Longtime News-Review staff writer John Sowell says so long

Eight months after arriving at The News-Review in February 1993, I wrote a story that accompanied a photograph of a dead skunk in the middle of Garden Valley Road, a yellow stripe down its backside.

A Douglas County public works official explained it didn’t make sense to stop and scrape the animal off the road. It was easier to keep the paint truck moving and later remove the animal and leave several inches of the center line unpainted.

Readers came unglued and submitted dozens of angry letters to the editor. One woman said she hoped she never fainted on the road lest she get painted with a stripe.

That’s one of many memories I will carry with me as I leave today after 20 years with The News-Review. I have accepted a position covering police and courts with the Idaho Statesman in Boise, the Gem State’s largest newspaper.

Riddle resident Jim Stone didn’t need me to introduce myself when he was presented the French Legion of Honor in 2011 for helping liberate France during World War II. We had never met, but Stone said he knew I had grown up in Emmett, Idaho, 30 miles north of Boise, from a column I had written years earlier.

Stone, who served in the U.S. Army during World War II and who later spent 18 years in the Air Force, grew up in Bonners Ferry in northern Idaho. Even though he’s nearly 90, he still has a great memory.

It’s people such as him that I’ll miss. Idleyld Park resident Frank Moore, who recently left for Normandy on a trip to fish the areas he served in during World War II, always treated me like I was someone important, even though he was distinguished as a soldier, as one of the foremost fly-fishing experts on the North Umpqua River and as the founder of the Steamboat Inn.

I’ll miss Ron Beamer, who seemingly attends every Roseburg High School sporting event with a group of friends dubbed the Beam Team. Beamer played first base for the Lockwood Motors team that played in the 1956 American Legion World Series. He’s counseled generations of Roseburg athletes to anticipate what’s going to happen in a game rather than reacting to a play, a lesson he learned from Lockwood coach Billy Harper.

I’ll also miss a group of dedicated officials with whom I officiated football, basketball, softball and baseball games. Joey Free, Ted Wagner, Lynn Riley and Duane Taylor are among my closest friends, who I met while working high school contests.

Reporting hasn’t always been easy. Sometimes, I had to prod the county and cities to release public records they wanted to withhold. At times, I filed appeals with the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office. I won every appeal, including one that provided me with the extensive report that detailed how former Sheriff Jim Main sexually harassed several women in his department. Publishing those details led to Main’s resignation.

Covering former one-term county Commissioner Marilyn Kittelman provided years of tension. Her followers packed commissioners meetings for months as she railed against her fellow commissioners and just about every subject imaginable.

She barely survived a recall but instead of reflecting on why a large number of county residents wanted her tossed from office, she treated her 127-vote margin as a mandate for continuing her divisiveness. She was easily defeated by Susan Morgan a year later.

The timber situation hasn’t changed since I first began reporting in Roseburg. Very few trees are cut in national forests and on Oregon & California Railroad trust land anymore. Jobs lost when added environmental protections were instituted for the northern spotted owl and other protected species have never reappeared, despite assurances from the Northwest Forest Plan that logging would increase.

Oregon’s congressional delegation is working on new management plans for the O&C lands. Maybe they’ll be successful and Douglas County and other timber counties will be revitalized.

One of my most meaningful lessons came in 2002 when a Sutherlin woman called and asked how long her son had to suffer for an earlier mistake. When her son and his friend were both 17, they were convicted of having consensual sex with a 13-year-old. They were spared prison sentences but ordered to undergo sex offender treatment.

When the friend was arrested that year for violating his parole, I mentioned the other man’s name in recounting the sex abuse story. The mom said her son changed his life around and shouldn’t be forever branded because the former friend was still in trouble.

I agreed and never used his name again. I looked him up on a criminal database a couple of months ago, and he never was arrested again. As I leave town, I am celebrating his turnaround.

I’ve been impacted by so many people in Douglas County that I can’t name them all. Hopefully, you know who you are. I’ve enjoyed my time here, and I’ll never forget the Umpqua Valley, and its fine people. Thank you for allowing me to write for you.

• Reporter John Sowell, an Oregon Duck returning to hostile Boise State Bronco territory, can be reached at jwsowell@gmail.com.


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The News-Review Updated May 24, 2013 12:46PM Published May 24, 2013 12:40PM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.