Traces of Jeff 2016.03.09


Former Observer staff member Chris Wood was in the office last week and we started reminiscing about former reporters. There were many over the years, both before and after Chris was part of the staff.

Nearly all of them were fresh out of college and for the most part, they had studied journalism in school. They spent anywhere from a few days to a few years in Morenci before moving on to a larger paper or to a different career.

I've kept track of several of them—I'm still good friends with a few of them—while others have faded off into parts unknown by me. A few have had successful newspaper careers, a couple of them became English teachers, one or two went into the more sensible but maybe more boring field of public relations. 

One of them went to graduate school, hoping to become a college professor. That's Jeff Pickell, one of my former associates who comes to mind now and then when I search for something in the Observer index. 

Another reporter, Jeff Johnston, started the very sensible practice of indexing Observer stories every week for later reference, and Jeff Pickell carried the weekly chore ahead in a different frame of mind than his predecessors.

I looked through the index this morning to find out when Jeff Pickell starting working here. I saw the entry for his first column, but he never put his arrival into the index.

Here is his first signature Jeff entry, written shortly after he joined us: "Johns Hopkins cyclists. I did a bad job with this. This could’ve been a good feature."

Jeff created the annotated index entry with more than a mere statement of fact.

Here's another: "Fit in his 50s: former Morenci resident Larry Mackey is healthy and living in Hawaii. It’s all kittens and cotton candy for him, the #@$&*$!

Jeff's entries are laced with profanity

I've done a lot of laughing out loud this morning when perusing his time here. Unfortunately, many of his entries would be very offensive to the subject of the story and therefore won't be listed here.

• "Morenci senior center to expand. Thanks to Lenawee Health Alliance and help from Charles Fay Foundation exercise equipment, other stuff for old people will be added to wings in old hospital. I make these jokes now, but I’ll be old myself one day, sonny."

• "The body of the frozen airman found in California probably isn’t former Fayette resident William Gamber, but hell, we’ll write a feature about it anyway."

• "Editorial: Iraq war intelligence misused: the war sucks. Bush sucks. In other news, Cheney sucks. And so does hockey, but that's not mentioned in the editorial."

• "The Butzes have 17 Christmas trees. Do I really need to make a joke here?"

• "Heath Armstrong scores his 1000th basketball point. Meanwhile, scientists all over the world are researching the cure for cancer."

Jeff was not the first Observer reporter from a much more urban area who sometimes had difficulty adjusting to small-town life. What's important here seemed like somewhat of a joke to him. He did OK with it on a daily basis and used the index to say how he really felt about things.

• "Several county schools show decline in enrollment. Madison is the only one of the bunch that is steadily increasing. Maybe it’s because it’s named after one of our successful founding fathers. Unlike Reginald Morenci, the only signer of the Declaration of Independence to be convicted of pandering."

Did I mention that Jeff earned a degree in creative writing? Like his editor, he had no training in journalism, but he was well trained in wry humor.

• "Photo: Some girl baking some pie. Even I could bake a pie. Wait, no I can’t. Even I could watch four episodes of the X-files in one day. Season 2 sucks, by the way."

• "The Main Stop in Lyons sold a $267 million winning lottery ticket. The winner of said lottery ticket still hasn’t come forward to claim the winnings. Lyons residents scratch their heads, spit on the ground, say 'Well, GOLLeeeeee.'”

• "Jeff’s awesome feature on the Ginnivan show. I just want to thank my mom and dad for raising me. And of course, Notorious BIG. We homeboys fo’ life. Love you Biggie."

• "Fayette: Labor Day in July will honor village workers with free swimming, a hot dog, and a soda. Meanwhile, the American dream still lies on the ground in shattered pieces."

• "Photo: Stephanie McCord is homecoming queen. And she can totally whoop my behind at basketball."

He often interjected comments about how hard it was to write certain features and often entered a few words of self-deprecating humor. The Observer can be a tough place to work for the inexperienced.

Every now and then I come across Jeff's handling of Zac Johnson's many achievements back in 2007. Zac made the news a lot for athletic and academic skills, but Jeff had to take it a step further.

• "Zac Johnson rescues infant from raging house fire. Zac Johnson steals secret plans from Nazis in daring escape. Zac Johnson achieves the miracle of flight. Zac Johnson is better than you, let’s face it."

• "In a move meant to steal Zac Johnson’s thunder, Zack Craig and Austin Wolf are named to the all-TCC first team for basketball. Zac Johnson counters by inventing a perpetual motion machine and growing a beard that’s six feet long."

Jeff was very much unlike Zac. He wasn't an athlete. He wasn't a well-known figure in his home town or in his school, and he couldn't let the "cool kids" get by without comment.

• "Zac Johnson invents a spaceship that can travel faster than light. Everyone is humbled."

Back when there was some money in journalism and reporters were hired, it was always fun to watch the new kid unfold and see what they would become. Although in some ways it's easier to do so much of it by myself, I do miss the assistance and the chance to open the new package to see what was inside.

I hope you're teaching somewhere now, Jeff, and I know you would be pleased to finally have snippets of your indexing brought to light. Hey, you've been published.