So much time has passed since May 2, 1990, the day the 22-year-old version of myself walked into The West Orange Times office for my first day of work as a bona fide journalist.
My life has changed as I’ve aged. So has my writing, the title on my business card and, most definitely, the technology. The newspaper changed hands in my 25th year there. But one thing will always stay the same — my passion for writing for my hometown community newspaper.
Some of you have read my words and followed my stories for 30 years; others of you might have just recently read your first story written by me. If you know me, you know that I put my heart into everything I write.
My goal for the past 30 years always has remained the same: Write stories that make a difference. Stories that matter to my family and friends, my neighbors and folks I haven’t yet met; stories that can help the people and the families in my community, whether by promoting a fundraiser or a GoFundMe page or bringing awareness to a local issue.
Thirty years ago, my first bylined story at The West Orange Times was “Three valedictorians for the first time at DPHS,” about Dr. Phillips High School’s top students for the Class of 1990. The first photo I took was of a team of science students at West Orange High School with their first-place plaque. Those kids are nearly 50 years old now.
People have asked me through the years if I ever wanted to “move up” to a daily newspaper. I consider it a privilege to document life in West Orange County — the good and the bad and the reminders of what took place in this area’s past.
Words have always excited me. I’ve always been an avid reader and book collector. I was the Dillard Street Elementary School Spelling Bee winner in sixth grade and advanced to the county bee (that’s where the glory ended). I was on the yearbook staff at West Orange High and took creative writing courses in high school and college.
Those experiences prepared me for a career I never imagined would last for so long in one place and could be so fulfilling.
Being a community reporter has afforded me opportunities I wouldn’t otherwise have had. I’ve been able to share my children and the silly stories from their early years. I escorted a World War II veteran to Washington, D.C., through the Honor Flight program. I was invited to be a scare-actor at Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights.
I photographed stars, such as Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen and Danny Glover, who came to Planet Hollywood Orlando to donate an item when the restaurant opened in 1994. I interviewed actors James Earl Jones and Leslie Nielsen. I auditioned for a spot on “Wheel of Fortune.” (It’s a long story, but basically it was Teen Week and I didn’t even have a chance.)
I have always assumed responsibility for our annual Grad Tab that recognizes local high school seniors. This was a tradition long before I got here, and I place a high value on tradition.
I grew up reading The West Orange Times and knew by eighth grade that I wanted to be a writer for this community paper. Talk about a specific goal.
In March 1990, I got my bachelor’s in journalism with a minor in English from the University of Georgia. From there, I walked into the office, timid and nervous, carrying my resumé and wearing a dress — Mother always said first impressions count.
I was hired as a typesetter — ours was about to go on maternity leave — and I was responsible for copy-editing and typing into a tiny Macintosh Classic II all the press releases and stories that came into the office through the front door or snail mail. No emails. No texts. No Facebook messages.
I assumed more writing responsibilities, and technology changed. Putting the paper together on Tuesdays looks a lot different than it did in 1990. Our former tools, now archaic, included a pica ruler, X-Acto knives, one-point line tape, an all-metal hot waxer that burned you if you touched it, double-density formatted IBM disks and big page-layout boards. We had a darkroom in the back and a winding machine on which we spooled our film before running out the door to snap a photo.
The newsroom team was like a family. We — editor Mary Anne Swickerath, Kathy Aber, Gail Dressel and I — solved all of our problems around a wobbly round lunch table five days a week for many years. We celebrated engagements and marriages and the birth of children and grandchildren; and we cried together over divorces and deaths. We told our own stories to each other.
Readers have trusted me to tell their stories, and there are so many I will never forget. The three young children, ages 7, 7 and 4, with leukemia in 1994, all of whom are thriving today. The 1998 tornado that screamed its way from one end of Winter Garden to the other. A Holocaust survivor who spoke to high school students in 2009. The World War II veterans I have been honored to interview, many of whom told me emotional stories they never told their own families. Last year’s touching story that connected a couple wanting to adopt with a woman wanting to find a good family for her newborn son.
I want to continue documenting the history of the local names, faces and places. I want to remind longtime residents of their past, and I want to give newcomers some perspective on the place they now call home.
Thank you for trusting me to tell your stories for all these years.
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.