Rumors, rumors, rumors.
For several months now, I’ve heard rumors of my own departure. Well, today’s the day I validate at least some of what you may have heard on the street. Today’s the day I confirm that I am, in fact, leaving the area. Today, Wednesday, is my last day as publisher of The Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle.
Tomorrow, I return to the world of daily newspapers as publisher of the Daily Sun News in Sunnyside. For those of you who know me, you’ll probably remember I grew up in Benton City, just a hop, skip and a jump or two from Sunnyside across the vineyards of the lower Yakima Valley. So, this change takes me closer to where I grew up than I’ve lived in 30 years.
It’s hard to believe that my first night here in The Okanogan and at The Chronicle was Dec. 24, 2008. I still can’t believe it’s been almost seven years since I made my home in Tunk Valley.
I took the job thinking I was going to stay in The Okanogan for five years. At the time, I figured I’d be offered jobs higher up the career ladder by then and would have moved. That’s what had happened most of my career.
A few came. But none could offer the quality staff at The Chronicle or the community involvement in the newspaper. Both employees and residents of Okanogan and Ferry counties take pride in having the largest community weekly publication in Eastern Washington.
Nothing emerged that offered the fantastic quality of life North-Central Washington has to offer. Here, there is still a sense of pride in community, a solid work ethic and a desire to do the right thing rather than the popular thing. I witnessed that first-hand in my first week in Tunk Valley.
My first neighborly encounter was with Charlotte Anderson. A retiree who lived essentially across the pasture from me, I spotted the “senior” resident one of my first cold winter mornings on the way to work in January 2009. Atop her ATV, she was rounding up cattle alongside Tunk Creek Road. I offered to help, but she was far more capable than I at rounding up livestock on the lam. With her years of experience engraved in her chiseled rural appearance, she cheerfully turned my help down. Just a normal day’s work in Tunk Valley, she said.
In my years of newspapering, I had never come across an elderly resident — if I dare call her that even though she was years older than many “elderly” — with such determination, work ethic and love for her valley.
I soon found she wasn’t alone.
My friend and neighbor, Mike Ray, demonstrated that, too. Although not nearly as aged as Charlotte, he, takes his community to heart, as does Daryl and Mitsy Green, Don and Karina Burford and many others in the valley. It wasn’t long after that when I started noticing how close-knit the entire North-Central Washington community was, not just the valley I chose to call home.
And with my eyes wide open, I fell in love with the area, lifestyle and people here.
I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors — here I could live it. I’ve always wanted to have good neighbors — here I have them, without the nosey ones from suburbia. And I’ve always wanted to make a difference and improve the community I called home — here, that is not only encouraged, but embraced.
Over the last few years, I started thinking how lucky I am to live here. I began to see how I could stay at The Chronicle until my turn to retire came. But in the back of my mind, I still wanted to take charge of publishing my own daily newspaper.
I was always told the time would come when, as a journalist, I would have to make a difficult choice between lifestyle and career. For me, the time has come.
Our company CEO, Joe Petshow, approached me a few months ago with the opportunity. I’ve thought long and hard about making the change. For me, it finally came down to this: I’m too young to turn down the opportunity. Besides, the Daily Sun News has a great staff, too. It’s also only one of eight daily newspapers published in Eastern Washington.
But in accepting my new post, I won’t be walking away completely. I’ll be representing The Chronicle at a few more upcoming events alongside my successor, Teresa Myers. And for the time being, my column will continue to be published here every Wednesday. I’m also planning on continuing to put on Jet Ski races in Oroville and Pateros.
I’m confident that I’m leaving The Chronicle in very good hands. Teresa has raised two children here and is committed to making the newspaper stronger and the community a better place to live. She’s earned her promotion in the newspaper world, having worked her way up from front desk to sales to management and now publisher.
From 1-3 p.m. today, Wednesday, Sept. 30, we’ll be hosting an open house at the newspaper, 618 Okoma Drive, Omak. Feel free to stop by and say goodbye while at the same time introducing yourself to Teresa.
I know the hours make it difficult for many of you to attend. But there’s always email — you’ll be able to reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org beginning Thursday. And, of course, Teresa’s email continues to be email@example.com.
I’ve truly enjoyed living in The Okanogan, and will likely question my decision to move for years to come. I will never regret being a part of this fantastic community. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll be able to afford to retire, and can return to my life here in The Okanogan.
Roger Harnack is a former editor and publisher of The Chronicle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.