Leave it to the folks in the greater Pittston area to make a fundraising dinner feel like something special.
On Wednesday night, the Pittston Memorial Library presented its annual Jean Yates Award Dinner in the Mount Carmel Center in Pittston. In many respects the dinner was like so many others that happen throughout the region to raise money and attention for worthy causes. Organizers of these events understand that to fill the seats and coffers there needs to be a draw. Some feature a national sports star as speaker; some honor the head of a large institution.
The Pittston library went with a hometown hero – Ed Ackerman.
Ackerman is the editor of The Sunday Dispatch, a sister paper of The Times Leader. He also teaches journalism at Luzerne County Community College. He’s been a part of Pittston for essentially his entire life. And in everything he has done, Ackerman has touched people.
(On Wednesday when I posted on Facebook my status at the dinner honoring Ed, three of his former students and co-workers quickly responded with great enthusiasm. Dale Duncan, former editor and publisher of The Times Leader posted this: “Ed is a first-rate journalist and has contributed greatly to Greater Pittston for a long time. He deserves all the recognition sent his way.”)
So it’s not surprising that the turnout for the fundraiser was large and the night a success. The dinner lasted longer than anyone would want, but people attending took it in stride. We laughed, enjoyed the food and the conversation and the camaraderie. It was a great night, like many I’ve experienced in the greater Pittston area.
Twenty years ago my wife and I spent a lot of time with the Marie and Bill Gladish family on Nafus Street in Pittston where Marie would whip up incredible food seemingly without plan or effort. Friends and family poured through their home and greeted us with a disarming ease and congeniality. It was comfortable and close and real in a way I rarely have encountered elsewhere.
Thirty years ago I spent a lot of time at the home of the Araya family in West Wyoming. (That’s part of greater Pittston) Doc Araya had married into the Bruno family and I can still remember Marguerite “Nanny” Bruno cooking shells and broccoli and imploring me to eat. And in that home a newly published Sunday Dispatch would be passed around as Araya family members acknowledged names and faces they saw in the publication.
That was my introduction to the Dispatch and that remains the mantra for the Dispatch. Names and faces. Connect with people. And that’s what Ed Ackerman does in his weekly column, as a teacher and a member of the community.
Good newspapers connect with the community. It’s Ed Ackerman, saying “yes” to getting news in the Dispatch. It’s Dotty Martin, Editor of the Dallas Post, rallying community support to fix a dilapidated sign on a Back Mountain highway. It’s Editor Kristie Grier and the staff of the Abington Journal, our weekly in northern Lackawanna county, creating a kids page, marching in a parade, host an open house and winning the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association Sweepstakes award for the most awards for a newspaper its size -- for four consecutive years. It’s Times Leader reporter Terrie Morgan Besecker digging through documents to discover a lawyer has over-billed Luzerne County and thousands of gallons of gas are unaccounted for in Wilkes-Barre. Accountability for tax dollars is a pocketbook issue everyone relates to.
We tell stories, we provide information, We react. We connect.
So it was Wednesday when Ackerman, humble and modest and reluctant to be honored, sat at the head table with his wife Mary Kay and accepted the burden of attention and letting his fame benefit the library. It’s worth noting that Ed said the highlight of a great night was that his daughter Greta had traveled from California, by way of Florida, to be able to attend the event.
Family and friends. Names and faces. That is what makes a community.
Joe Butkiewicz is executive editor of The Times Leader. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org