You could say I have a little history in this neck of the woods.
Having grown up in Oakdale and being the child of someone who also grew up in Oakdale, I have a somewhat unique perspective compared to some of my coworkers who came to live and/or work here as adults.
At times I provide “background” to my reporter colleagues for stories they’re working on about families or individuals in Oakdale. They’ll sometimes ask me if I know a particular name or about some event and occasionally I’m of help with stuff that you’d only know about if you’ve lived here a long time.
Much of my beat here deals with reporting on education and what’s happening in the school district. Having gone through Oakdale schools, it’s sometimes strange to me when I find myself interviewing a former classmate or teacher. In other beats I cover, I even deal with people who’ve known my dad since grade school. A couple people even knew my grandparents. Sometimes people know about my relations, and other times they just don’t make the connection even though I write under my maiden name.
I know these people from “back when” and differently than in just a purely professional way. Because I have to wear my reporter’s hat so frequently, it’s important to me to remain professional and unbiased but it can be at the expense of having or further developing a friendship in order to do that.
I moved away from Oakdale when I went to college and occasionally visited home over those years. During that time I noticed that the town was growing and I had lost touch with some people, but upon returning to Oakdale after being gone for more than a decade, I realized it had changed a lot. Becoming a reporter in this town helped reintroduce me to the community and make connections with some people that I hadn’t seen in many years.
Now, my former high school biology teacher is the district’s new superintendent. I think it was my sophomore year and I remember that some of the girls in school had innocent crushes on him. The thought never crossed my mind that the young teacher/athletic coach would one day be the district’s leader. These days I talk to him for “official statements” about school district policies and programs. It’s a big change from asking him about my grade or getting explanations for classroom assignments. He’s much the same as I remember him as a teacher: friendly and having a very authoritative way of speaking.
Some of my classmates and high school peers are in administrative positions at the elementary, junior high and high school levels in Oakdale, too.
One of these administrators was student body president in high school and resembled the then-sexy and pre-scandal pop star George Michael. He doesn’t really have that same look anymore, he’s much more professional than pop star, but at times I look at him and can’t help but think about that time. Another administrator came to Oakdale as a new student in junior high and sat behind me in history class, and for some reason, I remember that he sang this silly song about Christopher Columbus. He later became our football team quarterback. Two others were once in 4-H and FFA with me and we showed animals at the fair together year after year.
As a kid, I just didn’t think of my classmates and peers as eventually being Oakdale school district employees. When I came to work at the paper, I didn’t realize I’d end up working with so many of them on the education beat. Conversely, when I cover other beats I’m not as surprised about coming across folks who know older members of my family. Oakdale has grown but it’s still a small town. For those with deep roots here, they know all the other people with deep roots.
It’s nice to have a history and know some of these people. The ice is already broken, so to speak. Although, I imagine it must be a little odd for them at times when working with me, as well. Being interviewed by me and answering questions about their work may seem, at times, obligatory and off-putting. It’s not personal, just part of what I do. Other times it may be enjoyable and perhaps advantageous.
Whatever the case, pro or con, becoming reacquainted with some of these individuals through my work has been interesting, even enlightening. I think it’s good to have a little history.
Dawn M. Henley is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News, and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.