Henrico County VA
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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

Varina Ruritans honor students

The Varina Ruritan Club hosted the winners of its 2014 Environmental Essay contest at its monthly meeting March 11 in Varina.

The contest, in its eighth year, was for the first time open to students in grades 3-5 at Varina Elementary School. (It previously was open to Sandston Elementary School students.)

The meeting included the winners, parents of the winners, Varina Elementary principal Mark Tyler and several teachers who were in charge of the contest at the school. > Read more.

Baseball game to benefit Glen Allen Buddy Ball


For the fifth consecutive year, St. Christopher’s and Benedictine will play a varsity baseball game at Glen Allen's RF&P Park as part of a fundraising effort for the River City Buddy Ball program.

The game will take place Saturday, April 12, at 7 p.m., and the teams hope to raise $3,000 through donations, raffles and other efforts. Admission to the game is free, but fans who attend are asked to donate funds for the Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association's Buddy Ball program, which enables disabled children and teens to play baseball. > Read more.

Highland Springs field to be dedicated in honor of longtime coach Spears

The Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks will dedicate the Highland Springs Little League Majors Field in memory and honor of Rev. Robert “Bob” L. Spears, Jr., on April 12 with a ceremony at the field at 8 a.m.

Spears served the league as a coach and volunteer for 30 years and was praised as a pioneer for equality. His “Finish strong” motto embodied ethical perseverance on the field and in life. > Read more.

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Entertainment

A fun, fuzzy ride

‘Muppets Most Wanted’ worthy of its franchise

Do Muppets sleep? It’s hard to say.

They don’t really eat (or breathe, as far as anyone can tell). And only occasionally do they have visible, functioning legs.

As far as anyone knows, sleeping might be off the table. And that makes it very hard to accuse the Muppets of sleepwalking through their latest feature, Muppets Most Wanted – even if that’s exactly what’s going on.

Jim Henson’s beloved creations were back in a big way after 2011’s The Muppets, with fame and fortune and even an Oscar, a first for the group (“Rainbow Connection” was nominated, yet somehow failed to collect at the ’79 ceremony). > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


There’s no excuse for kids and families to not get out of the house this weekend! The Armour House and Gardens has an “Egg-celent Egg-venture” planned and Reynolds Community College will host the Reynolds Family Palooza. If you’re looking to give back to your community, Dorey Park will host Walk Like MADD and coordinators2inc will present the annual Kids Walk for Kids. And a special event for children with special needs will be on Sunday – the Caring Bunny will be at Virginia Center Commons. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

A new meaning for fried chicken

Is it heresy to say – in this bastion-of-tradition capital of the Old South – that it's time for Southern fried chicken to take a step back and make way for a new fried chicken king?

Count me among the new believers bowing to Bonchon Chicken's delectable double-fried bliss. Hand-brushed with signature garlic soy or hot sauce, flash-fried once and then again, the decadent drums and wings take "crisp" to a new level. If you're eating with a crowd and everyone bites in at once, be warned: you might need ear plugs to handle the din. > Read more.

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