Henrico County VA

Reflections on 10 years in print

The Henrico Citizen turns 10 years old with this issue – a reality that amazes me for conflicting reasons.

Has it really been 10 years?

Has it only been 10 years?

Since Sept. 20, 2001, I’ve attended more than 100 Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission and School Board meetings, taken photos at dozens of youth baseball and softball games, high school football games, community festivals and fundraisers. I’ve covered more than 50 high school graduations, interviewed hundreds of people and designed (and proofread) more than 4,800 pages. I’ve met with hundreds of business owners, advertising agents and public relations officials, sold and designed hundreds of advertisements, uploaded thousands of articles and photos to our website and delivered tens of thousands of copies of the paper to distribution points throughout Henrico County.

I’ve attended and covered events in all but two or three of the 60-plus public school buildings in Henrico, every recreation facility, public park, government building and several playgrounds. I’ve covered two hurricanes, a 100-year flood, two earthquakes, a sniper spree, a handful of parades and a half-dozen NASCAR races. I’ve attended dedication ceremonies for new roads, new schools, new shopping malls and new neighborhoods. I’ve met and written about hundreds of people who amazed me, inspired me and became my friends.

I’ve traveled to virtually every corner of the county, committed to memory the names and paths of hundreds of roads and five magisterial districts. I can associate nearly every portion of the county with a person, event or article.

My e-mail inbox contains exactly 75,102 messages, and those are just the ones I’ve saved since July 27, 2006. I’ve read each one at some point.

I’ve written more than 700 articles, taken more than 20,000 photos and written more than 9,000 headlines.

In the course of a decade, some moments stand out.

The sad ones do. When Tropical Storm Gaston dropped a foot of rain on Central Virginia in 2004, I raced out of our office to take photos of a daring rescue attempt by firefighters in front of our building. A quiet stream had turned into a raging river, threatening to wash away a minivan with a woman inside. I snapped a dozen or so shots, then ran back inside to continue working on deadline. I didn’t witness the heartbreaking outcome: the rescue was impossible, and the woman was swept to her death moments later. For years, I couldn’t bring myself to develop the film. I wrote a column about the experience.

The happy moments stand out, too. I covered the return of military members from Afghanistan to Richmond International Airport, where hugs and smiles seemed to be all that mattered. Earlier this year, I watched as a high school gymnasium erupted with genuine joy and excitement as a special needs student hit a game-winning buzzer-beating basket during the All-Star basketball league for students with physical and mental disabilities. I wrote about that, too.

There have been heated moments. Someone is always upset at the outcome of a school redistricting case. Someone almost always argues passionately against the next development or land rezoning case that threatens to disturb an existing neighborhood. I’ve witnessed it time after time, and I can relate to those who object: my childhood neighborhood in Northern Virginia – our quiet, tree-covered section of town with several dozen modest homes – no longer exists. It was bulldozed entirely years ago to make way for hundreds of apartments. But today, as a businessman seeking the next key opportunity for my own company, I don’t fault those developers for chasing their own goals.

There have been inspirational moments. Earlier this year, we published our first annual Top Teachers issue and told the stories of 20 Henrico educators who make a daily difference in the lives of dozens of students. The input we received from readers, who described in great detail the impact each teacher had on their children and grandchildren, was touching. So too were the reactions of the teachers upon learning they’d been named to our list.

There have been moments of pure wonderment. I stumbled onto a story years ago about the efforts of several African-American educators who helped fund the Henrico education of one young girl from Prince Edward County more than 50 years ago, when her school district closed rather than integrate. Their efforts – and the difference they made in one woman’s life – will inspire me forever.

Days before our first issue was to roll off the presses, two planes sliced through the World Trade Center, another dove into the Pentagon and a fourth crashed in Pennsylvania, changing our nation forever. In the aftermath, I suddenly wondered whether anyone would care to read about a plans for a new road or details about a bond referendum. Would photos of a championship Little League team, coverage of local elections or features about community volunteers hold any value to readers?

I was 24 years old, had no formal business training and was about to start a free newspaper whose first issue had one advertiser. Was I crazy?

Perhaps.

But in retrospect, my fears were unjustified. I believe as strongly today as ever in the future of true community journalism. Ultimately, the things that matter most to most people are those they can see, touch, hear and feel. And those things happen right here – in their community.

