It began in March of 1978, when my junior high class visited The Pagosa Springs SUN’s new facility located at 466 Pagosa St.
A photo of the class was printed in the newspaper along with a caption explaining that we were there “to see typesetting equipment and the web press in operation. The group of students was also taken into the darkroom to witness the exposure and development of a negative.”
One year later, as a freshman at Pagosa Springs High School, I was working in the mailroom of The SUN inserting sections of newspapers together that were printed in the plant.
College was not an option for me after high school graduation as I simply couldn’t afford to pay tuition.
After working at Circle Super as a checker for a few weeks, then-SUN owner and publisher David Mitchell came through my lane and encouraged me to apply for an opening at the newspaper. After two or three interviews, I landed a part-time, minimum-wage job doing pasteup work and taking classified ads. That was back when computers didn’t cut and paste things for you.
Since Fourth of July week in 1982, I’ve spent more than 41 years out of my 58 years of life working at The Pagosa Springs SUN.
For just slightly more than 20 of those years, I have been the owner of this community institution. Community newspaper ink is in my blood.
There was nothing scarier than taking the reins as owner of The SUN back in 2003. Mitchell had made the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity possible and his family honored his wishes upon his death.
Over the years I’ve been with The SUN, we’ve reported on amazing accomplishments of Pagosans, high school sports, efforts to build a reservoir, the Village at Wolf Creek, adventures of our locals, activities of area nonprofits, a pandemic and subsequent taking apart of a health department, the building up of a hospital, lawsuits, fires, the sale of a courthouse, flooded jails, efforts to help others in need across the nation and around the globe, youth activities, vehicle crashes and plane crashes, fire incidents, housing issues, short-term rentals, bank robberies, annexations, homicides, accidental deaths, cold-case murders, protests, burglaries, drug busts, missing people, kidnappings, sexual assaults, elections, eminent domain issues, campaigns to recall candidates, conflicts of interest, tragedies and successes — the list is endless.
There are so many stories from the past 41 years that I could tell, but I will just share a few.
In 2005, SUN photographer Steve Cangialosi boarded a Blackhawk helicopter in Central Baghdad headed for Marine Corps Camp Blue Diamond outside Ramadi, Iraq. A few days later, Cangialosi stood with U.S. Marine Corps troops in Fallujah at the Blackwater Bridge where, just a year before, American civilians were killed in a grenade attack, then hung by insurgents on a bridge that spanned the Euphrates River.
It was uncommon for a small-town newspaper to embed a photographer with troops in Iraq. That was no small feat, but the tenacity of then-SUN editor Karl Isberg and Cangialosi made it happen.
That wasn’t the only time The SUN made it possible for staff to report from a foreign country. Before Cuba opened legally to American travelers, The SUN made arrangements for staff reporter James Robinson to visit the country and share his experiences with our readers.
Back on the home front, there was a time when I was contacted by an Albuquerque TV station when residents of their city were victims of a plane crash in the southern part of Archuleta County. We knew where the crash was located. They wanted our help finding it. We needed their helicopter to get a photo. Our photographer, Mike Pierce, was the first in the helicopter to spot the wreckage. The station later asked to use his photographs on air as they were better than the ones the station was able to take. Over the years, we remained in touch with the news team and even worked together on another project.
That wasn’t the only time one of The SUN’s photos was used by a larger media outlet. One of my photos of the West Fork Fire Complex as viewed from my home was used on air multiple times by NBC News.
In addition to national collaboration, we also worked with numerous news organizations throughout Colorado over the 40 years I have worked at The SUN. Each instance was a learning opportunity.
Photo assignments could often lead to the most unusual situations.
One morning, I was driving to the office and stopped to take a photo of a Loomis Fargo bank truck rollover crash. As I approached the scene, the sun’s glare made it impossible to get a decent photo. I asked for permission to cross the police tape to get a better angle. The state trooper gave permission with a warning to not step on the money. Money? I hadn’t even seen the money scattered all over the ground with the sun blinding my view. If I recall correctly, there was more than $1 million spilled out on the ground in front of me.
One time, law enforcement informed me of the date and time of a pending drug bust. Never wanting to be late for anything, I arrived on scene well before law enforcement did only to ponder what one does while waiting for an impending bust. I decided that sitting outside a drug dealer’s house wasn’t an optimal place to wait, so I moseyed down the road until law enforcement arrived to carry out their task.
We have covered small fires, house fires and massive wildfires over the years. We’ve donned the protective fire gear to go inside the fire boundaries to take photos and conduct interviews. I was once allowed in a house with the fire still burning to take a photo.
We even delivered free newspapers to camps for the fire crews.
Over the years, I’ve had coaches from other communities compliment The SUN for our coverage of the Pagosa Springs High School Pirates’ sports teams. They were in awe of the breadth and depth of coverage and photography we deliver to our readers. They shared that their own community’s newspaper coverage was subpar. There is nothing like covering your hometown teams and their accomplishments.
I also recall the many kind words readers have shared when this newspaper touched their lives.
One day, I was surprised to receive a call from Dave Sayer with the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Prize Patrol telling me that a friend had won a considerable sum of money. I hung up on him. He called me back and, this time, I listened. After all, I recognized his voice from years of TV commercials. It turns out that it wasn’t a prank call. He invited me to join them in handing out the prize. I was early, once again, to take a photo and surprise my friend. So, I waited around the corner for the patrol to join me. We arrived at the door with the balloons, champagne, roses and one of those big fake checks. The winner looked past the group and saw me standing there taking photos and that is when she said she knew it had to be real, “because Terri is here.”
