After 17+ years as editor, she has volumes (and volumes) of memories

By BETH BUNCH,

I’ve been with Hattiesburg Publishing, which produces The PineBeltNEWS, Signature Magazine, Here’s Hattiesburg, and a number of other publications, as well as a resurrected Camp Shelby’s Reveille, for 17.5 years.

It would have been 18 in August.

I say ‘would’ because this is my last column for these products. I’m off on a new adventure with Forrest General Healthcare. And no, I’m not going to be a nurse!

I figured at my age, which is quite young, it was now or never. It has been one heck of a ride and I will miss all of you terribly, but I’m still going to be around town.

I’ve been in this business since I graduated from Mississippi University for Women in 1986, but I’ve actually been working at newspapers since I was in the third grade. This was only my second employer.

I appreciate all of you who have sent me notes, letters, emails and the like through the years saying you enjoyed reading my columns or stories or disagreed with something I wrote.

I have them rubber banded together and I’ve taken them out and reread them from time to time when the going got tough. I’m sorry I didn’t write on a more regular basis; maybe somewhere down the road.

I don’t have a copy of every newspaper I’ve worked on. While I like to keep stuff, that wasn’t possible. But there are stories that stick out in my mind through the years.

Last year’s story that appeared on the front of our Graduation newspaper and which I won a first place Mississippi Press Association award for came from Petal.

It was the story of Danny Li, a young man who came to the Petal School District in kindergarten and spoke not one word of English. Through the district’s English as a Second Language program, Li, and his sister, progressed all the way through high school and were named senior class valedictorian during two consecutive years.

Danny ended up at Yale, while his sister found a home at Stanford. It was amazing to hear their story. It’s one of the front pages I have framed and hanging up in my office, which I’ll soon be taking down and packing away.

I also have a copy of each of the other papers I have worked on framed – The Lamar Times, the very first copy of The Hattiesburg Post as well as the first copy of The PineBeltNEWS. All are treasures.

There have been the weather-related disaster stories that I’ll never forget.

After the first tornado blew through Lamar County, Hattiesburg and Petal, I was literally standing among the downed power lines in the middle of Petal’s Main Street at Ace Hardware within 30 minutes.

We worked late into the night talking to people. The next morning we were up bright and early wearing our “work clothes and rubber boots” and making our way back out into the damaged areas.

I headed back to Petal and worked my way through the hardest hit neighborhoods talking to those who didn’t have a clue where they were going to go and the volunteers who were there to help them as best they could.

Unfortunately, I’ve been on the work end of several of those storms – from Katrina, where I embedded myself with a Red Cross team in Lumberton, to the most recent December storm that caused damage in Sumrall and where I lost $20 out of my pocket somewhere amidst the rubble. I hope somebody that truly needed it found it.

There were the thousands of Santa Letters we typed from Pine Belt second graders. While we were all trying to be industrious, there was a constant barrage of, “Hey, listen to this letter,” or “You’re not going to believe what this kid asked for.” While it may have been somewhat distracting, it provided many a laugh, something we can always use.

There were those early years when we didn’t have a sports editor and I took on that job as best I could. I was on the sidelines at Mississippi’s Veterans Stadium when Lumberton won its back-to-back state  championships. I was on the sidelines here at The Rock this most-recent December when both Lumberton and Oak Grove battled for wins. I’ve been in dugouts, on the field and in the mud at wet, dreary soccer games, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

I’ve been at events which were very sad – when the two Hattiesburg Police officers were killed in the line of duty, when the two Sumrall Volunteer Firefighters were killed in a hit-and-run and others. I was on the side of Hwy. 98 West as the funeral procession for Liquori Tate and Benjamin Deen made its way to their final resting place and at the memorial and funeral for Alvin Beasley and Loretta Sykes in Sumrall.

I’ve seen the absolute best and the worst during these years and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s how we grow and learn.

And while I won’t be in the office after Friday (only in spirit), please continue to send those regular items – press releases, calendar items, photos/cutlines and the like – to beth@HubCitySPOKES.com. They’ll be checking my email regularly to see what kind of good stuff you’re sending in. And they’ll get it in the paper, just be patient.

And hey, if you see me out and about and have a story idea, let me hear about it. I’ll be glad to pass it back to these guys who are my family and have been since August 2003. And always will be!

All the best in the new year.

Beth Bunch, a native of Amory is the soon-to-be former managing editor of The PineBeltNEWS. You've got today and tomorrow to come help her pack her office before we send her on her way. Anybody have any newspaper she can use to pack up breakables?