Much has changed in 10 years. Nearly as many people now read this newspaper online, connect with us through Twitter and Facebook or read our e-mail newsletters as those who read us in print. A decade ago, the fax machine and scanner were critical components of our small newsroom. Today they are obsolete.

What all these numbers, recollections and thoughts amount to, I’m not exactly certain. But I’d like to believe that somewhere inside the web they’ve spun is part of the story of Henrico County during the past decade.

Those who read this are the reason we exist. You are the people who care about this county, who work and volunteer to make it a great place to live. You are the small business owners who risked all to pursue your dreams and provide for your families. You are the teachers who have invested hundreds of your own hours and dollars because you care what paths your students take in life. You are the police officers and firefighters who protect and serve your neighbors. You are the mothers, fathers and grandparents who take children to baseball practices, dance recitals and drama rehearsals and who cheer at high school football games and third-grade plays. You are the Boy Scout Troop leaders, the tutors and mentors.

You are the true Henrico citizens – and we are truly proud to have told your stories for the past 10 years. Today, we begin looking forward to the next 10.
Community

Lions Club donates backpacks to elementary school

The Richmond West Breakfast Lions Club (based in western Henrico) recently donated 59 backpacks to the Westover Hills Elementary School on Jahnke Road.

Above, club members display some of the backpacks prior to their distribution. > Read more.

Glen Allen student to perform at Carnegie Hall

Thanks to a first-place win in The American Protege International Vocal Competition 2014, Glen Allen High School student Matija Tomas will travel to New York City to perform at Carnegie Hall in December.

At the first-place winners recital in Weill Hall, Matija will perform Giacomo Puccini’s opera aria, “Chi il bel sogna di doretta.” She will perform with other vocalists from around the world and have the opportunity to win other awards and scholarships.

Locally, Thomas has performed with Richmond’s renowned Glorious Christmas Nights, Christian Youth Theatre, and WEAG’s Urban Gospel Youth Choir. > Read more.

Gayton Baptist Church dedicates new outreach center


The John Rolfe YMCA and Gayton Baptist Church have partnered in an effort to bring greater health and wellness opportunities to the community.

Through this partnership, the John Rolfe Y will run Youth Winter Sports programs, including basketball and indoor soccer, in Gayton’s newly renovated $5.5 million outreach center that features a new gymnasium, youth and teen space, social space with café, meeting space and full service commercial kitchen. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Brews and bites done right

Urban Tavern’s big, bold themes impress

The Urban Tavern opened in August, replacing the former Shackelford’s space at 10498 Ridgefield Parkway in Short Pump. Because of local and longtime devotion to Shackleford’s, Urban Tavern has some big shoes to fill.

Without any background information, I headed to the restaurant for dinner on a Wednesday night, two months after its opening.

On a perfect fall evening, four out of eight outdoor tables were taken, giving the impression that the restaurant was busier than it was. On the inside, a couple tables were taken, and a few folks were seated at the bar. > Read more.

A terrible, horrible movie. . . that’s actually pretty good

‘Alexander’ provides uncomplicated family fun
It’s not surprising in the least that Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day doesn’t much resemble the book it’s based upon.

Judith Viorst’s 1972 picture book isn’t exactly overflowing with movie-worthy material. Boy has bad day. Boy is informed that everyone has bad days sometimes. Then, the back cover.

In the film, the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad-ness is blown up to more extreme size. Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould) has a bum day every day, while the rest of his family (Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Dylan Minnette, Kerris Dorsey) exist in a constant bubble of perfection and cheery optimism – to the point that the family is so wrapped up in their own success that Alexander’s being ignored.

So on the eve of his 12th birthday, Alexander makes a wish: just once, he’d like his family to see things from his perspective; to experience the crushing disappointment of one of those no good, very bad days. Once he has blown out the candle on his pre-birthday ice cream sundae, his family’s fate is sealed: one full day of crippling disasters for all of them. > Read more.

Deep Run HS plans fall musical

Tickets for Deep Run High School’s fall musical production – Aida – will go on sale Nov. 3. The Elton John-Tim Rice pop opera, inspired by Verdi’s classic opera, tells the story of enslaved Nubian princess Aida, who falls for captain of the guard Radames, who is betrothed to the Egyptian princess.

Performances will be held Nov. 13-15 at 7 p.m. each day. > Read more.

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