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Rural column writers won readers, if no Pulitzers
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Some small weekly newspapers still carry the personal notes of country correspondents, who write faithfully of happenings in their community.

Before the Gainesville Eagle and Gainesville News faded from the scene, they ran the ramblings of "rurals" or "dots" or "personals," as they were variously known.

The Gainesville Daily Times succeeded the Eagle and added even more such columns in its first few years in the 1940s and '50s.

Most writers' only compensation was a free paper, but they were just honored to get their community news in print.

Corrine Tanner was one of the better-known writers of personals. Her column was titled "Queen's Court," and she listed her phone number, 420. She was blind, but stayed on the telephone constantly to record endless neighbor-to-neighbor visits, hospital stays and other happenings, mostly around Gainesville.

Margaret Castleberry, a carryover from the Eagle, wrote the Eagle Eye. It contained mostly Gainesville news, too, and focused on Brenau College. An example: "Madame Marguerite Ringo (Brenau music teacher) was in Boston for the holidays and sent postals ... She had a wonderful time at the Music Teachers National Convention and gave Brenau a big boost."

Margaret sometimes kept readers in suspense. She closed one column, saying she received a letter from Mary Whitson describing her new hobby. "However, the column is running out. We'll have to add that next week and sign off with one of those ‘to be continued' lines."

Correspondents weren't bashful about writing about themselves or their families. Ken Evans, reporting from Route 9, wrote: "Clifford Martin, Earl Martin, Jerry Evans and Stephen Evans visited Kenneth Evans Sunday." From Sardis, written by Gertrude Whelchel: "Visiting with Gertrude Whelchel were Mrs. Otha Floyd and Mrs. Olen Skinner."

The news in those columns might have sounded pretty bland to the casual reader. But it was headlines to those who knew the people or the community. Mrs. R.B. Thomason, writing for Clermont Route 1, reported, "Several from here attended the funeral of (fill in name) at Wahoo. Mrs. (fill in name) shopped in Gainesville." One writer seemed to list the names of everybody who attended a neighbor's funeral.
Mrs. J.B. Cooper, Oakwood correspondent, wrote about a neighbor recovering from surgery in Downey Hospital.

People moving in and out of the community was prime news to local residents. Writing from Blackshear Place, Mrs. Candler Reed reported, "Mr. and Mrs. W.N. Hurley have moved into the community. Mr. and Mrs. Lee Gilleland have moved to their farm."

Tadmore apparently had felt left out of the columns. Mrs. Doc Tankersley rejoiced in January 1949: "This is the first news from this section to be printed in the Daily Times. Tadmore School is on the upgrade, enrollment has increased more than many schools in the region. We have four new classrooms and a residence for the principal." The PTA was holding a bingo party and cake walk to raise money for an auditorium.

It also was a bulletin from Tadmore that Booker Cash had opened his store.

Route 9's Kenneth Evans headlined one of his columns with the news that "R.P. Smith and Loy Brown butchered three hogs Wednesday." And "Hugh Evans, Harm Grindle and R.D. Grindle had a chicken stew at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Harm Grindle."

One of the most faithful writers was beloved Ed Carroll from Wahoo Community. His writings had been published in local papers since 1902, and he continued many more years in The Times.

Ed, a farmer who lived near Wahoo Baptist Church, reported singings and other events at the church. The preacher always preached "a fine sermon." Many times he would walk his news, pencil-written in his shaky hand, all the way in to the newspaper office from his humble home near the Hall-Lumpkin county line.

The Daily Times emphasized the importance of rural writers by running their pictures and short biographies in a special section. But as the paper and the county grew, "rurals" competed for valuable space. They later were relegated to the space left over when classified ads ran short.

Those community writers gradually died out and with them seem to go a way of life when neighbors waved from their front porches and tracked each other's comings and goings through their rural journalists. Reading them was like sitting in on conversations around a pot-bellied stove in a country store.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on First published June 1, 2008.

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