"Just tell the truth," my former esteemed editor Bryan Helvie would beg me when I was writing a difficult story.

I used to say I could never write a book, but when you total the articles and columns I've written here for 25 years, the past six as editor and 14 as assistant editor, they stack up.

Covering Sept. 11, 2001, was, of course, the most I've worked in a week. Parents here couldn't get in touch with their children living in NYC and thought the worst. A Delta pilot from Batesville fishing in remote Canadian wilderness without cellphone service wondered why at night he couldn't see any planes flying. Area residents who were traveling spent weeks trying to get home.

I interviewed a Milan mother, Elda Boone, by phone after her only son, Col. Canfield "Buddy" Boone, 53, died when a plane rammed into the Pentagon. Boone had just moved into a new office right at the point of impact. "He was just one great guy, one in a million," she recalled. A year later, I took a photo of her standing next to his memorial at Milan Community Park, before she flew to Washington, D.C., to attend a service at the Pentagon. Ten years after the tragedy, at 98, she returned again.

There were other heart-wrenching stories to tell. After a young man died in a traffic accident, his family decided to donate his organs. When another man attempted suicide, but failed, he wrote a book about the experience in the hopes of encouraging others with depression to keep on living.

I interviewed a family by phone as they gathered around a loved one's deathbed. They were going to run the Indianapolis Mini-Marathon in his memory. I was there to photograph them wearing Mini for Mike T-shirts, amazed and relieved that I could spot them out of the 30,000 participants.

A year ago I wrote about Sunman kindergartner Hunter Meyer's need for a kidney so he can quit having dialysis treatments three times a week.

There was drama in courtrooms. 

An 80-year-old wore slippers on the witness stand when she talked about her two grandsons. One shot the other to death in her Metamora mobile home in 2006 after an errand to buy toilet paper. "I loved them two boys just like they was my own kids," the elderly woman cried. Two days before the incident, the shooter told a friend he could kill anyone he wanted and the Lord would forgive him. William Wilson, 32, was sentenced to 53 years.

Jennifer Schooler, 35, Batesville, was sentenced to the maximum 67.5 years in prison in 2017 for the murder of Bradyn Chadwell, 3, Batesville, two years earlier. Although the toddler had many traumatic brain events, the jury never learned exactly how he was killed.

After being riveted at hearings and trials, I knew I never, ever wanted to spend a night in jail.

Animals have amused us over the years. A young girl begged her parents for a horse, but they told her she had to raise the money, figuring it would never happen. Her supportive grandmother gave her cash for every birthday and holiday and soon the horse was welcomed to the farm.

Two boys found an alligator lumbering on a green at Hillcrest (the headline: Not par for the course). And an 11-month-old guinea pig named Buttons made NCAA tourney predictions in 2010 by purring when hearing her favorite teams, winning $10,000 for Jake Johnson, who grew up in Batesville, in a free bracket challenge sponsored by Yahoo! 

In addition to funny animals, I have covered great humans. We have the generosity and foresight of the Hillenbrands to thank for Liberty Park, Margaret Mary Health, the library, YMCA and early push for computers in the schools. And that's not even the entire list. Where would we be without them?

I remember the late Carl Bruns, who I didn't know well, but was always so gentlemanly when I asked a question about Sunman utilities, which he oversaw for many years. What else did he do? Bruns co-owned Nedderman's Feed Store for 47 years, was fire chief for 25 years, inducted into the Ripley County Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007, was a Ripley County Council member for four years and organized and implemented the Enhanced 911 emergency service, most of this after receiving the Sagamore of the Wabash in 1984. Now that's cramming a lot into 83 years.

Jolene Rockwood brought the inspiration of culture here when she co-founded the Rural Alliance for the Arts (now Batesville Area Arts Council) around 1988. Area residents have enjoyed concerts by the Vienna Boys' Choir, "The Nutcracker" ballet more than once and summer musicals starring very talented locals. Our students are exposed to more artists than many who live in cities — and are smarter and more caring because of the Arts in Education Program. 

Then there was B.J. Cox, who moved here later in life, but set the standard for making a difference in retirement. She served on the boards of the Chamber of Commerce, RAA and Ripley County Community Foundation, where she was a founding member. B.J. taught RAA board members how to classy up the auction and founded and chaired the Boars Head and Yule Log Festival, still a tradition.

Sometimes my job sent me to the store. On two occasions I bought one red rose and a miniature American flag. The first time I handed them to the sister of 2000 Batesville High School graduate and U.S. Army Sgt. Chad Keith, 21, Batesville, right after he died July 7, 2003, in Baghdad, Iraq. There was a box of tissues between us on the table as she answered my questions.

The second time I brought the patriotic mementos to the Weisburg doorstep of Linda Seig's home. Her son, Army Pfc. Tony Seig, 19, a 2005 East Central High School graduate, died in Baghdad Sept. 9, 2006. I asked Linda how she wanted Tony to be remembered. "With a smile, not a tear" was her answer.

I bought a bag of Doritos as a prop for Dave Herbert, 29, Morris, and brother Joe Herbert, 31, Batesville, to hold in a photo after they learned in early 2007 their 30-second "Duct Tape" commercial was named a top five finalist out of 1,066 entries nationwide in the Crash the Super Bowl contest sponsored by the chip company. Two years later the duo earned $25,000 for their "Free Doritos" commercial and a trip to Tampa for Super Bowl XLIII, then Doritos awarded the brothers a $1 million bonus for topping the USA TODAY ad meter. 

After interviewing fascinating locals and experiencing area events for all these years, I've had a very rich life indeed.

I've learned that even small towns have very big stories that need to be told and I've enjoyed my work here immensely. 

Now it's time to retire. Instead of being married to The Herald-Tribune and spending nights and weekends at meetings, events and the office, I will get to be married to my husband Bill again.

Farewell, faithful readers.

A new adventure awaits.

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbieblank17@gmail.com or 812-934-4347.

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