So you think the Itemizer-Observer runs too many stories about Dallas and too few about Monmouth-Independence, do you?

Careful. Sharon might hear you.

Even now, after she sadly passed away March 5 and left us to fend for ourselves, don’t take any chances. Never doubt for an instant that Sharon Colllinsworth continues to watch over us. And you do not want to get on her bad side. Speak ill of the Itemizer-Observer or anything or anyone she cares about, and she will return. You will pay.

Back in the previous century, Sharon and I worked in the Independence office of the Itemizer-Observer alongside reporters such as Josie Wood and John Oliver.

Yes, the paper had a separate Independence office back then. Every now and again, some hapless soul dropped by and advanced the opinion that the coverage between the communities was lopsided in favor of Dallas.

More than once, I saw Sharon bolt from her seat at her desk and grab the person by the arm and force-march him or her to the peg where we kept the recent back issues.

She stood over their shoulders and commanded them to take a pad and pencil and count the number of stories from each community. People quickly realized the paper was extremely equitable in its coverage.

Oh, but that was not the end of it.

Sharon gave them a final tongue lashing which, if they were wise, they immediately followed with a profuse apology.

If an apology was not forthcoming, Sharon would sternly advise them to offer one. At that point, realizing their personal peril, they surrendered in a hail of mea culpas.

Any reporters present were called out to receive the apologies personally.

It was like working with a mother bear in the next room. She took good care of us. We knew she loved us. But more than us, she loved the newspaper and the communities it served.

I left the paper in early 2005. When I returned for a brief stint last year, Sharon had long since retired. I heard about her passing last week and was immediately flooded with memories.

There was the day John Pfaff (that John Pfaff, the namesake of the Independence park) came in with a baseball with a mushroom growing out of it. Another man came in with a gourd that looked like Spiro Agnew.

We dutifully covered them both, eventually inspiring the paper’s annual Weird Vegetable Contest.

The Independence office had one restroom — with about eight inches between the front of the toilet and the wall. Sharon used to tell people they couldn’t use the facilities unless they mastered the seven basic ballet movements.

Nonetheless, it was an incredible place to work between 1996 and 2001 when I moved back to the mother ship in Dallas to be the managing editor.

Being a managing editor is fun. Being a reporter is even more fun. Sharon made those five years in Independence some of the best in my working life.

Newspapers are all about stories. They collect stories not only to be read today but also for years to come when we look back to remember who we were, what we thought and what we did at moments in history.

For every story in the paper, there is another story — the untold story of the staff who brought it to you. I can go back through “the morgue” and remember some sliver of my life for every byline.

So many of those memories involved Sharon Collinsworth, her family and our collective newspaper family.

We knew the paper didn’t belong to us. It didn’t even belong to the company that paid the bills. It belonged then, as it belongs now, to the communities it serves.

Yet even as temporary custodians of this institution that has been around since 10 years after the Civil War, we had a sense of emotional ownership.

The paper you’re reading now is only a fraction of the Itemizer-Observer. The paper is 146 years of people like Sharon Collinsworth, John Oliver, Nancy Adams, Dave Weston, Gwen Van Den Bosch, Leslie Glode, Gene Stoller, Stephanie Basalyga, Josie Wood, Virginia Kyle, Daniel Hurst and Justin Carinci — going all the way back to founder J. H. Upton.

Some of these people are still with us, doing good work and upholding the high standards they brought to the paper. Most are gone, but like Sharon, they’ve left us with memories.

And, oh, what memories.

Please support this paper. A lot of good people spent almost 150 years to make it possible.

Some of them may be watching.

(Tom Henderson was a college intern at the Itemizer-Observer in 1984, a reporter from 1996 to 2001, managing editor from 2001 to 2005 and a reporter from 2020 to 2021.)

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