It's not the job. It's the people. That's what Wanda English Burnett will miss the most when she walks out the doors of Ripley Publishing Co. Inc. at the end of May. She is leaving after nearly 30 years in the local newspaper business.
"It's interacting with people. That's what I'll miss most. Writing almost comes secondary when compared to talking with the many different people I have met over the years. It's great, and a true privilege, to be able to tell their story," Wanda said, relaxing in her office after a production day.
Wanda will "wander" (her column was dubbed Wandering With Wanda) with husband Jerry to central Florida. Doctors prescribed warm weather to help Wanda with her health problems. She hates to leave her hometown, and family, but knows she is leaving her aging parents in good hands, with daughters Gara Kreider and Rachel Grossman.
Jerry is originally from Florida and has landed a job there, and they've found a house with "two palm trees!" Wanda exclaims, and proudly shows a photo on her cell phone.
Wanda has been the editor of the Osgood Journal and The Versailles Republican for the past 15 years, having started in the office and moved her way up 29 years ago. A South Ripley graduate, she has been an integral part of the newspaper.
"I fell in love with the newspaper. They say the ink gets into your blood, and it did mine! I loved being able to put words down on paper," she said, reflecting on her past three decades in community journalism.
She recalled coming to the office as a little girl with her father, Clarence English, and tiptoeing over the counter to see what was going on. "Guess I was always nosy!" she says, and belts out a laugh. Anyone who knows Wanda knows her trademark laugh, and how quick she is to use it. They also know she likes to poke fun at herself.
As editor, Wanda has written numerous human interest stories, covered council and commissioner meetings, school board meetings, local elections, festivals, church events, court news and accidents. "The hardest thing to report is of someone I know who has made a mistake. I've been known to go to people's homes and warn them it's going to be in the paper. It hurts me to do so, but it is my job to be fair and report the truth." Respect and integrity are important in both her personal and professional life.
Friend and former staff writer, Mary Margaret Moorhead Clegg recognizes her integrity and sent her a personal note. "You have been a remarkable journalist combining accuracy with integrity. Your Christian spirit has shone through your hard news as well as features."
Publisher Linda Chandler, who hired Wanda 29 years ago, knew she was onto a good thing. "Wanda has always been committed to the paper and devoted to the community throughout her whole career. No matter the story, she did it with thoughtfulness and truthfulness. She is a Ripley County treasure and will be greatly missed as a coworker and as a true friend. "
President of Ripley Publishing Gene Demaree says Wanda's presence will be missed. "Sometimes you get lucky and 15 years ago we needed a new editor and found her right in our front office. Wanda had all the qualities that make a good editor. She knew the territory. She's very loyal, has high integrity and has great common sense. All of this wrapped up with a kind heart and thick skin. My wife, Jo Jean and I wish her and Jerry nothing but the best in their new adventure in life."
What Wanda won't miss of the job, she admits, "is the pressure of deadlines. Other than that I'll miss everything...the sounds of the press as it rumbles in my office. The smell of news ink, but I'll really miss my co-workers. They've been a real team!" She also mentions Dorothy Craig, whose family has owned the paper for generations, who was a great mentor. The two became fast friends and not only went out to lunch together for years, but became known for their famous shopping trips to the big city.
She cites how that same team showed up on Sunday, two days after the March 2, 2012 Holton tornado to put the paper together, with a four page photo spread, stories, etc. Wanda is from Holton and was at home with her three grandchildren when the tornado struck. Once she knew all were safe, she quickly went into action, as editor, as the EMA Public Information Officer, and above all, as a good neighbor.
Another story, she remembers, was of how she got in a helicopter for the first time as a way to show the Amish community to trust law enforcement and rescue teams. "The driver did some 'hot dog' moves, going nose down and all that stuff. I loved it! They all clapped when I got out. I thought if I helped somehow to let them know this is safe, it was worth it."
Wanda also recalled other memorable events, such as taking an honor flight to DC with her father and others and a trip to DC with Vietnam vets. Versailles' Col. John Bishop who died serving our country was another important story to Wanda. The Bishop family, no doubt, recognized this editor was not a hard-nosed reporter looking for a story, but a person who sincerely cared about her country, her county, and the people who sacrificed their own sons and daughters. A "biker babe," she enjoyed riding with the Patriot Guard and the former Governor for charity rides. She was also a familiar figure at the 4H fairs, emceeing the county baby contest for over 20 years, and the pumpkin show parade and prince and princess contests.
This editor will greatly miss her hometown, her family, her Versailles Church of Christ, the Lions Club (she and publisher Chandler were the first female members 10 years ago), and the many people she's dealt with daily on the job, from troopers and rescue squad members to funeral home directors and school personnel.
Wanda has endeared herself to the community. An open house celebration in her honor will be held Thursday, May 16 at the Versailles Lions Club building at Washington Street, from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Ripley Publishing invites the public to stop by, so they too can bid farewell to this longtime community journalist, and wish her the best as she leaves for sunnier skies soon.
Mary Mattingly, former news director of WRBI Radio, will assume the duties of the editor position on May 20.