As the year draws to a close, so does Top 10 week here at the Ledger-Enquirer. I’m referring, of course, to our tradition of naming the year’s top stories in everything from government to sports.
Which means it’s time to list the overall Top 10. This year, I’m going to exercise editor’s privilege and take on this task myself, with a slightly different approach.
I just started reading a book by Eugene Peterson, known for “The Message,” his interesting and often entertaining translation of the Bible, and also known for being something of a spiritual mentor to the rock star Bono.
The book I’m reading is called “Run with the Horses.” In it, Peterson writes about how our culture is “eager to reward either nonsense or wickedness.”
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“If, on the other hand,” he writes, “we look around for what it means to be a mature, whole, blessed person, we don’t find much. These people are around, maybe as many of them as ever, but they aren’t easy to pick out.”
Then this: “At year’s end no one compiles a list of the ten best-lived lives.”
No, I’m not going to prove him wrong and do that here. Each person in the Chattahoochee Valley could pick 10 people to emulate who’ve touched their own life while humbly trying not to make anybody’s Top 10 list for anything.
But my pick for top story of the year will be a nod to recognizing those who live life well.
No. 1: Best-lived lives
More than a decade ago, Mr. Bill Turner visited our newsroom for lunch and told the story of standing alone in the dark on the deck of a mine sweeper in the South Pacific during World War II, prayerfully looking up at the stars and pondering his place in the world.
In 2017, we’ve endured the passing of Turner and an unusually high number of people who also made a difference in our community, including retired Lt. Gen. and legendary Vietnam commander Hal Moore; Columbus businessman, World War II officer and legendary foxhound breeder Benjamin Hurt Hardaway III; and dairy owner and Columbus businessman John R. Kinnett Jr.
There are, of course, many more who lived humbly and well, and never got their names in the paper. We honor them now.
And nine more...
That leaves us needing nine stories to round out the Top 10. As I look at our individual lists from the past week, I’m thinking about the stories that say something about who we are as a community and what the future may hold for us. Here goes:
• Homicides in Columbus: In 2017, Columbus experienced a record number of homicides being investigated as murders. Sure, many of us still feel safe in our neighborhoods. But the cases highlight the fact societal problems of crime, drugs and gangs have touched our community and affect our schools, workforce, poverty levels and overall quality of life. These problems must be dealt with, and efforts like Columbus 2025 have highlighted and are working to tackle them.
• The Global War on Terrorism Memorial: 6,915 names etched on eight slabs of black granite. Dedicated in October and located near the parade field at the National Infantry Museum where Fort Benning soldiers graduate from basic training, the memorial serves as a reminder of things we take seriously here in the Chattahoochee Valley: higher calling, sacrifice and the fight for freedom.
• Booming business: In August, Pratt & Whitney kicked off its $386 million expansion by starting construction on a $31.3 million engineer overhaul facility on Macon Road. The aerospace firm also plans to add 500 jobs. In November, stocks for all three of Columbus’ publicly traded companies – Aflac, Synovus and TSYS – hit yearly highs.
• Downtown development: The year started with a bang as Columbus State University celebrated the opening of Frank D. Brown Hall, which brought 1,800 nursing and education students, faculty and staff downtown. About a month later, in February, the W.C. Bradley Co. announced a $52 million residential and retail complex along the Chattahoochee River called The Rapids at Riverfront Place.
• Government challenges: In 2017, these included the first countywide revaluation project in more than 30 years, resulting in significant property assessment increases, some as high as 1,000 percent. The controversial project, launched in conjunction with a software upgrade, delayed state approval of the tax digest and forced the Muscogee County School District and Columbus Consolidated Government to pursue temporary loans.
• Distracted driving stings: Saying that they wanted to cut down on traffic fatalities caused by distracted driving, Columbus police launched stings, writing nearly 100 tickets on Bradley Park Drive in May, about 80 on Macon Road in August, and more than 100 along Victory Drive in October. Most of the citations were for using a cell phone illegally while driving, but also included running red lights.
• Nature makes us stop and wait: In the middle of an August weekday, the city became dark and quiet as citizens gathered to view a rare solar eclipse. A month later, most folks stayed home from work to brace for the force of Hurricane Irma. Some trees fell and there was loss of power, but not the damage or threat that had been expected.
• Good news: It was the gift that kept on giving. After a team from Jordan Vocational High School’s automotive program sold their restored, customized and award-winning 1996 Ford Mustang at an auction in April for $50,000, the buyer returned the car to the program. At a second auction, in July, Joe Riley of Arizona shelled out $65,000 for the car, then discovered the students were from his native Columbus and donated the car back to the program.
• More good news: In April, on Amy Davis’ last day working as a waitress at Flip Side Burgers & Tacos, seven Fort Benning soldiers asked if they could serenade her. They chose “Under the Boardwalk,” and it sounded great. You can watch the video, which a diner captured and posted on Facebook. Davis was blown away, and said it’s that kind of thing that makes Columbus a great place to live.
There will be more moments like that one in 2018, I can promise. Be on the lookout, and let us know when they happen. Happy New Year.