This week has been filled with tears.
They continue to come and go, because today is my last day at the Courier, as I have accepted a job as the Director of Communication at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public & International Affairs.
There’s tears of sadness as we shared goodbyes with our friends and amazing teachers at Elk County Catholic Elementary School as my daughter graduated yesterday from her first and last year of preschool there. And today, as I share a final lunch with colleagues who have mentored me, and with whom I have worked and laughed together with as we try our best to build an amazing product for you every day.
Then, there’s the tears of frustration as my (soon-to-be) husband and I navigate a booming real estate market in Pittsburgh, having mere weeks to try to find a home for us, a girl, two dogs that weigh about 150-lbs. combined, and space for grandparents and friends to visit (a promise made to the girl in the move).
There’s also tears of relief and gratitude that there’s a path forward, and that out of a very large pool of very qualified applicants I was chosen to fill a position where I’m determined to grow and evolve alongside a school whose mission is to change the world.
It’s definitely bittersweet, especially since — for the longest time —my daughter thought my legal name was “Katie from the Courier” because that is how I usually answer my phone and how I always leave voicemails.
Please know that for the last (nearly) 10 years, I’ve told your stories because what each of you do and experience every day is exceedingly important; that what happens in our communities from tax increases to individual successes to chicken dinners to crime is what defines us and makes us one.
And it’s been a wild ride.
I’ve had to elbow national news outlets out of the way, trying to find the words to convey the heartbreak of a small town who lost 10 (mostly young people) in a Brockway house fire. I was so new then, but felt the urgency of imparting the compassion of a community’s loss the way that only a local newspaper can, while doing it through guttural tears.
I’ve attended endless meetings as you’ve fought large corporations and drilling companies against changes to your community which you believe deeply aren’t in its best interest — (and I’ve been there too when, sometimes, you’ve even won).
I’ve also attended meetings where you’ve fought each other for what you thought was the next best step toward progress, and while those conversations were impassioned and intense, mostly they ended with handshakes.
Of the people I’ve met, I brim with love and pride as I scroll through the archiving system on my last day, remembering all of you.
I’ve been blessed to tell the stories of humble World War II veterans (like Joe Scida, of Johnsonburg, who shared his story about returning to the beaches of Normandy after delivering forces by Higgins boat to Omaha Beach on D-Day), of strong young women who are fighting and beating cancer with grace (like Chloe Frank and Angelika Maletto), of countless mothers who lost their children to opioid addiction (like Patty Greene who lost her son Dan), of Gold Star mothers (like Sue Loudon, who lost their son in Operation Iraqi Freedom while another was still in the fight), of victims of domestic violence who chose to remain unnamed but opened their hearts to me (and the people like Billie Jo Weyant and the team at CAPSEA who endlessly fight for them).
But there’s also the story of a farm girl who mothers orphaned calves (like Anna Lundin), of teachers creating open and innovative classrooms for learning (like Greg Snelick and Matt Frank), of animal sanctuaries who fight for the rights of the voiceless (like Margo Stefanic and Debbie McAndrew of Willow Run Animal Sanctuary), of businesses who shuttered their doors after being staples of a community and of hopeful entrepreneurs who are taking a chance and investing here (of which there are too many to count), and of emergency responders (like Elk County detective Gregg McManus, State Police public information officer Bruce Morris, Crystal Fire Department Chief Bill Kraus, and St. Marys Police Department Chief Tom Nicklas) who always answer my calls even after a long investigation or fire fight.
During one of the interviews for my new job, I was asked if I could relate to and communicate with a community of academics when I have little to no experience working in that kind of culture.
And my answer was simple.
I told an interview panel of five and then a room of 20 people from GSPIA what I tell myself every day at the CE as I send a story into a sea of about 8,000 print readers and more than 10,000 social media followers on a wing and a prayer — people are people.
We all want to thrive and survive. We want our children to grow, be happy and brilliant. We want comfort and connection. And we all have a story and roots in something that shapes us into what we are.
The narratives change with each person and each place, but the beauty of the human experience doesn’t.
As for my human experience, as I plan a wedding, a move, a new job, try to reimagine a totally new life, I take moments to breathe in the overwhelming amount of blessings with which I have been bombarded in a very short time. They may be too many for one person to fully absorb and appreciate at once — but I’m trying. And the rarity of this moment isn’t lost on me.
My wish for each of you is that you continue to love each other and fight with one another for this place, because I’ve traveled around the world and it’s one of the best I’ve ever known.
And in a world so steeped in hatred and division, I ask you to remember that people are people and we’re all just doing the best we can.
I am deeply grateful for every moment spent with you, doing my best to help write the stories of this place together, which someday future generations will pour over, looking to understand us (the way I have at the Historical Society of St. Marys & Benzinger Township in an attempt to research my family and to understand the roots of St. Marys and Elk County).
But for now, there are other stories to tell.
So this is “Katie from the Courier,” signing off.
Katie Weidenboerner is assistant editor of the Courier Express.