When I was little, I dreamed of being Davy Crockett. I dreamed of owning a black stallion, of playing bass fiddle in a jazz band and of being a college professor. But I never dreamed of being a newspaper columnist.
I never dreamed so many people would share their love of language with me. I never dreamed that in April 2016 David would send a message like this one about his grandfather, a Northfield high school English teacher:
“My grandfather … sensed my interest in writing before I had the faintest idea of subject-verb agreement and serial commas.
“Gene Fox saw the faint spark in my eye as a child and kindled it. He lent me copies of books by Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald and his favorite, Burgess. He gave me his tattered copy of “The Elements of Style” (which sits on my desk today). He saw my interest grow in writing, and so he began sending me your column in the hopes that I might sharpen my writing skills and become a strong and efficient writer. I relished every letter of his, and your column was always a wonderful topic that he and I could discuss over phone calls.
“I graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in journalism, which made him proud. I’m five years into a career in which writing has been integral.
“Gene Fox passed away yesterday. He was a devoted reader of your column, and he was always eager to share your column with me. Your writing brought us closer together and further strengthened our bond.
“Thank you, Stephen. I will be in Northfield, Minnesota, next weekend for my grandfather’s funeral. I’ll be thinking of your columns and of the wonderful conversations they fostered between my grandfather and me.”
I feel so honored, David. Thank you for sharing your story with me.
I never dreamed so many things that have come to pass. I never dreamed that I would enjoy writing this column as much as I do, nor that it would be so hard to stop writing it. I never dreamed Kathy would write this message to me in response to my Oct. 2 column:
“In a world of chaos, you always provided a calming article. In a world where language and communication has degenerated, you reminded us of why it is important. You helped us improve our skills. I have saved so many of your articles and keep them in a reference folder labeled ‘Stephen Wilbers.’ I will keep that folder for as long as I write.”
Although I will continue teaching and writing, I’ve decided to make this, my 1,000th column, my last. Thank you, Star Tribune. What a privilege it has been to appear in this wonderful newspaper for 26 years. Thank you, my editors. Most of all, thank you, my readers, for your support when the Star Tribune dropped my column (not once, but twice), only to reinstate me at your urging. Most of all, thank you for sharing your commitment to clear, precise writing.
Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.wilbers.com.