Before we get going, this is going to be a tough read. I wanted and felt I needed to pay tribute to the year, and to do that we had to unearth some tough topics. Trust me, it was tough to write. I obviously encourage you to read it if you feel that you are able.
Well, It’s been nothing short of real. From starting the year officially committing to the campaign, being accepted as a buckeye, nailing down a regular shift at the big 95, a rocking senior year, and graduation, to ending the year surrounded among friends and family, growing Farm Boy Photography, becoming Wildcat Hoops’ resident announcer, obtaining my Remote Aviators License, and so much more.
The year has seen so much. On the national stage; the man who stood no chance of winning was sworn into the highest office in the free world, we witnessed nature’s eclipsed beauty, and in the wrath of natural disaster, folks from across the country (and Hardin County) banded together to pitch in and lend a helping hand to those in need.
On the local stage, we’re reminded of several more instances that showcase the depth of 2017. The Hardin County Fair Board and it’s volunteers pulled off another successful fair. Those successes were shared by the county 4-H and Agriculture Education programs. Several advancements were made in the growth of our education system, economy, and overall size. We have sent youth from our county to compete nationally at football games, conventions, track meets, and just about everything else you could imagine.
Then, there are those other events that have left deep battle scars on our memories.
The first was a touch more personal for me. I got a text that set the tone for the next few months. The first thing I had always thought of when I had read or written overdose stories was the stereotype. It pains me to even write that my thoughts were “Well, they got what they had coming. They did it, right?” Well this viewpoint was quickly turned on it’s nose.
We were snowmobiling in Michigan when I learned of the passing of Josh Rodenberger. I didn’t really know Josh. We had been in a theater camp once, but that was about it. His sister, Jenna, had gone to grade school with us. She moved away and came back our sophomore year. Jenna (who quickly got the nickname Jenny) and I formed a rock-solid friendship our Junior year and solidified it our Senior year. Jenny is doing some pretty amazing things in her own respect and that’s all in store for the future, stay tuned.
I scoff at myself when I consider the fact that this tragic event was the magnitude required to pierce my bull head. January 17th I sat by myself in the back of the funeral home. Something clicked. Something had to be done. I don’t want to dive into the politics, but this is why we have got to work on the disease of addiction. We can’t afford any more losses to this ailment. I thank the Rodenberger family for their years of friendship. I’m very lucky and grateful to have the opportunity to work on this epidemic that plagues our region.
February 17th was first time the community as a whole felt the knife of grief cut us deep. Keegan and I had met about a year prior. I was always impressed with her work ethic. Through two years of Junior Fair Board work together, she never seemed to shy away from a job. Working with the fair foundation my old man came to me and needed a Junior Fair exhibitor to announce the fair foundation awards at the beef show. I took one glance at the committee sheet and knew Keegan was right for the job. After a few nerves, she came through and nailed it in true fashion.
A night at the fair, my committee had finished our tasks for the evening. I rounded the corner headed for my show box and found Keegan McKee sweeping the Beef Barn. By herself. Not really an unmanageable task, however seemingly endless at 11 o’clock at night after a long week at the fair. Keegan and I wrapped the barn up (while she jawed the rest of the committee for bailing on their nightly task.)
That was the last place I saw or spoke to Keegan. On a seemingly perfect day where someone had ordered the weather special just for us smack in the middle of February, some friends and I rolled the windows down and paid our final respects to our hard-working friend. Keegan was a fireball that didn’t take much crap and Lord knows I can dish that out. I’ve always been so grateful for the chance to call Keegan a friend. I usually hear from my old man who the workers are on the Junior Fair Board. Who he can depend on to get the job done. That first year, Keegan McKee topped his list. Buck’s standards are pretty high and to top his list of workers speak volumes about a person.
May first we did it all again. I had been on the air regularly a little under a month.
