This first column of 2019 is a tribute to the weekly newspaper you are reading today, the Mad River Union, and a reflection on the role such a local forum for local news and ideas plays in giving the North Coast a sense of place and community.
The staff and writers for the newspaper were treated by the editors and publishers to dinner at Mazzotti’s in Arcata Dec. 20 as a “thank you for a good year” evening.
I brought an anecdote to share from a recent book club selection titled The Men Who United the States: America’s Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics, and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible by British-American author Simon Winchester.
However, the festive atmosphere was too lively, fun and noisy to give a proper serious toast and tribute. So I shared some of Winchester’s story across the table to Editor Jack Durham and his wife, Kim and repeating it here.
Simon Winchester, became a citizen of the United States on July 4, 2011 and lives in Sandisfield, Massachusetts. He is an admirer of American author, Sherwood Anderson, who wrote “Winesburg, Ohio,” a classic in American literature, in 1919. Winchester wanted to write a similar novel about his hometown of Sandisfield, but decided Anderson had already done a fine job of telling tales of small town American characters, opinions and life. So instead, he did something else. He and a group of writers, mostly admirers of Sherwood Anderson, “started a local monthly newspaper, The Sandisfield Times,” published first in 2010 and “in the years since it has become, to the surprise of all, an essential part of village life, required reading for everyone – like the Winesburg Eagle in fact, but a century later.”
Winchester continued, “The paper is now popular, needed, and ceaselessly written to, and it has brought to Sandisfield something that the village has never truly enjoyed in all of its 250 years of incorporated existence: a sense of community, a common sense of unity.... our newspaper has volunteers today whose ethnic origins are Italian, Greek, Scots, Irish, Japanese, Dutch and Chinese. But all, in a uniquely American manner, see virtue and power in the new harmony that they have made, which manifests itself in the modest document that all can see and read on the first day of each month.”
Winchester’s ruminations end with this: “This new sense of harmony may have been a long time coming to Sandisfield, Massachusetts, and there are other communities within the country that are more isolated and forgotten than ours, where disunity is more likely to be the watchword. Yet it cannot and should not be forgotten that the story of the United States of America is still a developing one, a continuing evolution, and that the union becomes ever stronger as a result of the pressures of steady change. After all, the very notion of change informs the Preamble to the United States Constitution: ‘We the people...in order to form a more perfect union...’ The union, it was recognized back in the late eighteenth century, has to be made ever more perfect all the time. Our small-town newspaper is just one more step on the way. This is how it is done – our way, the American way.”
Hats off to Kevin Hoover and Jack Durham, both veteran journalists from small local newspapers, the Arcata Union, the Arcata Eye and the McKinleyville Press before they joined talent and time to produce the Mad River Union to give local perspective and news to the northwest coast once a week. For our interconnected communities, Arcata, Blue Lake, Fieldbrook, McKinleyville, Manila, Samoa, Trinidad and Orick, the weekly newspaper inspires a sense of place, belonging, and unity, even during divisions in views and perspectives, not unlike how Simon Winchester dedicates part of his time on the northeast coast.
Thank you Mad River Union and Happy 2019 wishes to one and all.
Email Patti at [email protected].