In 1974 – 1978 I had a part-time job at Clarksville’s Leaf-Chronicle. At that time, the Leaf-Chronicle made it a point to hire college students. It was a brilliant move on their part. The Leaf-Chronicle got some inexpensive people to work for them who were energetic even with full course loads. Working at The Leaf-Chronicle was a great job while attending college. The hours were flexible, there were opportunities to work at night and on weekends, plus a lot of fun and wonderful people worked at the Chronicle.
At that time, most of the advertising lay-out was done manually. I worked in the ad department, and I slowly learned how to follow an ad layout and create an ad. What is now done with publishing programs, we did by hand using strips of print we waxed, cut to the appropriate size, and placed carefully and evenly on blue lined paper. I was trained by Sonya Turner, who was fast and accurate in her work, clever with comment, and one of the most patient and fun-filled people I have ever met. To help Sonya with my training, various folks in the ad department helped me along. I have always felt I learned as much working at the Leaf Chronicle as I learned from my college classes. One of the persons that helped me learn about work ethic, kindness, and pride in my work was Mrs. Velma Crowell.
Mrs. Velma was a “fine Southern lady.” She took extra time to ask me about school, and she listened to my small worries about classes, balancing work and school, boyfriends, and life. She encouraged, and she chided a little if I let small things become big things. When I graduated from Austin Peay State University, she gave me two small books of poems. Those books have traveled with me through many moves, and they ultimately made their way pack to Clarksville in 2013 when I moved home after more than thirty years. Most of the poems can easily be found in other books, but when Mrs. Velma gave them to me I felt special. She knew I loved to read, and one day in passing, I told her about a poem I had read. I cannot remember the poem, but I remember the kindness of her patiently listening when I am sure she was tired.
Mrs. Velma Crowell passed away on March 12, 2016. I had assumed she had passed long ago, so I was very upset with myself for not looking her up when I returned to Clarksville. I always thought of her as a senior citizen, but she had to be in her late 40’s (much younger than I am now) when I began working at the Chronicle. Mrs. Velma lived 90 years, and she worked 24 of those years at the Leaf- Chronicle when newspapers were a little more locally driven and less syndicated, and the work was a little more labor intensive. When I learned of her death and posted on the Facebook page dedicated to Leaf-Chronicle past and present employees, the outpouring of gratitude for having the opportunity to know her and work with her was heartwarming. My friend Denny said she gave him a Cross pen when he graduated. I think she saw something in both of us because each of us has made a life’s work based on words.
I regret not telling her in person how special she was to me. In her honor I am taking this time to remind all of how important small encouragements are to a college student who is trying to find that balance between work and school and life. RIP and thank you, Mrs. Velma.