For nearly 50 years I have written about issues and photographed people and events in Sussex County.
It was a great adventure which, I hope, will be able to continue for a few more years. Every day is different and exciting. This is what makes the work of community journalism so rewarding. You never know what you will face on any given day.
I’ve seen the newspaper industry change in almost every way, including the advent of the computer age and the shift from film to digital photography. When I started, we typed stories on typewriters. Looks like centuries ago.
AT FIRST – I began my journey into journalism working on the school newspaper and yearbook at Seaford High School. I had a great teacher, Harriet Smith Windsor, who went on to greater things in her teaching career and served as Delaware’s Secretary of State from 2001 to 2009.
I started working in the darkroom of the Leader and State Register in Seaford in 1973. I told the editor that I knew everything there was to know about the darkroom. I didn’t, but I learned very quickly.
It didn’t take me long to get out of the darkroom and onto the editorial side. My first editor was Bryant Richardson, who is now a Seaford area senator.
My first photo assignment was covering a youth fishing tournament with a non-metered Nikkormat camera. Nikon is the brand I’ve been using ever since, and I’ve covered many youth fishing tournaments over the years.
The newspaper was eventually sold and disbanded – even the building was demolished.
For 25 years, I worked for Chesapeake Publishing Co., owner of The Leader, as a reporter/photographer, sportswriter, publisher, and editor. This period also included a year working at the International Herald Tribune in Paris, France, and a few years at the Milford Chronicle.
Winning the John Hay Whitney Scholarship paved the way for my year in Paris. My family and I were literally thrown into French culture, but we survived and have lots of great memories.
At the Chronicle, I had the opportunity to train a rising young journalist from the Milford area, Jen Ellingsworth. We’ve come full circle, and now Jen is my editor at the Cape Gazette.
I also worked for the Seaford Star and the Laurel Star before moving from Seaford to Lewes to work at the Cape Gazette in 2005.
Below are some of my memories:
IT’S TRUE – I got a call from a psychic in New England asking if there was a missing person case. Indeed, there was an open case that had mystified the police and family members for many months.
The clairvoyant told me that she dreamed of a car underwater with a boat passing through it several times. I don’t pay much attention to psychics, but the place she was referring to could have been the Woodland Ferry that crosses the Nanticoke River between Seaford and Laurel.
I phoned some of my police contacts and informed them of the call. I guess they thought they had nothing to lose and sent a dive team to the ferry. Believe it or not, they located the car and the missing man inside.
INTERNATIONAL SPOTLIGHT – Community newspapers rarely cover international news. But for a time in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Seaford was thrown into the international spotlight. Two of his own young men made headlines. Marine Corps Corporal. Michael Hastings was among the 241 victims of the bombing of the naval barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, on October 23, 1983.
And the marine sergeant. Greg Persinger was an embassy guard in Tehran, Iran, taken prisoner along with more than 50 others on November 4, 1979. They were released after 444 days in captivity on January 20, 1981. Greg re-enlisted and served part of the American Invasion Force in Grenada.
Michael lived with his family around the corner from me, and Greg was the brother of one of my classmates from Seaford High, so I knew both young men.
Both families were extremely private and fought against the onslaught of the media. TV and newspaper reporters literally camped out in the front yard of the Persinger home.
Because I knew the families, they talked to me and I tried to keep the media at bay by providing them with information. I received calls from news agencies all over the world.
LOTTERY WINNERS – Since living in a small town means you know everyone or know something about a family member or friend, I covered another story that caught the attention of outside media.
Thirty-three employees of The Guide, a still-existing weekly advertising publication, won a $214.7 million Powerball jackpot in October 2004. Just like that, the Seaford area became home to more than 30 millionaires. They met with a financial planner and a lawyer and decided as a group not to reveal their names or speak to the media.
I was in a dilemma because I knew several of the winners and one of them was a former classmate. I wouldn’t say I stalked them for their story, but I did everything to get it. They never cracked.
PROTEST BECOME VIOLENT – One of the most bizarre events occurred on May 23, 2006, during coverage of a protest in downtown Seaford by members of the Westboro Baptist Church. The fringe group claimed that US military victims of the war in Iraq were God’s retribution for the country allowing homosexuality, deviating from God’s law. They protested at military funerals across the country.
They were in Seaford for the funeral of Marine Cpl. Cory Palmer was unfolding about four blocks from the protest site. The 21-year-old was killed when his Humvee was hit by explosives near Fallujah. He died on May 6, 2006. Cory’s mother, Danna Swain Palmer, is a friend and former classmate. The courage she has shown over the years is remarkable.
What the protesters did not expect was an angry crowd of more than 1,000 people surrounding them.
Even with police on duty and barricades in place, some members of the crowd broke in and began assaulting protesters. I was right in the middle, frantically trying to protect myself and also take pictures.
Protesters were escorted into a van, but not before a few windows were smashed. Five members of the crowd were arrested.
Cory was one of three young men killed in Iraq from Seaford. Army Ranger Specifications. Ryan Long, 21, died April 3, 2003, and Marine Lance Cpl. Rick James, 20, died on May 13, 2006.
See a video clip of the protest at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7u2-rF0qXA.