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CLINE: Looking back at a year in columns

Todd Cline

Todd Cline

Has it really been a year already? I know everyone says the same thing — Man, I can’t believe the year went so fast. But this year seemed to move at warp speed.

While gearing up for a new one, I like to take a look back at the people and topics I covered during the past year. In doing so, I'm reminded of the many good stories that Gwinnett provides.

One of my personal favorites is titled "It's not the heat, it's the monotony" -- a look at weather forecasters and how easy their jobs were this summer when predicting day after day of hot, rainless weather. David Chandley of WSB-TV was kind enough to play the straight man for this column, joking that it's tougher than it looks.

Chandley, a Gwinnett resident, is a good guy who's used to being hassled about the weather. "I've been doing this for 27 years," Chandley said, "and when it's hot everyone wants to know when it will be cool and when it's cool everyone wants to know when it will warm up."

I guess my question to him at this time is: When is it going to actually feel like winter?

I end up writing a decent amount about people I know -- like Buford High principal Banks Bitterman, who was featured for his school's standout academic year in 2010-11 -- and like Cliff Ramos and Steve West, a pair of former public school wrestling coaches who take an annual road trip where they get people to pledge per good deed they do. This year, the money they raised went to the Lawrenceville Co-op.

I also had a chance to talk to Bill Kruskamp, a guy I've known since his days as a girls basketball coach. Kruskamp went into administration from there, but my reason for contacting him this year was that he came out of retirement to serve as interim principal at Alcovy High in Newton County. With the principal back from maternity leave, Kruskamp is back to retirement. One funny thing that came from our conversation was that it had been a long time since he had to sign a time sheet.

While it was fun to catch up with old friends like the aforementioned, it's also interesting each time you get to meet someone new. John McWilliams of Norcross High School had a great story -- he never missed a day of school in his life before graduating this past spring. His attitude is one we should all emulate. "I never skip out on a rep or a play, and that kind of goes for everything I do, not just school," said McWilliams, who served as a team captain on Norcross' football team and walked on at Valdosta State University.

Two other guys I met were strangers who really weren't. I passed by Royce Couch and Ron Reda almost every weekend during the summer as they peddled peanuts on the side of Suwanee Dam Road near Cumming Highway, but never knew who they were. Taken by the juxtaposition of their country-like boiled peanut stand next to such a busy road in such a suburban county, I stopped by to chat and learn their stories.

Funniest thing about that column was the comments I got from friends and colleagues who said they bought boiled peanuts from them all the time. I didn't realize those guys were so popular.

The most gratifying piece I got to write was about the way local firefighters were treated on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Local firehouses were deluged by well-wishers saying thanks and bringing gifts of food.

"Every time we opened the door there was someone there with something in their hands (to give us)," Batallion Chief Wayne Mooney said. "I had one fireman tell me: 'My cheeks are tired because I've been smiling all day long.' It was overwhelming."

Every columnist takes the selfish route at times, writing one mainly for themselves. When others enjoy it as well, it's a nice feeling. One of those was a column I wrote about eating vinegar fries at the Gwinnett County Fair.

It was a very personal column, drawing on my eating the tasty treat at the Illinois State Fair as a kid. It was fun to write, but seemed to have a fairly narrow appeal. So I was surprised to get a few emails about it and even more surprised to get a phone call.

A man named John Jenkins, a transplant from Illinois, called to tell me how much he enjoyed vinegar fries. Our conversation then veered off to our common background of growing up in Central Illinois (we knew a lot of the same places, liked a lot of the same food staples) and concluded with the realization that the man had grown up in Girard, about 10 minutes from where my grandmother lives.

It was a lot of fun. Like talking to a long, lost friend.

I look forward to making more unexpected acquaintances like that during the upcoming year. And I hope you enjoy plenty of similar small moments.

Next week it's back to building up to this year-end column again.

Happy New Year.

Email Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.