There’s one person who, every time I see him, I have to greet him with the same phrase: “The Legend.”
As a reporter at the Daily News, he set the standard for community journalism I have strived to follow and he is the person I most often hear myself compared to. I’m referring to the one, the only, The Legend himself John Jennings.
John’s legacy in town is so incredible that we still get phone calls and emails asking him to cover events. To put this in perspective, John had retired three months before I started and I’ve been here for a year. When you’re still in demand for a job you no longer have, you definitely have a legacy.
This is what I strive to have here in Newton.
My current coworkers and some of my former coworkers have gone to cover events and they’ll come back and tell me the first thing people have said to them is, “Where’s Ty?”
The funny thing is, the comment I get is, “Oh, John used to cover this” or “John would always do it this way” or “John would always do such a good job with this.”
While some people would hate this, I love it.
To me, it indicates I must be heading down the right path as a journalist.
If I’m sniffing out stories and writing about things John did before me or thought about doing, it shows me that I’ve got what it takes to do this for a living.
I even keep John’s old Rolodex on my desk and often refer to it as “The Ultimate Rolodex.” Think about it — there’s 13 years worth of contacts, sources and phone numbers in that thing.
It’s like having a Jasper County phonebook that just contains the names of business, political and organizational leaders in the community.
Who needs Google when you have The Ultimate Rolodex?
He can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think John likes the idea that I’m kind of known as “The Young John Jennings” in Newton. The first time I actually got to meet John in person was at one of my first few office hours at Worth the Weight on the square.
When he introduced himself to me, I felt like I knew so much about him just from word of mouth.
He loved volunteering at JCARL, he was a staple of the Jasper County Fair, he took amazing pictures, his column was very popular before he stopped writing it, he had the corner desk in the office, he drank a lot of coffee and he was beloved in the community.
So when you know all of this about a guy and he tells you that he likes your writing and really likes this picture you took of this kid and a tractor, you don’t know how to react.
I mean, if I played baseball, this would be the equivalent of Ken Griffey Jr. telling me he likes my swing.
This was a huge confidence boost for me, especially considering I had been on the job maybe a month at the most.
Since then, I’ve run into John all over town at various events and I always greet him by calling him “The Legend.”
He even occasionally calls me when he really likes a piece I did. The last call I received was for my series on the Jasper County Board of Supervisors.
Our most recent face-to-face encounter occurred at one of his old beats — and my current beat — a supervisors meeting.
I was politely asking someone to scoot down from my regular seat in the front row and a conversation started.
“You sit there?” John asked
“Every week, this is my seat. I’m weird like that,” I told John.
John looked at me for a moment or two and laughed a little bit before he replied, “That’s funny, I used to sit there.”