Covering, and becoming, local news

Jonathan McKay - Contributing columnist

On August 31, 2022, Clinton County changed.

It was deeply personal. It wasn’t a shooting, some public figure resigning from office, a scandal, or a big company closing.

It was two news men, who had done their duty to bring us the news, announcing their retirement.

Tom Barr and local native Gary Huffenberger announced that they would hang up their computers, notepads, cameras and recording devices, and retire.

The news hit hard and fast and many locals were talking about it. For once, they had made the news and not created it.

I have known Gary Huffenberger for most of my life and have watched him cover some of the biggest stories of Clinton County. From the Kehoe shootouts, welcoming George W. Bush to town, the tragic loss of DHL, commissioners’ meetings, and council meetings from the smallest village to the City of Wilmington.

Gary was there notepad and camera ready. The first story Gary reported on me was June 4, 2005. The morning paper arrived on my front porch step and there, on the front page, were bold headlines. It read “123rd Commencement Ceremony” by Gary Huffenberger.

I will never forget that paper or that moment.

Jennifer Dunn (Camp) was all smiles on the front page with our class filing two-by-two in the background. I went on to read what Phil Warner (superintendent at the time) had to say, and as I continued on to page 8A I found something even better.

I still, to this day, remember turning to page 8A that day and there I was, bigger than life in black and white. I was looking at my new watch — with the caption “It’s about time” — that I had been given by my parents as a graduation gift.

I was the WHS 2005 class president, and Gary wrote about me in the local paper.

He stated, “voice projecting well, in the packed middle school gymnasium” and noted that the graduates had met best friends years ago at East End, Holmes Elementary, Denver Place, and Martinsville Elementary.

I remember Gary taking the picture and I remember the speech that I was more nervous to give than anything I had done in my young life.

No one would have known after reading Gary’s article, though. He has since covered me dozens of times.

Gary has watched me grow up from that young nervous man to what I am today. From Corn Festivals and livestock buying, to city council and Leadership Clinton, Gary has been there to capture those important moments for me, and I am proud to call him my friend.

It’s a little different regarding Tom Barr. I don’t remember the first time I met him or even the first story he covered on me.

Despite this, Tom over the past eight years has become a fixture in my life as a go-to news person when I hear of news in the community. He has made our paper very local and very fun. He wants a mixture of local happy news along with the hard news from arrests and court appearances to politics.

He has greatly encouraged people of the community to write and submit stories of local successes and achievements. He also greatly supports the staff of Gary, Mark Huber, John Hamilton, Elizabeth Huber, Tina Wells and Dawn Howell.

One story I have of Tom Barr is very hard to talk about though. On the morning of June 10, 2022 at around 8:45 a.m. my phone rang and it was Tom. Well, I always answer when he calls, because if it’ Tom you know you’re getting some big news.

I pick up and he says to me, “Jonathan, have you heard about Dan Evers?” with which I replied, “No, what has he done now?”

Tom said, “We’ve heard he has passed.”

I was silent and he asked me if I was still there. I told him “no way” and that I didn’t believe him.

He was the one breaking news directly to me, not me giving him a news tip. We spoke for another couple of minutes then both hung up saddened and in disbelief. It was one of the moments in time that you will always remember where and when you heard something.

Tom, like Gary, has covered local campaigns, Clinton County Fairs, Corn Festivals …. true Clinton County events that help shape us as a culture and as a people.

They have both seen a lot in their time with the News Journal, both good, bad, fun, and sad. It is their job, though, to cover all aspects of life, and they have successfully done just that. I wonder now what is to come.

What will the next generation look like and what will the News Journal look like come October and November and these two gentlemen are no longer there.

I am hopeful though. I am hopeful that we will be able to adopt nicknames like we have for Gary and Tom, like The Huff, Huffy, and T-Barr.

I often joke with Gary that he is our Bob Woodward.

However, he isn’t Bob. He is just simply Gary — a kind, goodhearted gentleman that covers the news in such a way that makes us proud.

Just like Tom isn’t the William Randolph Hearst of Wilmington or of Clinton County. He is just simply Tom, and both men are men that I can proudly call a friend.

And they can always call me for a quote.

Jonathan McKay is a Clinton County native and a current member of Wilmington City Council.

Jonathan McKay

Contributing columnist