Sunday's Kansas City Star featured information about the annual Heart of America Journalism Awards, sponsored by the Kansas City chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists.
I saw that among the first place winners was Judy L. Thomas, who took a first place in investigative reporting. Ms. Thomas and I share one thing in common, though it is not something that either of us would probably put on our resume.
Both of us were sued for libel by best-selling author and former CIA agent Terry Reed, after the Carthage native held the so-called American Heritage Festival at Precious Moments in July 1998 to help finance his planned purchase of Red Oak II from Carthage artist Lowell Davis.
I won't relive that whole story again (I believe I wrote about it in February 2004), but the article in the Star brought back memories.
Among the memories it brought back was the last time I attended one of the Heart of America Awards ceremonies. It was in May of 1998 as I recall and one of the best young reporters who ever worked for me, Cait Purinton (now a reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal) was up for an award for investigative reporting for her coverage of problems at the Lamar Guest House, a residential care facility. Cait's series of reports, which ran in The Lamar Press (a much-missed weekly that was printed from Aug. 15, 1996, through July 11, 1997) detailed through interviews and public documents a series of infractions and misdeeds that eventually led to the closing of the home.
Not only did Cait go through records of infractions at the Lamar Guest House, but she hunted down inspection reports at every one of the residential care facilities owned by Robert Dupont and Karl Householder, the Guest House owners, and she also showed that they were violating state laws that require that owners of care facilities be economically viable. She uncovered documents at the Barton County Courthouse which showed that county taxes had not been paid for several years and she also uncovered information that the Guest House owners had filed for bankruptcy...a piece of information of which officials with the Missouri Division of Aging were blissfully unaware.
I was proud of Cait and wanted to be there for her, even though it required me to do some things that I was not comfortable doing.
First, I had to drive in Kansas City. Some people have no problem with that, but as I have mentioned before in this blog, I am extremely claustrophobic and when I am in heavy traffic, especially in unfamiliar locations.
Second, I can't see very well at night.
So I was o.k. on the way to the banquet, only getting lost one time. Fortunately, I had built that into my schedule. I watched proudly as Cait took home a third place award in investigative reporting, becoming the youngest reporter to ever win an individual award from the Kansas City SPJ, and the only reporter to ever win an award for The Lamar Press, which had already gone out of business several months earlier.
After the banquet, I took pictures of Cait with her award for The Carthage Press, which had also run her series and where she worked for me for two summers, and I took a few pictures of Cait and her sister, Colleen, who had come to the banquet so Cait would have some keepsakes of the event.
After that, the adventure began. It was a little past 10 p.m. and it was raining, which made my already limited vision even more of an obstacle. I saw what looked like an exit, steered toward it...and drove directly into a poll. (Hmm, maybe it was an exit pole.)
I got out of the car and examined the damage. You could hardly tell that I had hit the pole and there did not seem to be any damage, so I resumed my trip home. Not able to see much of anything, I somehow wound up in Kansas and did not get back to Carthage until after 3 a.m.
The next afternoon, I drove to Newtonia, about 30 miles from Carthage, to visit my parents. When I was ready to return to Carthage, I saw that my tire was not only flat, but it must have suffered some serious damage during the collision the previous night. Somehow, I made it all the way back from Kansas City in the rain, complete with a long detour, then drove to Newtonia before the damaged tire went flat.
That being said, it was a special night for Cait, and I wouldn't have missed it for the world.