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Over 715 Sundays ago, I began an adventuresome journey with this newspaper. I had no idea where it would take me, only that I was excited to get started because my mind was overflowing with a list of ideas. Since July 2007, I have visited hundreds of homes while listening to stories, taking notes and sharing early morning coffee with some of the area’s finest people in every ZIP code in the Tri-State.

I discovered that it doesn’t matter where you live, who you are or where you’re from, there’s a story inside each of us worth listening to. The big problem lately has been finding those people willing to share it. This pandemic has created a real challenge with finding that next story.

Those last 13 years have deeply enriched my life because of the memories these stories created. The people I’ve met and the friendships developed will forever remain a personal treasure for me. This is especially true when I receive emails and phone calls from those I interviewed and members of their family with thanks and appreciation. That’s what makes all the time, effort and expense worthwhile.

I’ve also learned numerous things while writing these articles, such as:

College classes in writing composition, English and journalism fall short with everything needed to write a weekly newspaper column. Receiving firsthand experience working with a few different editors is the other half of the educational process.

In 13 years I’ve misspelled the names of two individuals in this column. Yet, in the field of journalism it’s unacceptable, and apologies do little to repair the damage.

When I first started I knew little about how newspaper space is allocated — 13 years later, I still don’t.

A short story is more difficult to write than a longer one.

If you’re going to interview people for newspaper print, you need to learn how to listen to everything they have to say. I still need improvement with this, and my family agrees completely.

With every Christmas time interview of grade school kids about the truth of Santa Claus, I discovered that Art Linkletter was right — kids really do say the darnedest things, and some of their remarks cannot be printed in a newspaper.

Finding that next story is sometimes harder to do than writing it.

Something else I’ve found to be true: You could spend your entire working career writing a weekly article about people, groups and organizations from this area, and you’d never get them all.

There are individuals, families, groups and organizations that have made this area a better place to live, and being able to share their stories in this paper was a rare opportunity. I was privileged to hear first-hand accounts of stories that were often filled with war-torn memories. Many of those people I will never forget because of the emotional involvement their stories revealed.

I’ve listened to veterans talk about jungle patrols in Vietnam. Gut-wrenching stories of family members who suffered PTSD so great that the only answer was to take their own life. I’ve written stories from veterans who served in Korea, Battle of the Bulge, Normandy, South Pacific, Iwo Jima, Japan, France, Germany, Africa, England and others. I have conducted phone interviews with veterans on duty in the Middle East, heard first-hand accounts of life in a POW camp, talked with crew members who flew bombing missions over Germany and families with children who went to war and were never heard from again.

I’ve interviewed joggers in Ritter Park, fishermen at Lake William, volunteer firemen, volunteers in food pantries from Ceredo to Milton, senior centers, Honor Flight, volunteers in hospitals, nonprofit organizations, churches, American Red Cross, VFW, American Legion, funeral homes, Ritter Park’s Rose Garden, City Mission, Edwards Cancer Center, the homeless, even a history of the pink elephant on Route 60 and walkers in the old Memorial Field House.

None of those stories was as difficult to write as this one because it’s my last. It’s time to quit on my own terms while there’s time to pursue other interests. Scripture says to everything there is a season, and this is the season to let it go.

If you’ve enjoyed my articles through the years, I’m happy to have been part of your Sunday mornings. I also need to thank The Herald-Dispatch for the opportunity. It was one heck of a ride!

God bless you all, and God bless America. We need unity throughout our country, as our land is badly wounded.

Clyde Beal has written about several interesting people in the Tri-State. This is his final column.

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