2019 TNT reader columnists will open their hearts, our eyes


How readers consume local news has evolved in recent years — no news flash there. To meet the moment, local newspapers like ours have pivoted toward a digital format.

But one thing that hasn’t budged, thankfully, is the appreciation that News Tribune readers have for old-fashioned personal storytelling from local residents.

It’s why, since 2000, we have invited writers from around the South Sound to participate as featured columnists. The new lineup of weekly contributors is a reason to look forward to the Saturday op-ed section, whether in print or online.

Today we welcome a fresh team of six reader columnists and say thanks to the six who opened our eyes over the past 12 months.

In the leadoff position next weekend is Andrew Homan, 50, of University Place. He’s an Army veteran who now works as a network administrator for the YMCA. Homan’s wry humor and description of himself as “a man just trying to navigate his way through a turbulent period in history” tell us he won’t be predictable.

Ask Barbara Mader, 57, of University Place, about any children’s book and she’s likely to speak of it at length. This seller of collectible books says her experience as photographer, waitress, mental health technician and project manager have all proven helpful in parenting two children.

Dave Hall, 65, of Steilacoom, is a retired Pierce County law enforcement officer and Army veteran who grabbed our attention with the introduction he wrote in his application letter: “Why on earth would a semi-retired senior citizen like me take up working as a golf caddie?” His answer is sure to delight.

Sarah Becking, 46, lives on JBLM with her Army husband and two daughters. Her lengthy list of volunteering venues shows she’s a walking lesson in the value of giving back. Last year Becking led a series of discussions with veterans on classic works of literature centered on vets coming home from war.

Bob Penton, 71, lives on South Hill but has served as both a pastor and community organizer in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood for 52 years. As he told us, “I have deep roots and decades of volunteerism in a community I love.” We look forward to his insights.

Lisa Schroeder, 46, is a retired journalist and television news producer living in Tacoma. She’s currently self-employed as a “full-time mom.” Her reflections on being an adopted child from Korea displayed writing talent in her application that we’re excited to share.

And now for the hard part: saying goodbye to the Class of 2018.

Ken Sikes, pastor of Manitou Park Presbyterian Church, told stories both whimsical and profound through the lens of a passionate denizen of South Tacoma. His prescriptions for sunrise walks and amateur bluegrass jam sessions brimmed with energy.

Angela Connelly used her column space to lift up the helpers of Pierce County. Her heart for homeless teens raised much-needed awareness, and stories of her own nine children taught readers that behind every picture-perfect Christmas card hides a perfectly imperfect family.

Michael Free gave readers a taste of millennial angst. The University of Washington Tacoma grad stood at the crossroads of “what next?” and took us to Norway and back. He suggested that kitchens aren’t just for cooking, they’re also for dancing – and dance he did.

Joan Brown reminded us that phones were once used for talking. (Imagine that?) Though not a fan of texting or tweeting, Brown showed herself to be a master at communication. She never failed to make us chuckle.

Chuck Kleeberg was a spigot of humorous column fodder, but his columns always enriched us with something deeper. From his tutorial on feeding toads to his Tacoma New Year’s predictions, this retired county government planning director surely started many conversations.

Going in, we knew Sarah Comer was an expert fiddler, but we learned she could also strike a chord inside the human heart. The music teacher and storyteller by trade wasn’t afraid to tackle hard subjects like grief, fear and Facebook. And like a true pro, she made it look easy.

It takes courage to bare oneself to the critical eyes of editors and strangers every six weeks in no more than 650 words. For that, we salute both the incoming and outgoing writers, and we regret opportunities lost in the form of nearly 30 other applicants this year

It was a pleasure to read everyone’s sample columns. Trust us when we say that angels, heroes and rebels walk these streets.