the stories of my neighbors on the Long Beach Peninsula and Naselle — and the good work they are doing in our community.

This past year was no exception.

As we look ahead to 2020, I thought I would look back at 2019. Being a professional editor for so many years, stuck inside a newsroom directing operations, I had forgotten the joy of meeting people and telling their stories; it is where I started when I was 19.

Remarkable

My year began talking with Nansen Malin about the rejuvenated Sea Resources and ended checking in with Herlet Padilla about the enthusiastic Naselle High School cheerleaders. In between, there were many other memorable folks on my agenda.

Malin is remarkable in that she packs so many different thing into her life. She’s one of those classic examples of, “If you need something done, give it to a busy person.”

Brandy Meisner’s care putting together the astonishing holiday display at Harbor Grille in Long Beach was an early highlight for 2019, followed by meeting Gary Lukens, who led a bunch of positive projects all year, not least creating the Ocean Park Community Garden.

Next I joined Jim Sayce and Jane Holeman at the Kite Museum, which was undergoing a renovation. You will find Sayce just about everywhere, always doing good deeds. Holeman has been a stalwart for the Kite Museum and Festival for as long as anyone can remember. Delving into the international history and tradition of kites is eye-opening; that landmark sure is worth a visit.

Marge and Don Cox of South Bend celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary in 2019, a feat that few achieve. The couple, who created a pharmacy empire in Pacific County, were delightful. Their life was essentially a history of the Peninsula. The family members who guided me on that important story were like unpaid research assistants. They mailed me a card afterward thanking me for our story. Now that’s class!

Brilliant

Early in the year, three Ilwaco High School students, Tristan Trudell, Alexandrea Carper and Brendan Chabot, talked about their excitement for their planned trip to Germany with Astoria’s long-running exchange program. This trio is remarkable. They kept cropping up in my viewfinder all year, demonstrating commitment in cross country running, track and appearing in plays or musical performances. People who slag off our nation’s youth should stop, take a deep breath, and instead take a look at the fine example these three young people set. One day they will be running the world (if my generation has left any world for them to run). They are a true credit to their families.

Three other Ilwaco students, Katie Glasson, Wylie McHale and Madalynn Yates, impressed me, too. My wife is a school teacher who tells her students: have a passion. This trio’s passion is horses, and they were preparing for state competition. McHale was especially eloquent: “I’ve ridden horses since before I could remember. It’s like breathing for me — it’s something I couldn’t live without.”

I was sneezing like crazy on the day Ilwaco High School instructor Stephen Blasko’s students launched their home-made boats on Black Lake, but that wasn’t going to stop me. I had missed the opportunity the prior year because I was “tired” — what a wimp I am! — and wasn’t going to let him down again.

Blasko runs a program that emphasizes safety, while teaching life skills.

Some short-sighted school districts, looking for ways to save money, cut back on shop class. Art and music are often in the budget cross hairs, too. That’s just plain daft. Not all students are gifted in traditional academic disciplines. These practical or right-brain endeavors are a brilliant way to develop their talents while keeping them in school.

‘Sisu’

I am guilty of having a bit of a crush on Naselle.

My interest was piqued in 2006 when I was editor of the Astorian and my summer intern, Aaron Burkhalter, sought to define the Finnish concept of “sisu.” It means fortitude, but is somewhat more nuanced. Interest turned to admiration in 2015 when the Observer asked me to follow the football and volleyball teams through their fall season.

I had been forcibly retired on medical grounds the year before and was feeling pretty darned useless. My brother, cousin and myriad relatives have worked interesting jobs, yet they are all personalities in their own right outside their chosen profession. But I had fallen victim of that common dynamic, “If you are what you do, who are you when you are no longer doing it?”

That assignment was a challenge that shook me out of my “woe-is-me” attitude. While waiting for my future sports editor to graduate from university, I had covered winter and spring high school sports at my weekly newspaper in Camas in the 1980s. But I had never covered fall. So I had to learn about football and volleyball. And quickly. Luckily, gridiron maestros Jeff Eaton at Naselle and Kevin McNulty at Ilwaco were willing to be patient.

For volleyball, I had expert early help from my wife’s sister, who had twice coached Pullman to the state championship game. Rachelle Ridout and Allie Bair aided me in Ilwaco, but I was blessed, too, to make a connection with Kim Eaton at Naselle.

Eaton grasps the concept that a coach communicates with her players through the newspaper, as well as in the huddle and at practice. It was her final year coaching, too, and her daughter Taylor was playing in her senior year. It was a memorable fall for all of us.

During this past year, I returned to help cover Naselle post-season sports, including state appearances in basketball, track, volleyball and football. With the exception of track, most of the participants were not grinning with pleasure at the outcome of their contests, yet these youngsters and their coaches sure demonstrated “sisu.”

Graduation was another opportunity to observe the remarkable community ethos in Naselle. My football story back in 2015 — “it takes a village” — spotlighted the way everyone in a small town contributes to its success. What struck me most about Naselle High School last summer was each of the 24 graduates was an individual who had identified their own path. The {span}valedictorian{/span} and {span}salutatorian{/span} were boys who had starred in multiple sports (how on Earth did they find time to study?). The event was a terrific “group hug,” because the speakers — in truth, everyone present — kept thanking other people for helping them.

Dedication

“People features” are the staple of community journalism. We writers love to showcase interesting folks doing interesting things.