Layton and Kody were tight. Inseparable from the youngest days of grade school. To get the full effect you have to picture 5th grade bus-warden Kolt. While I found myself scolding the duo regularly, they were stinking hilarious. Throw in a little pinch of the Phillips twins and you have a recipe for gut-busting laughter, hyperventilation, and a few tears. Layton’s grandparents, Chris and Carol, live across the road from our family.
This was the first time I was tasked with telling the world news of this magnitude. It was after 5:00 and I was in the station by myself. Unguided, I did what I knew needed done. I swallowed the lump swelling in my throat, and when that sounder triggered, I popped that “ON” button and broke more of the story. While our station never revealed the identity of the victim of the crash, word circulated fast.
Layton was an FFA member. I was tasked with leading what became my brothers and sisters in my final two years at KHS as a higher officer. I worked 8th period in the Ag Room as an independent study capstone where I did some for my job, but mainly helped Mrs. Logan. Layton was in that class, which I will now admit I cared about just a bit more. There is nothing that I can say will make any of that any different or feel any better. But, I can tell you that I treasure our family’s friendship with the Rogers Family. While we will always wish for more, I am so thankful for the memories of that rotten kid. I’m often reminded that I worry way too much, but distracted driving is another plague of our generation. Just put it down.
Then we did it again. Here’s an entry from my records.
I was training Chase today at WKTN and he looked at me around 4:15 and said “so someone just texted me and said that Tyler Heintz died at Kent.”
I text several friends, Hunter is the first to respond and somewhat confirm what we had heard. What seemed like an eternity later, Enter Dennis who asked “Did either one of you know Tyler Heintz?”
He had confirmed it with a credible and reliable source, and we broke the story on the 4:30 news.
Tyler was a good friend of mine. We shared many laughs, jokes, and a few things we probably shouldn’t have said. I always appreciated Tyler’s company, but was always awestruck by the fact that he drove a half hour to lifting, was the first one there, studied all day at school, and was the last one to leave practice driving a half hour home. I always so inspired by his commitment to his passion. One can only hope to take notes from number 52 and strive for that much devotion to something that you enjoy.
It really makes you wonder how much a single person can take. Our community was tired, emotionally drained, and ready for a break. Tempers flared and emotions raged on.
But what was so shocking, was how the community responded. I’m not talking a specific class, the school, or even the district. In February, support from every corner of the county flooded the online space. Messages of support and comfort addressed to each and every Golden Gopher.
In May we wore our black shirts and black wristbands and we all preached the same message. “Rock on Rogers.” My records reflect that the somewhat cold environment of a building full of 600 teenagers, suddenly was warm and embracing as we all mourned and grieved.
In June, a group of people so fresh and ready to begin their lives came back together to the small little town of Kenton, to be there. Be there for each other. Be there for the families, be there for dream.
The wild thing is all of these separate events are related. Each and every incident affected a brother or sister of the Hardin County family and it caused our giant family to band together and create a net of support for each other. I’m proud I got to call each one of these amazing individuals friends and subsequently family members. I’m thankful for the time I spent with them and the memories I made. But most importantly, I’m thankful I have my Hardin County Family. At the times where it seemed the worst, a wise woman emailed me and said “It’s going to be rough. But we have to stick together and get through it. We always do.” Well when the world seemed to be crumbling all around me, I thought she was crazy. She was right.
Thank you Josh, Keegan, Layton, and Tyler for the lessons you all taught each and every one of us.
It brings me great joy to know that even though we complain about our hometowns, the weather, roads, and each other, this Hardin County Family sticks together. It is important to remember this as we progress. If we combine forces and resources behind a person trying to make a difference, a cause, or a movement to improve lives around us, we will all benefit.
Here’s to 2018. Will it be easy? Nope. Will we stick together and get through it, just like Tira said that May morning? You bet. Because we’re a family. No mileage, event, or challenge can separate a family. Let that New Years Resolution be to continue to do right, help others, and live your dream. We can and we will do it.
Warm and safe wishes to my Hardin County Family this coming new year.