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I’ve relished 10 years of storytelling

In September 2000 I began as a correspondent for this paper, bringing local news and feature stories to North Idaho readers.  This will be the last edition of the Handle Extra, and so it follows that this will be my last column.  

As I reflect over the last 10 years, I always recall my first story.  It was about a doctor who traveled to Third World countries and provided an invaluable service to women in need of ob/gyn care.  The medical provider stressed how important it was to spend time with each of her patients, both locally and abroad, to not only assess their physical well-being but also their emotional health.

 The closing line of that story was a quote from the doctor. “Everybody has a story to tell,” she said.

I took that advice as I interviewed hundreds of people over the last 10 years.  I have been privileged to meet many interesting people and learn about all the good things happening in not only Sandpoint, but throughout North Idaho.  Being able to give many a voice and help them share their stories has been a journey I have enjoyed.

While I have written more than 300 stories over the years, there are some that stand out in my mind more than others.

There was the woman who, after decades of believing her developmentally disabled brother had died in a nursing home when she was young, learned that he was alive.  I was there when they reunited for their first Christmas together in over 30 years.  It is a moment I will never forget.

I shared stories of sadness, such as the death of a 15-year-old Sandpoint boy who died suddenly at Schweitzer Mountain due to an undiagnosed heart defect. He was a longtime friend of my son and a much-loved member of the community.

 When the World Trade Center was struck by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, a group of young students from a local Lutheran school wrote letters and made a quilt to send to a Lutheran school in New York.  It was just one of many times I witnessed heartwarming moments of kids helping kids.

I have been moved as I witnessed how one person’s vision can have a profound impact on an entire community.  Heather Gibson, during her own battle with cancer, inspired friends and neighbors and together they brought a nonprofit cancer center to Sandpoint that provides financial and emotional support to hundreds of others.   

Marsha Ogilvie was one of the founders of Kinderhaven, the only nonprofit emergency shelter and foster home for abused and neglected children in this area.  In 14 years it has saved the lives of countless children and stopped what at times seems like the never-ending cycle of abuse for many.  

Panhandle Alliance for Education has raised extensive funds to supplement the ongoing cuts to the Lake Pend Oreille School District.  Without that organization, I am sure our schools would be in much worse financial trouble and forced to cut many programs.  

There is also Community Assistance League in Sandpoint, founded decades ago by a group of friends who wanted to raise funds to help local causes.  What started as a group of a few has grown to dozens and has touched many lives in this small community.  

I have especially enjoyed giving children a voice. I think every adult should interview a child – at least on an informal basis. They are brutally honest and have great insight into life’s everyday problems. My Cool Kids column was a chance to highlight all the great things kids are doing to make a difference in the community.  

I will never forget one child, about 8 years old at the time, asked me why I chose him to write about. Although he had saved his family from a fire that broke out in their house in the middle of the night, he insisted there was nothing special about him. Everyone is special, I told him. After I told him that by sharing his story with others it might inspire other kids to be aware and help others in need, he enthusiastically agreed to talk to me.

I interviewed a young man in his late teens who was recovering from a trampoline accident that resulted in an amputated leg. Shortly afterward, he was back behind the wheel of a race car determined to not let his physical limitations spoil his dream.

I remember too the young girl who had been teased at school because she suffered from juvenile diabetes. She took it upon herself to educate others about her disease, and presented information to children at several schools. She went from being teased to being an admired role model among her peers.

One does not have to be a journalist to share another’s story. I encourage people to take time to really listen to the story of people with whom you come in contact. While people may not think their own story is important, it can have a profound impact on another person’s life. After all, everybody has a story to tell.

Contact correspondent Patty Hutchens by e-mail at