Grand Island wouldn’t have shared history without the Dispatch.
You can take the person out of WNY, but you can’t take WNY out of the person
A lot of Western New Yorkers, including some of my elder brothers, left their hometowns in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, discouraged by the bad economy and the perception that things were never going to get better here. They ended up in sunbelt boomtowns, like Atlanta, Orlando, Charlotte and Houston where jobs were plentiful, opportunities abounded, and everything seemed shiny and brand new.
They’re still there, hundreds of thousands of expatriates wearing Buffalo Sabres jerseys to Tampa Bay Lightning games, complaining about the crummy pizza and the lack of a decent hot dog in the places they now call home. Decades on, they’re homesick: they miss the food, the change of seasons, and most of all— the sense of community. And just as important, the sense of shared commitment, the sense of non-conformity and uniqueness that is a large part of why our area is such a wonderful place to live.
But Western New York is changing. The economy is improving: the latest issue of Travel+Leisure magazine includes a mini-feature on Buffalo, praising its wonderful architecture and outstanding restaurants and museums, and proclaiming it the perfect “retro-cool spot for a weekend getaway.” Those of us who weathered the bad times, and those of us who had the good sense to find our way home (like me!), are seeing the benefits. The Niagara River is still unbelievably beautiful, the summers are still gorgeous, and these days all that natural beauty is accompanied by a sense of optimism, an excitement about our prospects.
Local newspapers tell our story
The danger is, as we take our deserved (albeit still small) place in the national spotlight, that we risk losing a sense of who we really are. This isn’t Atlanta. This isn’t Houston, or Phoenix, sprawling and loud; crowded with generic miles of chain restaurants and cloned subdivisions— where reflective moments are all replaced with the frantic and perpetual “Now.” In fact, this isn’t even Buffalo or Amherst. This is Grand Island. This is a place where family, community, and neighbors aren’t empty words used to sell lots in the latest development. They are the bedrock of our lives. They are why we are here.
Our local newspaper, The Dispatch, is a key component preserving that sense of unity, that community spirit, that community history. There was a time when nearly every town in Erie and Niagara Counties had its own daily or weekly newspaper. Those papers devoted some pages to world and national events, but mainly, they reported on what was happening right here at home. The papers covered church socials and school plays. They sent reporters to cover high school sports. Columns on police matters kept everyone up-to-date on crime in the community (and it was comforting to know that most of the time, nothing much bad happened around here). They even gave space to the local Little Leagues, recreational basketball standings, and news from the local bowling leagues. Births, marriages, anniversaries and deaths were announced. All the good work done by local service clubs was celebrated. Those papers (like our beloved Dispatch) were a living record of the communities they served. You can’t get all that information, in one place, literally anywhere else.
A testament to the value of our local newspaper
A few years ago, my brother, the Houstonian who ran away, used local newspaper clippings from the 1950’s and early 1960s to track our father’s sports career. Dad had been a champion half-miler for a local High School track team, and later, a star pitcher for several area semi-pro baseball teams—even getting interest from the majors. But Dad’s ostensibly healthy body failed him too quickly. Dad died of cancer in 1979, a week shy of his 40th birthday. None of his children ever saw him run track. None of us ever saw him pitch a ballgame. Most of us were so young when he died that we have no memories of him. He’s a mythic figure, a ghost.
Those newspaper clippings made my dad come alive for us. One of the stories included a very grainy photo of Dad crossing the finish line at a track meet, the only photo we’d ever see of him in action. It hangs on the wall of my home, and is a precious record to our family. It’s almost like Scripture, something sacred and important, something that reminds us of who we are. Without local newspapers, that record would have never existed. That part of my dad would be completely lost to us.
Subscribe to the Dispatch – it is ‘our’ history in the making
This week, as you’re scanning Facebook and the newsfeeds and the eight million sources of information bombarding us every minute of every day, take some time to find out what is happening right here at home. The people producing these papers, the reporters, editors, photographers, and publishers, devote long hours, with little pay, to making a record, our record. They are helping to keep alive the spirit of community and unity that makes this the wonderful place it is. And unlike the ephemeral nature of the online world, once it’s in print, it last forever.
We owe it to ourselves, and just as important – to our future generations, to support the Dispatch.
With warm regards,
-as first appeared in the Island Dispatch