September 22, 2021

If The Echo is to survive, it’s up to all of us

            Walk back 32 years with me. During mealtime, our family sat around an oval oak table in our kitchen, talking and praying. We loved living on the corner of Ninth and Newcastle streets, across the street from my parents in Jesup. But we knew drastic change was imminent.

            Our newspaper company had grown. Its footprint was spread over Georgia, Florida and both Carolinas. For our family to remain connected at mealtimes, dance recitals, sporting events and other traditional activities, we needed to move to the geographic center of Community Newspapers Inc.

            Pam and I let our children participate in the decision. Alan, Emily and Eric voted for the Athens area. I suggested we live on a farm. Everyone liked that idea, so I called one of my 1966 UGA roommates. Bill Cabaniss was president of the Commercial Bank in Crawford.

            “Bill,” I said, “our family is moving to Northeast Georgia. We’d like to find some acreage in Oglethorpe County with an old farmhouse, pastures, pecan trees, a barn and a fishpond.” Bill went to work, but the search stalled. Nothing was available. We shifted to Plan B and bought a subdivision house a few miles outside of Athens. The rural itch didn’t go away until we found a small farm on Lake Hartwell.

            Fast-forward to 2012, when 225 acres with a house, two ponds and three historic barns in Smithonia were under bank foreclosure. One look and we knew we’d live in Oglethorpe County. Our children were grown and married. The number of grandchildren was quickly expanding. We now have eight grandchildren from the ages of 7 to 17. Historic Smithonia Farm is a magnet to pull them and their parents to us. We visit every possible moment.

            We aren’t from Oglethorpe County, but we like to say, “We got here as fast as we could.” And one of the first things we did was subscribe to The Oglethorpe Echo. I had known Ralph Maxwell and his family for most of my 50-year newspaper career.

            Last Tuesday, I went to see Ralph at his Lexington office. He was preparing to announce the closing of The Echo at the end of September and on its 148th anniversary. I understand and respect Ralph’s decision, but I asked my friend to give me some time to consider other options. He agreed to continue publishing through October. I am grateful, and I hope you are, too.

            Oglethorpe County is a very special place. Our community needs its newspaper. I don’t aspire to own The Echo, but I am determined to keep it coming into your homes and businesses. As I said to Ralph, “Where’s there’s a will, there is a way for The Echo to survive.” Word has drifted out, and people are telling me, “I want to help. Count me in.”

            Right now, there’s plenty of “will” to help find a “way.” There are more questions than answers, but I am encouraged by the people and their willpower stepping forward.

            An African proverb suggests, “If you want to run fast, run alone. If you want to run far, run together.”

            If Oglethorpe County wants the legacy and service of The Echo to run farther into the future, we must run together.

            What do you say?

            Are you ready to run with us?