One such family was Jen Reinmuth-Birch and Norm Birch who bought a school bus and had Ashlin Cadinha of Mobile West in Seaview turn it into a mobile classroom so they could homeschool their sons Jack and Michael while driving around the nation. Their enthusiasm for the project was infectious, and continued on Facebook as their adventures unfolded.

Janet Easley was a leader in the Loomis Lake clean-up efforts, and it was important to note her contribution to the quality of the environment here on our beloved Peninsula. Blogger George Miller is a character in the behind-the-scenes drama that sometimes occurs in Surfside when residents voice differing views about the direction of the homeowners’ group. Portraying him without appearing to take sides was indeed a challenge.

Les Clark’s life as a fourth-generation commercial fishermen could fill a book. When I talked with him, he was still gillnetting at 90. Somewhat younger is Larkin Stentz, who lives a life of rural simplicity at 70. The Peninsula stalwart is equally known for his music and farm exploits. My “news angle” was his new CD. I noted that listeners could hear his breath on the bamboo flute recordings. Rather than a sound-recording error, it was a remarkable connection with his human-ness.

Newspaper work is often about milestones in people’s lives. Another “mature” gentleman, Dr. Ivan Law, was leaving the community after a change in the cancer treatment program at Ocean Beach Hospital. His story of 10 years of service reflected terrific dedication to the Peninsula.

And, at the other end of the “age spectrum,” Del and Wendy Murry of Long Beach celebrated one, too, as their son, Royce Murry, a 2018 IHS graduate, graduated with honors from U.S. Air Force boot camp at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and commendably began his career in military security.

Fortunate

My passion is theater, and occasionally I get to write about it. We are so fortunate to have two groups on the Peninsula, allowing people with thespian tendencies year-round opportunities for creative fun. The Peninsula Association of Performing Artists and the Peninsula Players produce plays and musicals at their host theaters in Chinook and Ilwaco. Their admission prices are modest and it is enthralling to see your neighbors play characters different from their real selves.

Angela Grote leads PAPA, having been the creative mind (and hands) behind some remarkable costumes these last few shows. The group showcases the singing and acting abilities of talents like Emma Zimmerman. The Players benefit from versatile and fearless actor Robert Scherrer, whose elastic face could morph into just about any character. Both groups welcome newcomers. Of these, Natasha Beals has been the gold medalist; but Patrick Buckley and Genice Normand are terrific “new faces,” too.

Installing confidence in local young people to participate in such adult-run groups are dedicated Ocean Beach teachers Rachel Lake and Cheryl Cochran. Lake somehow allocates time to run her school theater troupe while working as a full-time music teacher. Cochran teaches special ed., runs a middle school drama club and operates her own dance studio. She was the driving force behind the blockbuster kids’ show “Polar Express” just before Christmas. Sadly, her mother died the day before opening night, but in true show business tradition, the show went on.

Lake’s musical students, including the Trudell-Carper-Chabot triumvirate, earned pretty darned good press for their exploits. Not least among her group’s talents are her own children, Emma and Christopher, whose saxophone and trumpet enhance all the groups they perform with.

Significant

Events and organizations earn much newspaper ink, including Wings Over Willapa, whose organizers, including Dianne Fuller, seek to protect habitat for shorebirds while promoting the Willapa Wildlife Refuge. Ragan Myers, the dedicated events coordinator for the city of Long Beach, put together the Books at Long Beach event in the fall. Then, in collaboration with the irrepressible Colleen Smith, owner of Tapestry Rose, a yarn supply store at the back of her Adelaide’s Coffee Shop in Ocean Park, she dreamed up a fiber arts festival.

For another equally “artsy” story, I delighted in talking with Tony Pfannenstiel about the poetry boxes going up all over town. Who knows if these are a fad or a trend, but it was enjoyable to highlight his enthusiasm for printed words with impact.

Some stories had a harder edge. A visit to Pacific County’s Drug Court was an opportunity to report on the struggles of Dustin Erwin. His addiction had led to crime. But caring professionals determined he deserved a second chance — if he was wiling to work for it. Serving chocolate cake at an informal celebration after his “graduation” was Tessa Clements, one of those “unsung heroes” of government service who work in the background, most often without any applause.

A summer event, the third-annual Pacific County Fire District 1 safety fair organized by hard-working Lani Karvia, gave the paper a chance to highlight some folks making significant contributions to our community. Two such were 911 dispatchers Jamie Moseley and Bobbi Pulsifer. Later, another dispatcher, Jamiee Boggs, earned some significant kudos by helping a girl deliver her mom’s baby — by telephone. Cops and firefighters deservedly earn headlines for their work, but I think it is high time these dedicated emergency personnel receive some credit, too.

Neighbors

One of the elements of small-town newspaper work — an oddity that is rarely an issue in big cities — is writing about your neighbors. In my case, literally.

Jim Tweedie, the hard-working retired Presbyterian minister who writes books and does good deeds, was featured for his work with the financially strapped His Supper Table gift store and lunch program. And when I received word that my other neighbor, Lorna Batt, was retiring from the Bank of the Pacific in Long Beach after a distinguished banking career, I grabbed my camera and headed to her farewell party.

It’s an inevitable part of living in a small community if you have newsprint ink in your veins. Everyone mentioned above is my neighbor — and yours. And we at the Observer enjoy telling their positive stories.

Editor’s note: Patrick Webb is a 21-year resident of the Peninsula. He worked for two newspapers in his native England before emigrating to the USA, where he was an editor at six newspapers in five states.

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