It was Christmas Eve 1997. I can still see my dad standing in the kitchen of his and my mom’s log cabin on a small acreage south of Tulsa, Okla.
I had just hung up the telephone after talking with my photojournalism teacher at the University of Missouri-Columbia about taking a job at the North English Record.
“Take the job,” my dad said to me as I stood there. “Isn’t that what you went back to school for?”
I took his advice and called Alan Sieve at Marengo Publishing Company (MPC) to accept the offer that I had received earlier in the day.
Later that day, my mom and dad were in the kitchen when my dad asked me if a thousand would do?
“A thousand what?” I replied.
“A $1,000 to help you get started,” Dad said.
That was a like a breath of fresh air. I didn’t have a dollar to my name. I had finished school at age 37 that fall after wrapping up a couple incomplete courses at MU.
I had moved back to Oklahoma in October while looking for a job. I spent about a month of that time riding shotgun with my brother in his semi-truck. I slept in the truck and ate at greasy spoon diners and truck stops along the way.
We hauled furniture from Tulsa to St. Louis, Denver, Omaha and even Royal, Iowa, a small-town near Spencer. We stopped in the twin cities and rolled through Chicago, Cleveland and ended up in Maine and New York City.
After returning to Tulsa, we hit the road again, this time to pick up a load north of Detroit and take it back to the Sooner State.
We made a stop in Princeton, Ill., to stay the evening with a friend, who I had met in Tulsa before going back to school, and his family.
That evening, Tom and I called home and my mom told me that Sieve had called earlier in the day looking for me.
The next day, I called Sieve and he asked if I was interested in the North English Record editor position. I told him yes. Sieve then said he knew I was on the road (per my mom) and wanted to know when we could have an interview.
I looked at Tom and said, “How about this afternoon?”
Tom and I pulled into the Landmark Restaurant in Williamsburg a few hours later where I met with Sieve and the Williamsburg Journal-Tribune editor for an interview in a Ford Focus. They were asking questions while giving me a tour of North English.
I was hired a week later on Christmas Eve.
I rolled out of Tulsa on Dec. 27 that year with a few belongings in my truck headed for my new home and a new adventure. Most of my belongings were in a storage facility in Ashland, Mo., where I lived in college.
All I had was a credit card for gas. Had my parents not given me that money, I don’t know how I would have made it. They were always so good to me and my brother.
I’ve been in Iowa for 25 years this month.
I spent nearly 18 years of that time working at the North English Record, Montezuma Republican, Brooklyn Chronicle, which included covering Victor, and the Poweshiek County CR papers. Today, I work a day job near Grinnell and since November 2018, I have been doing freelance work for the CR paper.
I met my wife, Debbie, at the Iowa State Fair in 2003 while doing a story on State Fair Campers from the Montezuma area. We were married just more than a year later on Sept. 25, 2004. I was a day from turning 45 and hadn’t been married before. We celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary in September.
We bought a house together in November 2006 and have made a home in the years since. We’ve published four books, two Iowa photo books and two romantic suspense novels by Debbie in recent years. Her third book in the series is at the editor and she has books four, five and six in the series awaiting editing. She’s also written a Christmas book that she hopes to publish next year.
I never had any idea growing up in the big city that I would move to small-town Iowa, meet my wife, buy a house and find my passion.
I’ve written hundreds of stories and took thousands of photos and believe that I have made more friends than enemies along the way.
It all started after I won a 35mm camera in a weight loss bet with a co-worker at the Tulsa newspapers in 1983. I started taking adult photo classes at a local community college, which led me to Rogers State College (now university) in August 1987.
While at RSC, where I earned an AAS degree in graphics technology, I got the bug to continue my educational pursuits and landed at MU. I hadn’t taken an ACT test and barely passed high school English and still got into one of the top journalism schools in the world.
I worked my through college, first with the US Postal Service as a part-time casual clerk at the Columbia Mail Facility and later as a custodian on the MU campus.
I always said I cleaned lots of toilets and swept my way through journalism school.
Thank you all for supporting me, encouraging me, sharing story ideas and helping me along my life’s adventures. And thanks to Debbie for believing and loving me just as I am.
Have a great week and always remember that “Good Things are Happening,” every day and always.