Farewell to Hendersonville Times-News and newspaper business: Thanks for the memories

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For more than half of my life, I’ve worked at the Hendersonville Times-News.

Twenty-eight years ago, at the age of 25, I was hired as a part-time news reporter by executive editor Joy Franklin, after city editor Penny Leigh decided to take a chance with me. I’ve been with the paper ever since, and now my journey is coming to an end.

May 17 is my final day. While I’ve thought this day would never get here, back in my early 20s, I had serious doubts I’d even get into the newspaper business. I did an internship with the paper during my senior year at UNC Asheville in 1994, and after I graduated, there weren’t any job openings. I was still working at Kmart, a job I’d had since I was 15.

I was getting discouraged. Then, sports editor Bob Dalton let me know there was an opening for a high school sports reporter. I was one of the two finalists, but the job ended up going to Ron Wagner. It wasn’t a total loss, though. Bob used me a few times as a stringer, and I had a ball. I remember even covering North Henderson High football team’s first-ever win in 1994.

It wasn’t until October 1996 that I finally got a job at the paper. Penny called and said, “Hey Dean, how would you like to be our part-time weekend news reporter?” There wasn’t even a job interview. I jumped at the chance.

We had quite a crew back then. It was a full newsroom. I know I’ll forget some people, but here it goes … the crew consisted of Leigh; reporters Jennie Giles, Harrison Metzger, Amy McGraw, Benny Smith, Jim Wooldridge, Randy Smith; editorial page editor Mitch Sandos; features editor Licia Gaut Correll and the features department, including Sally Cook Anderson, Kitty Turner and Denise DeMaio. In sports, the crew was Dalton, Wagner and Thomas Goodwin, and on the copy desk were Dan Sullivan and Michael Gouge, who used to work with me at Kmart.

The photographers were Chris Clevenger and Patrick Sullivan. Patrick and I were the weekend crew, covering breaking news. We used to have cheap walkie talkies we’d keep in our cars to keep in touch during the weekend. Those were the days.

I finally landed a full-time job as news clerk a few months later and then in 1997, I was hired as a sports reporter by the man I lost my first shot at a Times-News job to, sports editor Ron Wagner. After Ron left in 2006, I was promoted to sports editor, a job I held until 2022, when I was moved back to news once again as the news editor.

It’s been quite a journey. I’ve met so many great people along the way, including many sports celebrities. One of the first I encountered was when I covered my first-ever NASCAR race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. I had never been in the infield before, and my first trip there was unforgettable.

As I drove through the tunnel underneath the track and came out the other side to the infield, I was in awe, staring at the stands. Then, a figure caught the corner of my eye, and I slammed on my brakes. It was a man in a black trench coat and cowboy hat, riding a scooter. I had just about hit him. It was the King himself, Richard Petty.

“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry,” I said, with my window down.

“That’s OK, man. Enjoy the race,” he said.

While there have been some great times and some rough times, people have always been there supporting me like family. I’ve had many loyal readers who communicate with me regularly, including Leah Ryel. I consider her more than just a loyal reader — she’s a forever dear friend.

I’ve been called many things during my time here, things like Deanster, Deano, Dearie, Cookie and some others that I better not mention. I’ve written everything from uplifting stories to controversial ones. But through it all, I’ve cherished every minute of it and continued to learn a great deal along the way. It was more than a job to me — it was my life.

During my time here, my wife and I raised two daughters who are now grown. When my wife and I worked the same hours, there were times when I had to take my girls with me to sporting events, with one in a stroller and one holding my hand.

Now we have a granddaughter. I’ve not had the pleasure of taking her to one of my assignments yet, but I’m sure she would’ve had a great time.

I am embarking on a new career that doesn’t involve print for the first time in my life, but it will still be about the news. It will be something familiar but something different, and I’m excited for the challenge.

I want to say thank you to everyone who has supported me along the way. I have always thought about the way I’d end a farewell column in a newspaper, and now I’m finally getting the chance to do it. So, in the words of Saturday Night Live’s Dennis Miller, “Guess what, folks? That’s the news, and I am outta here.”

Dean Hensley is the news editor for the Hendersonville Times-News. For tips, questions and comments, email Executive Editor Karen Chávez at KChavez@citizentimes.com. For Henderson County calendar of event items, email News Assistant Carole Terrell at CTerrell@citizentimes.com. Read more at blueridgenow.com.

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