My turn

Two heartwarming local stories outshine chilling one from sunshine state

2014-03-16T00:00:00Z Two heartwarming local stories outshine chilling one from sunshine stateBy Bill Vargo Times Columnist
March 16, 2014 12:00 am  • 

“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”

~ Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

A handful of stories this week, one of a national nature and the other two of local interest, left me comparing the performance of public officials.

The first was the story of the tiny hamlet of Hampton, Fla. along U.S. 301, known as the speed trap capital of the U.S.

Money was being generated on its little wedge of frontage along that well-traveled route while the town was unable to keep track of its water supply and houses crumbled all around. Making matters worse, the state of Florida is now considering a move to de-incorporate the town due to its abysmal recordkeeping and other suspected criminal behavior by town officials.

The farther you read into the story and parse out the whole sad tale, the more you realize that the issue is not the speed trap, but rather that the town didn’t provide basic services for its own citizens. Just when you come to the blanket and erroneous conclusion that it is all hopeless, at least in my case I go back to the local stories.

Nearly 15 years ago, when taking classes toward a master's in public administration, I met Brian Miller for the first time. At the time, Miller was a detective and had been on the Hammond Police Department for some 20 years.

What I was struck by immediately was that he didn’t talk in the police speak that we are all so familiar with through TV and books. He was then, as he is now, a very likeable and down-to-earth person. It absolutely floored me when Mayor Tom McDermott appointed him as chief of police, because I didn’t believe that was possible.

Chief Miller lived up to the expectations of a city that has had a number of good chiefs in its history. He shared some great stories with us in class and out of class. Suffice it to say, he has seen a lot while protecting the citizens – not through notorious speed traps but by serving those who need it the most.

Last is a story within a story. Blake Loudenber, of Griffith, continues to thrive after kidney transplant surgery. The story featured in The Times last week details a drive to collect art supplies for kids in area hospitals, celebrating his one-year anniversary in a way that many of us can appreciate, by paying it forward.

I was struck, however, by the great photographs. Alongside this boy doing so much are two of his best friends, Griffith Police Officer Kevin Strbjak and Firefighter Joe Martin.

Two great local stories counter the terrible one about officials in a Florida town not taking their main responsibilities seriously, and I can keep reading the news after all.

# # #

One last unrelated story about my grandparents, who were promised new furniture if their daughter was born on St. Patrick’s Day. Coming at the height of the Great Depression, this would have been a great windfall.

Well, Mom, Happy Birthday anyway. Who knows, if you hadn’t been born March 16, I might not have been around to write this story and wish you a Happy St. Patrick’s Day, too.

The opinions are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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