What a rich, rewarding experience I had when God opened the door for this Baptist preacher to work for the Waxahachie Daily Light.
I will be forever be grateful that Editor Neal White and Managing Editor JoAnn Livingston, and Publisher Ray Pike took a chance on me by hiring me to the writing staff in 2007. And today, I am equally thankful to Travis Smith for allowing me to write in the religion section each Friday.
Back in those days, the paper published, in addition to the "Light," the Ennis Journal, Ellis County Chronicle, Italy Herald, Midlothian Mirror and the Alvarado Post. All reporters wrote for all the papers, but they started me out by assigning me to the Alvarado beat. I would drive over every Monday and hit the streets, digging for stories. It was a grueling task for this "green horn" newspaper guy to scratch out news items to fill the paper and have it ready by deadline Tuesdays — that's when Jim Perry laid out the weekly papers. And often, Jim would give me the dreaded announcement, "Paul, we have about three quarters of a page with nothing!" The pressures of deadline caused Jim and me to nickname Tuesdays "hell day."
One week, in the early fall of 2007, I was desperate to find "art" to go on the front page — in the "center window" — the most prestigious place in a newspaper. This picture showed just above the fold of the paper, and was visible on the news stand. It was Saturday morning and I had nothing — nada — zilch. So the preacher/reporter sitting behind his desk in the little hole-in-the-wall office in downtown Alvarado, started to pray. Preachers don't just pray when they are pastor — if they land a job as a newspaper reporter, they find themselves often in prayer.
"Oh Lord, please — please send someone, or something — anything — that can be used as the 'center window' of the Alvarado Post." (as if the Lord didn't know which newspaper I was talking about)
I look back on the incident as a miracle from God. As I was walking out the front door, I saw this big road bus, pulling into the parking lot with the side panel bearing a caricature in the likeness of Willie Nelson — with large cursive letters above it which spelled, "Almost Willie." This guy, dressed in a western outfit, wearing a hat, long beard and long grey hair, emerged from the bus.
"Hey — are you almost Willie?" I shouted from my office door.
"Sure am!" he replied with a genuine Texas drawl.
"Well please stand beside the bus so I can get your picture," I said, with a sigh of relief that I had landed my center window.
Incidentally, the Daily Light had a strict policy that only Alvarado and surrounding Johnson County area events and stories would be featured in the paper. In my brief interview with "Almost Willie" I discovered he was doing a concert in Burleson that night, and was spending the night with his niece's family in Alvarado. So there was my Alvarado connection.
I look back on that experience with a new realization that prayer works, whether you are serving the church — or working in secular work — like being a reporter. "Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." Mark 11:24
I was very blessed to be assigned to cover most of the church and religious happenings around Waxahachie. I covered the openings of new church facilities, including the Avenue, Brown Street Church of Christ and the church I attended — Farley Street Baptist, located on Brown Street. There were Thanksgiving and Christmas meals provided by the Church of Christ and First Methodist church. I covered St. Joseph's school events — like doing the annual blessing of the animals, a profile on Sister Luci Sala, the beloved nun whose effervescent personality was known throughout the community. I even did a profile of Joseph the Cat, a big grey stray that started hanging around the church on Marvin Street. He became a real fixture in the school — and even attended mass. He had the run of the place. And his size revealed that he was well fed. It was also my sad duty to write up a memorial feature on Joseph.
During the five years at the "Light," I logged over 1400 stories and articles. Stories about a wrecking yard in Red Oak that made the "wire" and was in newspapers all over the state. I wrote about Horace Bratcher and his "Yellow Subaru," the annual biker's service at New Beginnings Bible Church near Ferris. I even got to chase tornados with JoAnn. I did a big profile of Cushman Motor Scooter collectors in Johnson County for the Alvarado Post. But Neal ran it in the Daily Light profile section. And probably my favorite story was when Neal allowed me to do a profile of my favorite pop music group during my teen years, Jan and Dean. I was able to get a phone interview with Dean Torrance, and use some file photos to write the article. I still occasionally listen to Surf City and Dead Man's Curve.
It was a joy to work for the Daily Light for many reasons. I got to know the community in ways I never dreamed possible. Also, a staff writer never has to be slapped on the back and given an "atta boy" for his work. Just sitting and proofing every morning, and seeing that one or two of your article made the front page was accolades enough — and if it made the "center window" the reporter has had a very good day.
We could revel in our victories for about two minutes — and then it was time to hit the pavement and hustle up stories for tomorrow.
If I never said it before, let me just say — thank you Neal White, JoAnn Livingston and Ray Pike, for giving this old Baptist preacher the experience of a lifetime. The things God taught me at the "Light" are so very applicable in the work I am doing now — being pastor of the 146-year-old First Baptist Church of Palmer.
Paul Gauntt currently serves as the pastor of First Baptist Church of Palmer.