I received a request to run a birthday “card shower” in our papers for Charlene Hoeflich, the former general manager of The Daily Sentinel in Pomeroy, Ohio and my former boss. As I read the information sent by a well-meaning person, I promptly deleted the part of the announcement that revealed her age. It’s nobody’s business how young she is. Let me explain.
While I was at the Sentinel, Charlene openly shared her memories and often stories of her late husband Bob, whom she fondly talked about as if he just left the room. I always admired her loyalty to him, even long after he was gone. She was sincere with her advice as well. You could go to Charlene with any problem, dilemma or question about your work or life, but one thing she never shared, was her age. She grudgingly acknowledged her birthday each year and usually only because her sister would send her flowers in June, prompting questions from anyone who walked past her desk. I never took her secrecy as vanity. I supposed there were things we all kept to ourselves about ourselves. I’m sure you, dear reader, have that thing(s) as well.
She let it slip one day that her birth year was on the headstone she’d bought for herself and late husband, Bob. She further let it slip, he was buried on a hill. I don’t know if any of you have ever been to Beech Grove Cemetery in Pomeroy but saying someone is buried on a hill is not specific enough. The better question, is, “which hill?” There are many. She let another clue slip one day that I will not divulge here but I will say, it helped me narrow down the location.
I’m not sure why I needed to know – reporters are a naturally curious lot. I eventually found the marker, and there it was, Charlene’s begin date with end date to-be-determined. The only thought I remember clearly having at the time was, I could never tell her I found it. And, I didn’t…at least not for a few years. I honestly don’t remember what precipitated my confession, but it was nothing dramatic. I told her in a roundabout way I had found Bob’s marker at Beech Grove and left it at that, nothing more. As I recall, she smiled but continued looking forward at her computer screen, typing away, those orange Sentinel curtains hanging in the background. Any announcements had to be important for her to stop whatever she was doing and clearly my admission, well, wasn’t. She also perpetually had 200 things to finish before going home to her dog, Lindy.
Flash forward and I’m now the oldest person in the newsroom. My fate was sealed when Charlene took a chance on me 16 years ago, though I didn’t know it at the time. Many times, when I am faced with choosing a path to move forward, or hold still, in the newsroom, I ask myself “What would Charlene do?” Many more times I draw upon a memory of what she actually did do and apply it.
As of late, we’ve all been bombarded with the phrase “unprecedented times” and maybe they are, but people aren’t. People (for the most part) are consistent (for better or worse), even if the situation is not, which is a lesson I first learned during my time at the Sentinel. If you have an understanding of people, your decisions become more clear.
Some people (not all thank goodness) can have a narrow view of others based upon age, ability, race, who you love, where you live, where you did or didn’t go to school – the list of boxes someone can put you in goes on and on. Charlene could’ve had a narrow view of me 16 years ago, seeing only a young woman who dabbled in writing but spent the majority of her time, working in a hardware store. She chose to see more.
So, I will not say “Happy Birthday, Charlene” but rather, “Happy Friday, Charlene” which was the day her birthday fell on this week. Age is relative, and in my opinion, it never defined the woman I now consider my mentor because she led (and still leads) by example. She could very well be an alien or unicorn, one who could take on a 200-degree day at the Meigs County Fairgrounds in slacks and dress shoes because the flower show and pretty baby contest stories weren’t going to write themselves; because they mattered to someone out there.
Maybe Charlene precariously (but with no fear) climbed the bleachers at Meigs High School just to get the best possible shot of you and the entire Marauder Marching Band? Maybe she spent hours in scorching heat on the Pomeroy Parking Lot, covering a concert or an event you attended or organized? Maybe she took your phone call to help you promote your cause when you had no money to otherwise get the word out? Maybe she mentioned your efforts in “Community Corner?” I could go on. If she did any of these things, and more, may I suggest you sending a card to her at 109 High Street, Pomeroy, Ohio, 45769. Don’t forget to write inside, “Happy Friday, Charlene.” Birthdays are for the 10-and-under crowd, anyway.
I believe I once told Charlene, if, God forbid, she passed away while I was still at the paper, I would make sure her age was not in the obituary. It would just say “Charlene Hoeflich, timeless, of Pomeroy, Ohio.” Since it does her no good for me to keep that promise once she’s gone, I figured I’d do it now while she could still read it in the Sentinel.
Here’s to many more Fridays for us all.
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.