Although I’ve never lived in Renton, the city has been a part of my life for pretty much forever.
I was born here (a “McLendon/Kmart/Renton Hospital” baby) in 1951. Before Southcenter, Mom bought our groceries here (at a grocery store at the other end of Renton Center from Fred Meyer; I waited in the car) and yes, I cruised (just once or twice) The Loop.
It was easy to pop down to Renton from our house on Tukwila Hill. We could hear the sounds of horse racing at Longacres. The biggest decision on some Saturdays was whether to watch the matinee at the Roxy or the Renton Theater across South Third Street; the latter usually won out (and which is why I was bummed when porn-theater owner Roger Forbes turned it into something not suited to families).
Southcenter (and growing up) altered my relationship with Renton, as did living away for most of the 70s. I’ve lived with my family in Kent for 37 years. But what has never changed is the protectiveness I feel for South King County and the irritation I feel when the folks from Seattle or the Eastside belittle us or take advantage of us.
I’ve had the privilege of helping Renton residents and the larger community better understand the city as a reporter and as the editor of the Renton Reporter for seven years until mid-2013, when Brian Beckley took over the helm.
It’s bittersweet, that after a 43-year career in newspapering, I am retiring on June 30 after stops in Idaho Falls, Walla Walla, Port Angeles and Kent, Renton and Tukwila, the last as editor of the Tukwila Reporter.
I will miss writing the Police Blotter. Come on, folks. You’re gonna get caught.
My years covering Renton as a journalist go back to the early 1970s, when as a college intern for the Renton Record Chronicle, I covered a Washington state Horse Racing Commission meeting in Renton involving a Longacres trainer who went on to fame.
Years later for the Valley Daily News, I would cover the sale of Longacres to Boeing in 1990 and the track’s last days in 1992 – and the dark years that followed. One story I’ve always remembered came at the end, when I reported the anger horse owners felt when demolition began even before all their horses were gone from the barns.
Even though horse racing now lives on at Emerald Downs in Auburn, the state’s thoroughbred industry thrived for decades in Renton.
Although Valley Medical Center is sometimes referred to as “Renton’s hospital,” its reach goes much farther. Major life events for me and my family, from births to death, have occurred there. Yes, there actually was a time when you drove there through farm fields, not fields of warehouses.
Stories abounded from Valley Medical Center, from CEO Rich Roodman’s pay, to the unruly unproductive meetings of the board of commissioners, to the alliance with UW Medicine. I’ve had a hand in covering all of those, fairly and professionally.
Perhaps the hardest of Valley’s stories to cover, at least personally, was the alliance with UW Medicine. I was in a protective, albeit, emotional mood; it felt like South King County was losing, at least in name, an important piece of its identity. But, of course, intellectually, medically and for Valley to survive at all, it made sense to align with UW Medicine.
Perhaps no other issue has so divided Renton in recent years as the annexation to the King County Library System and the following heart-wrenching debate over where to build a new library. I was criticized by the public for the way the Renton Reporter handled its coverage of the library issue, and my objectiveness was questioned.
The debate, of course, was to build anew next to the transit center downtown or to replace the existing library with a new one still over the Cedar River. A bright new library stands over the river, which is where it has always belonged, in my personal view. Our coverage of the issue won a first-place award for comprehensive news coverage in 2013 in the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association statewide contest.
But what I learned is that journalists must cover an issue thoroughly, from the beginning, so that our readers have a chance to make a difference in the decision-making. Of course, the public needs to engage, too, early on. And, of course, elected officials need to listen.
But those “big” stories make up only a small percentage of the stories I’ve written over the years about Renton, its tragedies and joys and just the everyday lives of its residents.
Renton is an endlessly fascinating place where people do care.