2018 TNT reader columnists love this place as we do

Every year we have the torturous task of selecting six News Tribune reader columnists for a year-long rotation. By “torturous” we don’t mean to say the submissions are bad; quite the opposite, we’re wracked because the competition among applicants is always so darn good.

The list of criteria we provide to aspiring columnists is long and includes words like engaging, thought-provoking, inspirational, poignant, and most of all, local. The goal is to identify creative people who love the South Sound as much as we do.

This year’s diverse lineup of writers, whose work will be published starting this week, promises not to disappoint. Each columnist will write for the opinion page once every six weeks, appearing online Sunday and in the paper Monday.

First up to bat is Ken Sikes. The 45-year-old married father of three lives in South Tacoma, a neighborhood he says is much more than its “used cars and dive bars” reputation.

Sikes also happens to be the pastor of Manitou Park Presbyterian Church. Expect to be regaled with stories of backyard riches and everyday miracles.

Angela Connelly also knows a thing or two about miracles. Connelly, 53, is on a crusade to combat teen homelessness in Tacoma; she’s president of the Washington Women’s Network and serves on numerous community boards.

Did we mention she’s mother to nine kids? Suffice it to say, the North End resident will not run out of material.

George Orwell said good writing is like a windowpane, and our next columnist, Michael Free Jr., 21, offers us a clear view of the millennial experience. He grew up in Milton and is a writing student at the University of Washington Tacoma.

Free has been published in the Pierce College SLAM literary magazine and says he likes to explore topics from the perspective of an “Asian-American living in Trump’s America.”

Columnist Sarah Comer, 29, of Puyallup has a range of artistic talents that go well beyond the printed word; she is a musician, storyteller and community dance facilitator. If you’ve sat in the audience of the Puget Sound Revels, chances are you’ve seen her perform.

She won us over in one of her application entries with a braided tale of grief, redemption and Costco.

Chuck Kleeberg is a recently retired 68-year-old who says he loves “Tacoma’s vibe.” His public service career includes gigs as Commencement Bay Superfund site co-manager and former planning director for both Pierce and King counties.

Believe him when he says life as a civil servant is not all “rainbows and butterflies.”

As a military wife, Joan Brown has moved a total of 21 times but says her current home of Steilacoom is the place she loves best. As for her stage in life, she says she’s “crossed the line into AARP eligibility.”

Readers can look forward to her humorous and invigorating writing on topics such as shoe shopping and rejecting the ticket to “geezerviille.”

And now for the sad part: bidding farewell to the six departing columnists from 2017. We promised they’d offer up a unique slice of life and they consistently delivered.

Katie Madison of Spanaway provided a front-row seat to an exciting year of change. From soup to nuts, this military fiancee took readers on her pre-wedding journey and helped us see Tacoma with fresh eyes. If she went out to coffee with Brown, she’d no doubt hear about the many adventures that await her as an Air Force wife.

Tad Monroe of North Tacoma didn’t shy away from difficult subjects. A self-declared creative entrepreneur, he wrote a love letter to his baby daughter and reminded readers that sometimes being a patriot means not standing up for the pledge of allegiance.

West Tacoma resident Linda Norlander made us laugh through our tears. This retired hospice nurse demonstrated how inextricably linked joy is to pain, justice to mercy. And if a writer can make jury duty sound exciting, you know she’s good.

Ted Broussard could write the book on how to retire with style from a career in college administration. A downtown Tacoma resident, he made standing in an airport security line and shopping for a mattress sound adventurous. But it was his column on facing prejudice as a gay man that touched readers deeply.

Last year we learned that Heidi Fedore is no ordinary middle school principal. The Lakewood resident taught us that family members – good and not-so-good – are the best teachers and that life sometimes resembles art, or at least the TV show “This is Us.” An educator, indeed.

Finally, we say goodbye to Tacoma’s Tom Llewellyn for a second time; he had his first stint as a TNT columnist in 2010. This time around, the content marketing director and children’s novelist got upstaged by his dog Viggo, who pretty much has this life thing figured out: “Only do tricks for food and sleep when you can.”