2013 was a year of heartbreak and hope in Seneca County.
My reflections about the top 10 news stories of the year, as selected by the staff of The Advertiser-Tribune, follow.
The top news story of the year was a devastating one. In September, a fire at Highland Park Estates Mobile Home Park claimed the lives of a man and five children while their mother was at work. It was a dark day in Seneca County's history. Anna Angel was faced with the loss of her five young children, her boyfriend, her home and her belongings all at the same time in the fire.
In the wake of the devastation, the community came together and rallied behind her. A passerby and first-responders did all they could to save the family. Behind-the-scenes personnel orchestrated a rescue effort and investigation. School officials came together to help students maneuver their way through the grieving process with two empty chairs in two elementary school classrooms. People prayed and organized benefits.
Even though I have seen repeatedly people's willingness to help those in need, I still was overwhelmed with the outpouring of support.
The news story that ranked second for 2013 was the shooting of a woman and her mother in Fostoria during the summer. Calvin B. Dixson was found guilty of aggravated murder and attempted aggravated murder in October, three months after the crimes that killed Lisa Stowers and injured her daughter, Tyeesha Snowden. He is to spend the rest of his life in jail.
Third on our staff list was weather wreaking havoc on the area, including flooding and summer tornadoes. Several times throughout the year, people's lives were turned upside down as severe weather rolled through the area.
Fourth on the list was evacuees heading to Tiffin after being forced from their homes by a train derailment in Willard and the community coming together to help. Several local restaurants agreed to donate hundreds of coupons for free food to help the families affected by the evacuations at Thanksgiving time.
Three events tied for fifth on our list: A shooting at Carey Conservation Club claimed two lives. A man allegedly shot at deputies and burned down his house. A fire at T.J. Willie's closed the restaurant, and it reopened months later. The shooting incidents remain in court at this time. Fortunately, T.J. Willie's was back in business in time for the holidays.
Eighth on our list was state championships by Lakota's Makayla Dull and Calvert's Olivia Smith. Winning a state title is an incredible accomplishment of which the entire community can be proud. It certainly show that hard work pays off.
Ninth on our list is Whirlpool Corp. being sued in light of the Clyde cancer cluster. Last month, Whirlpool Corp. released findings from a site assessment that showed there was no health risk or evidence of hazardous illegal dumping at the former Whirlpool Park.
And finally, our 10th news story of 2013 was the high incidence of fatal accidents, including the death of two brothers and two drivers. By the middle of July, the number of people who had been killed on Seneca County roadways in 2013 already was approaching the number from all of 2012.
Certainly, Seneca County had its share of heartbreaking situations in 2013. But one thing is for sure: When those unfortunate events occur, family, friends and strangers will be right there to help, and a story I stumbled upon on Christmas Eve is proof of that. I had received a private message through The Advertiser-Tribune's Facebook account that Duchess Lane was flooded. There was no newspaper published on Christmas Day, but I thought it would be a good idea to head there anyway to get photographs for Facebook and Thursday's edition.
As I drove down Duchess Lane toward the water, a group of people with kayaks caught my attention. I scrambled to put on boots and grab the camera before the people had a chance to float down the road. Unsure of what was happening, I walked up to the water's edge, only to find out that the strangers were going to save Christmas for 5-year-old Eliana Randell by rescuing her presents from her home.
I was in awe of their willingness to help this family in need and felt that the situation was a microcosm of how Seneca County residents respond in times of need. "(Tiffin is) a community of family and friends," said Joyce Randell, Eliana's grandmother.
Her words could not be more accurate. In trying times, others always are right there to help and lessen the burden for those who are struggling. Being surrounded by such caring, giving and unselfish individuals makes me proud to say I am from Seneca County.
May 2014 be your best year yet.