Sherrlie was my inspiration for a couple of essays that I wrote, but haven’t yet published on my website. Sherrlie was the owner and writer of a local small town newspaper. She was single and her life earnings and support depended on her ability to manage her newspaper business.
I wrote an essay when my mom told me that Sherrlie from the newspaper had died that week. I hadn’t really thought about her for years. I didn’t know her that well, except that she ran the “O’Brian County Bell” . Yes, that seems quaint, but on a closer look, you find a strong hard working women.
Sherrlie was older than me, almost old enough to be my mother, but not quite. My mom was not young when she gave birth to me, she was more the age of Sherrlie’s mother. Sherrlie was older than my older sister, twice the age difference. You wouldn’t think 8 or 17 years would matter much. But few girls from my sister’s class went on to college, most got married and had kids right out of high school. My own graduating class was one of the first classes in which half the girls went on to college or trade school.
My high school class was invited to tour the O’Brian County Bell offce along with other class tours in consideration of options after graduation. Many thought it was lame, but Sherrlie was not daunted by that.
Sherrlie told us how she had considered going to college when she was our age. She very much wanted to, as she wanted to be a writer, maybe a novelist or poet or such. This caught my attention as I too wanted to be a writer, and few seemed to understand this.
I never knew Sherrlie wanted to be a writer in that same way. Sure, newspapers are full of written material, I just had not thought of her as a writer. I’m not sure how I missed this idea.
I thought of her as a business woman, not a writer. Although, of course, news papers include writing, it seemed more about gathering news, writing facts, editing, typesetting (and with the new technology — she showed us– changing to using computers), getting subscriptions from the town and neighboring towns, advertising and offering advertisement, printing, and mailing them out, plus photography.
The Bell was an established small town newspaper when my family had first moved to town. Sherrlie had already gained the community’s good reputation, a known fact.
Of course, it had not always been that way. Sherrlie told us how she had a choice. Her parents were not wealthy and they only had so much money to help her pay for college. She wasn’t a bad student, but she wasn’t a great student, and she didn’t have quite the grades she needed for scholarships. She knew she’d have to work hard to earn the needed extra money. Then she though what if she use her college savings to start a newspaper business instead of going on to college? Either way she’d have to work hard to accomplish being a writer. Her parents agreed and it’s what she did.
Once she paid the rent of the building and bought most of the equipment she would need to print a newspaper, it stuck her what a risk she was taking. This was her life savings for future, all put into this chance to make of go of the newspaper business or not. She wondered if she was foolish or brave?
Thus, she worked hard to make a go of it, putting everything into the effort. She never married because she was working so hard day and night to establish her newspaper. Yet, in spite of how hard those first years were, she was finding the present years even harder (at the time of that class tour). Her mother was older and not doing well. It was hard for her to keep up with the changing technology (and cost of new equipment with it) to keep her business profitable. Without profit, she had no other income nor job, no money for rent or food. And fewer people were interested in paying for reading a local newspaper. She had to push for a new subscription and get more advertisers to pay. Her business came close to going under. She found her self working harder than ever before while helping to take care of her mother. All that besides producing content and getting a paper out every week.
If Sherrlie could do this, so can I, I thought. And her life continues to encourage me in spite of overwhelming circumstances and losses. I don’t know where Sherrlie stood in her faith in God. She didn’t talk about it. I may have asked her when most of my classmates were leaving at the end of that tour. I vaguely recollected her saying that she would never have made it without trusting God to help her. I too, believe that, that foundation can make all the difference, it’s an anchor to keep us steady.