Letters to the Editor have traditionally provided a rich exchange of ideas and opinion for SUN readers; however, some of those letters that I received could be perplexing. I cannot tell you how much I cringed when I received letters from people who could have possibly consumed too many adult beverages before hitting send. I struggled to print some letters that were so unkind, but I felt readers should know that there are all types of people with all types of opinions who make up our community.
One of the biggest challenges of my job over the years has been to hold elected officials and community leaders accountable. It really hasn’t been one my favorite things to do; yet, it is one of the biggest responsibilities of a newspaper serving in the role of community watchdog.
It seems as if Archuleta County has been the subject of many of my editorials over the past several years. Recent unauthorized projects, overspending, unbudgeted purchases, cuts to road projects, repeated landfill violations and failed elections as reported on in The SUN may have caused some of us who have lived here awhile to flash back to April of 2007 when The SUN reported on a dark financial juggernaut facing Archuleta County. By that summer, 38 county employees had lost their jobs, $1.7 million in road projects had been postponed and the county administration made deep cuts to a variety of departments, programs and services.
We at The SUN refer to that era as “Archuleta County’s financial demise.”
That May, the county faced a multimillion dollar shortfall and making payroll was questionable. The county’s finance director informed that $2.87 million in the Road Capital Improvement Fund was “not real money.” There were no real dollars to back the fund entry up.
State statute had been violated and possible criminal activity was being investigated.
The county was on the brink of bankruptcy.
Here we are in 2023, and questionable spending and decisions by management are still wreaking havoc. We hope the county can right the ship.
The SUN has been recognized by our peers as leaders in the news industry by winning numerous awards over the years. We’ve prided ourselves on hard work and we’ve focused on producing the highest-quality publications possible.
It was suggested that I count all of the state and national awards SUN staff has received, but that would take forever. Suffice it to say, there are hundreds of awards across the categories of design, photography, advertising, news reporting and editorial content.
One of my biggest honors was bringing home the Colorado Press Association’s 1996 Best of Show in Advertising award. It was the first year the award was given to recognize the top advertising entry from all the entries across the state in all sizes and classes of newspapers.
In 2017, then-Gov. John Hickenlooper awarded The SUN with the Service to the First award in recognition of the newspaper’s commitment to a free press and the public’s right to know.
“This year’s winner shows you don’t have to be a big organization to make an impact or have a large newsroom to keep the government accountable and residents informed,” Hickenlooper said during the presentation.
“With its staff of three reporters, Pagosa Springs SUN staff have held government of all kinds and sizes accountable for conducting public business where it belongs — in public,” Hickenlooper continued. “And while it’s my honor to give The SUN this award, the real winner of this award is the community and residents that Pagosa Springs’ newspaper covers.”
Serving for eight or nine years on the Colorado Press Association board of directors, including one year as board chair, was a rewarding experience for me. Colorado is a big state, but nothing compares to the close relationships that I forged with the best of the best in the industry from border to border and beyond.
Many times over the years, industry experts encouraged me to shut down our printing press. It wasn’t something that made good financial sense to me. Nowadays, many newspapers have found themselves without an affordable, quality press available to produce their print product. We are proud to have the last operating printing press in this region.
When the pandemic hit, we thought we would go under. Nothing was scarier than watching one ad after another cancel as local businesses struggled to stay afloat.
Supply chain issues left us wondering how we would get printing plates, ink and newsprint.
When one paper company informed me that the shipment of newsprint would be six weeks late, we told them we would be out of business if they didn’t deliver on time. Fortunately, they delivered before we ran out of paper.
At one point, we were down to less than 60 percent of the staff we needed to put out a newspaper, but we persevered.
The SUN was founded in 1909. Since then, there have been different owners, publishers and editors.
Aug. 31 was my last day at The SUN. The newspaper was acquired by O’Rourke Media Group that day.
Over the years, I’ve had numerous offers to purchase the newspaper. When those offers came to me, the time either did not seem right or the company did not feel like a great fit.
A friend and fellow newspaper owner shared his journey of selling his newspapers with me in April and introduced me to his buyer.
When I met with Jim O’Rourke of O’Rourke Media Group, his organization seemed to be a great fit for the staff and the community with its strong commitment to local journalism and print media.
I have much gratitude for all of those who have worked for The SUN over the years.
Current staff members with over 20 years of dedication and hard work include Robert Penton, Shari Pierce, Randi Pierce and Missy Phelan.
There have been numerous other employees, both past and present, who have helped this paper thrive. There isn’t space to print everyone’s names. You read some of their bylines on a weekly basis; others you could find working behind the scenes.
This newspaper wouldn’t be what it is today without them.
The staff is dedicated and works hard. They care about this community and the future of the newspaper. I know The SUN will continue to shine and excel under their watch.
I am grateful for the years we’ve shared together doing the vital work of informing this community though a strong, local newspaper.
Part of my heart has wanted to undo the decision that I made to sell The SUN multiple times these past few weeks, but I know my decision was best for the future of the institution.
O’Rourke Media Group owns 41 publications throughout the United States. The company plans to continue the same high-quality journalism expected by SUN readers. It has the resources and expertise to take The SUN to the next level.
Local businesses have supported The SUN since 1909 through advertising opportunities. I am grateful for your support. The SUN wouldn’t be here without you. These local businesses will now benefit from the myriad of advertising solutions the new ownership will bring.
The word of the week in emails and phone calls of congratulations has consistently been “bittersweet.”
That it is.
Nelson Poynter said, “I’d rather be a newspaper editor than the richest man in the world.”
Being the editor and owner of this newspaper has enriched my life beyond measure.
Now I pass the torch.
Thank you for your readership, support and help through all of these years.
Terri Lynn Oldham House