These little town blues . . .

Imagine the scene. It’s 9 a.m. Saturday — a time that doesn’t really exist for most 20-something males, particularly those without regular female companionship.

There’s a knock at your door — a door few knows exists because it leads to an obscure, second-floor downtown apartment.

You stumble out of your bed, soccer match blaring on your TV, and lope downstairs. Thrusting open your door, there before you, as you stand in shirtless wonder, is Mayor Mary Olson, dressed in work clothes, extorting you to immediately grab a camera and photograph Tabor College students painting fire hydrants down the block.

Such are the joys of serving as a reporter for the Marion County Record — or, in all likelihood, any of a thousand other rural community newspapers.

They’re joys our talented colleague, Ben Kleine, will be missing starting today as he leaves us after nearly four years to return briefly to his native St. Louis, then move on in search of fame and fortune as a writer in New York City.

Ben’s a gifted storyteller whose peerless prose has moved many a reader and won many an award — especially when, as he puts it, he “really brings it” on a piece.

Possessing the classic journalist trait of calling things as he sees them, he’s not always been the most popular guy in town, but he’s always been among the most talented of writers. His desk is often sloppy, and sometimes his spelling is, too. But rarely will you find a person who cares as much about human stories he tells, and that caring shines through in his prose.

Next week, we’ll be introducing Ben’s replacement — Joel Wright, an honor roll student from Kansas City and former defensive back at Ottawa University. Joel was in town Monday, looking at Ben’s apartment as his possible Marion home. Little does Joel know it will simply make it easier for the mayor to find him next time there are hydrants to be painted.

We wish Ben the best, as we do for another departing staffer, Jennifer Stultz. In the past year or so, Jenny has struggled to maintain a full work schedule while also tending to serious family concerns. Despite considerable latitude with flextime, those concerns finally got the best of her last week, and she abruptly had to return home to tend to family problems we wouldn’t wish on anyone.

She, too, will be sorely missed. Oliver Good, hired as an extra employee, without a vacancy, will help pick up her slack, as will new reporter Olivia Haselwood.

Despite having three new reporters, a bookkeeper recuperating at home, and a production director on a long-deserved vacation, we’re still committed to giving the best place I’ve seen the best newspaper it’s seen.

— ERIC MEYER

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