The Real Heroes of the Story

VT Digger recently ran a story about The Hardwick Gazette featuring the paper’s transition to a non-profit enterprise. The real heroes of that story are three people who have collectively worked for this paper for 105 years, just 30 less than its own 135.

Sandy Atkins is a newcomer by Gazette insider standards. She came to the Gazette with experience at the Brattleboro Reformer, and at her high school newspaper before that. Sandy was lucky to attend a high school with an offset press when it was still a very new printing technology. She told me that she became fascinated by it and has been a fan of the technology used in printing ever since. She said, “I’ve seen the industry move from hot type, to cold type, to specialized computer systems with giant eight inch floppy disks, and now to desktop publishing.” She said, “the technology is always changing and advancing. That makes it very interesting to me.”

Sandy’s creative chops are unparalleled. She is responsible for the overall design of the paper; the look and feel of what you see on the printed page each week. She composes ads for those who need help, she edits stories when she has time, and is now about to take on an additional role with advertising sales.

Dawn Gustafson has been at her post for 39 years, almost twice as long as Sandy. The Gazette wasn’t her first career. She doesn’t say much about what came before, or how long it lasted. Her first work for the Gazette was with Eric and Karen Pope, four owners ago. She began typesetting on an early computerized machine and was told she needed no experience, but could be trained on the job. That was apparently true, because she’s still at it through rain, snow, and even a recent lingering case of the sniffles. Dawn told me, “the work has to be done. I came in to do it”.

Dawn has continued working at the Gazette “because the Gazette was a great place to work while raising our kids. I’ve worked for understanding owners. Even when all I did was type, it was always interesting. Every day is different.”

All those years at the Gazette have made Dawn one of the fastest typists I’ve ever known, and the very quietest of them all. Her keyboard, now modern and PC-based, makes no sound at all as her very light touch paints words onto the screen faster than I could think them up. Dawn handles administrative duties too, taking care of billing and advertising payments, among many other things. In the last month, her handling of incoming donations has replaced what were formerly subscription payments. On top of all that, Dawn places ads on the now digital pages, puts all the paper’s content onto the web pages, keeps the calendar updated, and, if that’s not enough, is the paper’s copy editor, scanning pretty much everything that you see for things the rest of us have missed.

Together Dawn and Sandy monitor incoming ads, press releases, articles, obituaries, sports stories, and what have you, putting each of them into appropriate spots for yours truly and former owner, editor, and publisher Ray Small to review and edit. Once edited, Dawn and Sandy fit it all together with an almost incomprehensibly mysterious system that magically results in correctly numbered pages and “continued ons” that are where you expect them to be when you turn a page. I’ve been amazed at what they do and how many tricks they use to create the product that ends up being delivered to you each week. The end product looks simple because their experience takes the work out of what you have on your screen to read.

Vanessa Fournier is the senior member of the team. She has been clicking her shutter to take Gazette photographs for 46 years. She started her career with the Popes, when the black and white photography process involved handling trays of stinky chemicals with tongs in a dark room to create negatives and prints. Vanessa now carries the latest of digital cameras and has the luxury of producing a color product for the all-digital online version that The Hardwick Gazette has become.

I’m not sure Vanessa herself fully understands her value to the paper. Though she works alone, out in the community, taking pictures, by virtue of attending so many significant events, she is the eyes, the ears and even the voice of the paper, interacting with almost everyone who isn’t a recluse. Imagine if it were your job to crash every party in town, day in and day out, month after month, year after year for 46 years. Some see Vanessa out in our towns more often than they see their own family members. Vanessa shows up everywhere as a friendly face and coaxes us to stand, smile, and turn our heads so the sun doesn’t reflect off our glasses.

Vanessa says, with a giant smile of her own, “I love what I do! In 46 years I’ve only had about 10 people refuse to be photographed for the Gazette.” During that time I very conservatively estimate that she has documented, with pictures, at least ten thousand events in the life of Hardwick and our neighboring communities.

For many years Vanessa also delivered stacks of each week’s paper for businesses to sell along with their books, or pizzas, gas and groceries.

Dawn, Sandy, and Vanessa, who have had a hand in roughly two thousand three hundred weekly editions of the Gazette, are doing the real work of creating a newspaper each week.

The truth is, the other members of the board and I just need to show up and maybe write a few articles, gather things from other places, convince a few people to write an article or two, pay the bills, keep the lights on, and a newspaper appears at HardwickGazette.org, or in your email inbox each Tuesday evening (or maybe sometimes Wednesday morning).

When you make your donation to our efforts, do not make the mistake of thinking it’s me or the board that’s responsible for the newspaper you see each week. Do remember Dawn, Vanessa, and Sandy who have been putting their hearts and souls into their work for those 105 years of combined time. It’s the work of those three amazing women that makes reading your newspaper interesting, that makes it easy to read, that makes it possible at all.

Paul Fixx, interim editor

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