I always told Jonathan Stark I was eager to read his obituary.
It wasn’t that I wished any ill will on him; he just managed to injure himself in the most mundane ways around a poorly lit office environment, so I figured he would meet his demise at the hands of a desk drawer or perhaps a poorly placed staple.
And while we kidded him during his last week that his departure as sports editor of The Journal was akin to buying the farm, there is a definite sadness as I write this and get ready to go cover my final game with him.
What most people see of The Jessamine Journal is the ink that goes on newsprint every Wednesday afternoon, or photo galleries online, or the fewer-than-140-character messages sent out from the sports Twitter account. And while we strive to maintain objectivity and make those printed words all you hear from us, we are real people with real personalities, and Jonathan Stark is a real friend who will be really missed.
I met Stark (I’ve always called him by his last name, insisting I had “Jonathan” first even though he’s older) at Eastern Kentucky University when I began work at The Progress, the school newspaper. He sat in silence at the sports desk while the photo and features staff played shenanigans.
After a few months, I took the desk next to his and infiltrated his bubble, adding assistant (to the) sports editor to my long list of assistant titles. He was still quiet, but I learned that his silence was merely focus and not hatred of all humanity.
We learned to work together; we were each other’s sounding board for ideas and each other’s barometer for quality. And I didn’t even realize how important that kind of relationship was until a year after he graduated when he joined me in Nicholasville at The Journal.
We each had our separate duties, mine as writer, photographer and then designer and his as a one-man sports department. Yet some who saw us both working East-West football or basketball games or covering any team that went to state began to group us together as “running mates.”
There was a lot more to that than just trading camera duties at a softball field or staying out of each other’s shots during basketball introductions. We walked to Speedway every day for me to fill up my ridiculous 64-ounce mug with Diet Coke; we regularly quarreled for 45 minutes over where to eat lunch; we played pranks reminiscent of The Office on each other, on our boss and even on the dark side — the advertising staff.
Yes, it’s true — you may not know it from the stories we write or the photos we take, but working in the newsroom at The Jessamine Journal is fun, and a huge part of that has been working with one of my best friends.
We inspired each other to make the paper better. We constantly worked to increase our social-media presence; we critiqued the traditional templates for the newspaper; and we sat down each Thursday to forget about individual papers and look at the big picture and what would make The Jessamine Journal better for Jessamine County.
He was a great sports editor, too. In a position that will always get flak from both East and West about being biased toward the other, he was balanced from his beginnings diligently counting stories for both sides to his end when he produced a brilliant feature-length video detailing the boys’ basketball rivalry from both sides.
I’ve had other friends depart this office since I began working here four years ago, but no desk has ever looked so empty as Stark’s does now. We worked together in more than the sense of earning our paycheck in the same building; from our first dueling columns at EKU about college basketball versus the NBA to our collaboration in a story on low attendance at Colonel basketball games to our combined photo package from last year’s East-West football game, we’ve hashed things out together and made each other better.
So as his desk sits empty awaiting its next occupant, my desk is a bit more mundane — fewer pranks, fewer peer-pressure lunch trips, fewer times yelling, “Hey, come look at this.” And while it may not matter to you how I feel about a coworker and friend, I hope you won’t take your own coworkers and friends for granted.
And I’m glad this is not an obituary.