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GUEST COLUMNIST

Reporting for The Black Mountain News has been an unforgettable experience

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News
Fred McCormick

I’ll never forget the first time I walked into The Black Mountain News.

I had just attended a job fair at the WNC Agricultural Center and learned that there was an opening for a staff reporter there, and I came right through the front door with my resume in hand. 

I was sure the job was highly coveted and didn’t even think I had a realistic shot at landing what I would end up calling my “dream job” in my first column, published in January of 2014.

“I know there are applicants who are better writers and have far more experience than I have,” I told the editor at the time, realizing I wasn’t exactly selling myself. “But, one thing I can promise you is that I won’t let this community down.” 

That statement, which six years later feels like it was made a lifetime ago, somehow worked, and my journey here began. 

Having made such a bold proclamation, the pressure to live up to it was immense from the start. Was I adequate? Did I deserve this opportunity? Would the community support me in my effort? Had my mouth written a check I couldn’t cash?

I asked myself these questions almost every day throughout my time here and it has always been the fear of letting this community down that drove me to do the very best I could. 

In a lot of ways, my experience here has been similar to that of many natives and non-natives of the Swannanoa Valley, which often seems to bring out the best in people who live here. I was relatively inexperienced when I started at this newspaper, but I was inspired by the amazing people, history, heritage and beauty of this place. 

And I believe the 300-plus newspapers published during my time here reflect a lot of what makes this growing community so unique. 

I’ve written stories about nonprofit organizations like Bounty & Soul, the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry, the Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center, Black Mountain Home for Children, Hand in Hand, Inc., Food Connection, PubCorps, the Black Mountain Swannanoa Endowment Fund, the Black Mountain Center for the Arts and many more. I’ve learned through the years that this community’s willingness to help others is one of its biggest assets.   

I have talked to trail runners who traverse miles and miles of trails to the peaks of the mountains surrounding this community and down along the valley floor. I’ve covered Owen High School athletics and watched many student-athletes grow up and become college athletes from Philadelphia to Jacksonville, Florida. 

I’ve met Brad Johnson, Brad Daugherty, Jager Gardner, members of the Owen Warlassies basketball team that won 90 straight games in the 1960s. I’ve written about Roy Williams and his first head coaching job, which was right here in the Valley.

College sports have thrived during my time here, too. 

I witnessed the men’s basketball team at Montreat College post its best season in the history of the program in 2018, and I’ve seen both the men’s and women’s teams at Warren Wilson College do the same. 

I have sat down with local business owners to talk about everything from economic growth to traffic patterns, as the local economy has flourished in recent years. 

I have covered scores of local government meetings, from the board of aldermen to the town’s Historic Preservation Committee. I’ve also written about local government in Montreat, one of the most beautiful places in these mountains. 

It has been my pleasure to sit down and listen to the stories that shaped this community, as told by local historians and dedicated researchers. 

I have also witnessed history here. 

As thousands of spectators lined State Street to witness the funeral procession of Billy Graham in February of 2018, I was there, with my camera to snap pictures for the cover of the newspaper. 

That very same day, I was taking pictures of the hundreds of runners participating in the Mount Mitchell Challenge and Black Mountain Marathon. I remember being in awe of the masses that had descended on our town that day, which is one I will never forget. 

I have written about tragedies, triumphs and everything in between. 

It’s been an honor and the more I have learned about this community they more I have grown to love it. Not just because of the natural beauty or small-town charm, but the collective spirit of the people here. 

As I prepare to walk out of the door at Black Mountain News for the final time, Dec. 9, I leave with a full heart. In spite of my own self-doubt, I was capable of doing this job, but only because this community was there for me every step of the way. 

I have every reason to believe that the next person who comes in to cover this community will be inspired by this place and its people. And it won’t take them long to discover what I’ve learned here -- we’re lucky to live in this valley.