A fun group of people

One of my favorite days of each week is Tuesday, when Hillsboro Rotary meets. I look forward to the weekly lunches at the Ponderosa banquet center.

First, you need to have very thick skin, whether you’re a judge, a lawyer, a doctor, a banker or any of the other businesspeople who are members of Rotary. Everyone is fair game for barbs and insults — but all delivered in good-natured fashion. Visitors from other Rotary clubs often comment on what a fun group they find at Hillsboro.

I also enjoy visiting the Greenfield Rotary Club, which is a little smaller but just as congenial.

But in Hillsboro, be careful about leaving a meeting early, as I did last week — you might find yourself nominated for something.

So far, I have perfect attendance since 2011, thanks to the ability to do “make ups” if you do happen to be away when a meeting is held. Rocky Coss has a more amazing string, numbering into 30-plus years. I might catch him if I live to be 100.

There are great service clubs locally and regionally. I encourage you to join one. If you’re interested in becoming a Rotarian, just let me or another member know. Happy to bring you as a guest so you can see what it’s all about — but check your ego at the door.

Festival of the Bells worked at SSCC

There are many who will always prefer that the Festival of the Bells be held in downtown Hillsboro, but I thought it worked at Southern State Community College.

Rick Williams, the FOB committee president, told The Times-Gazette’s Jeff Gilliland, “I thought it went very well. Like anything you do at a new location, you’re going to have some bugs here and there. We know a few things we want to change for next year, but overall I thought it went extremely good.”

Kevin Boys, president of SSCC, said, “I don’t know that I could have expected any better turnout or logistics. As far as the college is concerned, it was fantastic. Great music, great food and good weather. Does it get any better than that?”

According to the Highland County Press, Kevin wisely took advantage of Saturday’s crowd to plug Southern State, telling attendees, “Don’t take your state community college for granted. If you have a youngster that lives in your home, send them this direction. If you’ve got a high schooler that’s thinking about where to go to college, have them come in the front door and check us out. Adults – you’re not off the hook. It’s never too late to go to college.” Amen!

Lora and I visited the festival on its final day, Saturday, and I liked how rides, tents and vendors were organized around the big college parking lot, along with the stage. Hillsboro police officers did a good job making sure festivalgoers who parked at Hobart crossed the street safely, and the new sidewalks came in handy for pedestrians who walked from other spots.

The only awkwardness I noticed involved people who parked at Shaffer Park and were crossing U.S. 62 without any police to stop traffic. Motorists had to be careful as people darted across the road. If the event is held at the college next year, some officers probably need to be stationed at Shaffer to make sure everyone’s safe.

Police officers I spoke with at the festival felt it was much easier to monitor the crowd at the college, compared to downtown where there are alleys and other places to hide and cause mischief.

Personally, I liked the change in venue. I did not mind at all not having downtown Hillsboro blocked to traffic for three days.

The festival is likely to return to SSCC next year, but after that, who knows? Mayor Drew Hastings has never been a fan of the event being held downtown, and it’s no secret that he and Rick have often clashed over it. Justin Harsha is vice president of the festival committee, and when he becomes mayor in 2020 (should we pretend there’s any other possibility?) it will be interesting to see if the festival ends up back downtown. But if it’s held at the college again next year, and people become more accustomed to it there, everyone might agree it’s best to keep it there. 

Staging a big event like the festival is a monumental undertaking, wherever it’s held. Congratulations to Rick, Justin and the festival committee, Kevin Boys, the Hillsboro Police Department, Paint Creek fire and EMS personnel, and everyone else who had a hand in its success —  not to mention the weather, which was cooperative this year.

The John Burton story

My story on John Burton was the last article I wrote for The Times-Gazette, and that was fitting. While most people knew John as a longtime educator, I wanted to focus more on what he meant to the people who knew him in Lynchburg.

John’s life story is practically legendary in Lynchburg. He has always been a source of inspiration there. I doubt I ever knew anyone who was as completely and unreservedly admired as John Burton. Thanks to everyone who agreed to be interviewed for the story, starting with John’s  youngest brother, Jamie. John was a classmate of my mother’s, and Jamie was my classmate (and basketball teammate and dear friend to this day).

John’s story inspired everyone during his life, and will continue to do so for years to come.

A new chapter

Starting my final week at The Times-Gazette with mixed emotions — sadness over leaving great coworkers and seven years of covering and commenting on our community, excitement over a new challenge. Make sure to stop in at the newspaper this week, would love to see you.