Time flies so fast. It just doesn’t seem possible that 34 years have passed since I joined the staff of The Tennessee Magazine as a communications specialist and photojournalist. I remember the day I walked into the office at Spence Lane to interview with Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association (TECA) General Manager Frank Perkins.
I had just been in LaVergne a week prior to interview for a job at The Cooperator, a tabloid distributed by Tennessee Farmers Cooperative. My college suitemate, Sandi Wiseman White, had already landed her first job at The Cooperator and had let me know they were in need of another entry-level journalist to specialize in photography.
Nervously walking in with my newly earned journalism degree from Murray State University and a portfolio of black-and-white prints I had printed myself in a makeshift darkroom at home, I interviewed with The Cooperator’s editor, Jerry Kirk. This was my first real job interview, and I left thinking it had gone well. Much to my dismay, Jerry would call a day or two later to let me know I didn’t get the job.
In my best professional voice, I told Jerry I understood but was obviously disappointed. In the next breath, he helped set my career course by explaining that though I wasn’t the best fit for The Cooperator, he also served as the editor of another publication, The Tennessee Magazine, and they were looking for a photographer.
He scheduled an interview for me with Mr. Perkins the next week, and the rest, as they say, is history. I was hired and began working for TECA in October 1988.
When I look back, it’s a miracle we were able to produce a magazine every month with the technology that was available then. It really was a different world. I didn’t have a cell phone. There were no personal computers in our office, only typewriters, mimeograph machines and a dinosaur of a contraption called a Compugraphic.
We had an actual typesetter who keyed in the code and text for our stories, and the Compugraphic would output a sheet of paper with columns of type. These sheets were then literally cut with X-ACTO knives and the strips pasted with hot wax onto layout boards. Once a page was completed, it would be sent out to Ron Thweatt at ProLith to have negatives made.
Each set of negatives was returned to us with bluelines, or color proofs, which we then shipped overnight in a large box to the printer. It was always a nerve-wracking wait until the printer called to say the box had been received.
While I’ve always enjoyed the production part of the magazine pages, the true loves of my job quickly became photographing and writing feature assignments and working with the dedicated communicators and member services employees of Tennessee’s electric cooperatives.
The Tennessee Magazine exists because of our cooperative business model that values communication with members. It has always been our job at the statewide cooperative association to produce a professional publication with entertaining human-interest features from across the state. Your local electric cooperative can then opt to use the magazine to deliver news directly to members. Local features cover topics such as board elections, governance, safety and energy efficiency, to name a few.
Our statewide features serve as bookends to your local electric cooperative news section, which is printed in the center pages of the magazine today. Just last month, our team produced more than 190 pages for 17 different cooperative versions of the September edition.
Our average monthly circulation is nearly 700,000, giving The Tennessee Magazine the largest monthly circulation in the state.
Providing interesting stories for our readers has always been a challenge — but a challenge our team gladly accepts.
Speaking of our team, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the editors I learned the trade from after Jerry returned to The Cooperator. Rod Guge, Mary Ellen Glasco Taylor and Cathy Cope Swiney all served in that role prior to my being named editor in 2002. I appreciate all of their hard work and their willingness to pass on their expertise to their staff. When TECA’s then-general manager, Tom Purkey, gave me the opportunity to become editor, I truly felt a debt of gratitude to each of the former editors who helped me grow into a career that I dearly love.
Other team members and contributors who helped me along the way include Mary Woodard, Trish Milburn, Susan Pilgreen, John Johnson, Bill Carey, Connie Sue Davenport, Tammy Algood and Cynthia Kent. While several of them have either moved to other careers or have retired, they each played a much appreciated role in my career.
Our team today includes David Callis, Trent Scott, Ron Bell, Chris Kirk, Nicole Christensen and Laura Beth Laden. David, Ron, Chris and I have been together as a communications team for more than 17 years. Other TECA team members I’ve deeply appreciated include Walter Haynes, Joe Jackson, Tina Smith, Amy Jordan, Mike Knotts, Todd Blocker and Celia Trevathan. I have full confidence that the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and The Tennessee Magazine won’t miss a beat as I step away.
Chris took over as editor for this edition. If that name sounds familiar, he is Jerry Kirk’s son. I can’t imagine leaving the magazine in better hands.
Looking back, I’ve realized that some of my favorite features have been the result of severe storms. That may sound odd, but I’ve always loved being in the field with linemen as they rebuild entire electric systems that have been destroyed by tornadoes, hurricanes or ice storms. The men and women working for your electric cooperatives truly have servants’ hearts and work diligently to restore power as quickly and safely as possible in a storm’s aftermath. Documenting that work has been a pleasure.
While I am retiring from full-time work at TECA, I plan to return to my roots as a magazine contributor — writing and photographing features in the months and years to come.
Of all the people I’ve thanked, no two did more for me than my parents, Toni and Robert. Both have passed in recent years, and I miss them terribly, but I know they are watching over me and wishing me the best on this new phase of life. Their love and support made me the person I am, and I am forever indebted to them.
I’ve been fortunate in my career traveling thousands of miles across the state from Memphis to Bristol, documenting the people and places of Tennessee. Telling their stories has been much more than a job — it’s been an honor.