It seems like just last year the East County Observer celebrated its 10th anniversary. I remember how so many of our friends and business colleagues gathered at the Polo Grill and Bar’s Fête Ballroom to celebrate and how proud I was to be a part of the East County Observer’s team.
And, now, it’s hard to believe it’s five years later — the East County Observer’s 15th anniversary.
As I readied to write this column, I pulled out our bound archives, which catalogue each issue of past papers.
The first complete set of newspapers we have is for the year of 1999. Our first issues seem to be missing from our archives entirely, somehow lost in the excitement of starting something new and keeping up with the tremendous growth our area was experiencing.
The final issue that year included our traditional “Year in Review” summation.
Its title: “1999: The year change swept the East County.”
That year, Neal Communities planned 460 apartments on Natalie Way (now a residential community called The Harborage). Then Manatee County Commissioner Jonathan Bruce campaigned for an ordinance forbidding businesses that “exploit nude women for profit” from moving to the East County; and Sarasota County broke ground on a $28 million field-operations center across the street from Sun-N-Fun RV Park.
Although the growth is what led Observer Media Group CEO Matt Walsh to launch a community newspaper in the area, I doubt many people realized how much our community would develop over the next decade and a half.
Observer staffer Bob Lewis, who pitched the idea of starting a newspaper in this area to his employer, said Matt decided to call the paper the East County Observer, because that’s where people said they lived.
“It was natural,” Lewis said.
As a newspaper, we’ve covered the opening of dozens of communities, including Greenbrook, Greenbrook East, Woodbrook, The Lake Club, Central Park and others, as well as commercial shopping centers, including River Club Park of Commerce (home to Super Walmart on State Road 70), Benderson Development’s University Town Center projects, San Marco Plaza and Lakewood Ranch Main Street.
We’ve watched our youth grow up and graduate from high school and college; we’ve celebrated numerous school openings, including Gullett, McNeal, Freedom and Willis elementaries, Braden River High, Nolan Middle and others.
We’ve worked hard to be a part of the community — to make sure we are where you, our readers, are and to share with you important news, as well as features on your friends and families.
As former Managing Editor Mike Eng said when I asked him to recall his early days with the Observer: “When I first came to East County, the Observer still was relatively new in the community, so we had some branding work to do.
“One of my goals each week was to hand out as many business cards as I could, and we strategically tried to cover as much as possible each and every week. That meant being everywhere at any time. It was a lot of work back then, but after a while, people started recognizing me. The people of East County always were warm and receptive to us, and I was amazed at the kind of access we were given into people’s lives. Also, the demographic is perfect for a hyper-local publication.”
I remember in my early years with the paper, I kept bumping into a wonderful local mom, Paddi Juliano. She was pregnant with her first child; now, she has two children, and I have seen them grow up over the years, as I’ve covered church festivals, school events and other community activities. The folks at her office joke with her about how many times she’s been in the paper over the years. But, truthfully, each time I see Paddi and her family, I’m reminded of why I love my job so much and why I love working for a community newspaper.
We get to celebrate your milestones with you. You paste photos we take into scrapbooks to share with future generations. You take us along on your adventures, for our “It’s Read Everywhere” contests. You give us purpose.
And it never stops bringing joy to my heart.
Mike and I agree our favorite part of our community truly is the people. We have a unique mix of young families and retirees, all with special talents and stories to tell.
I’ve been privileged to be a part of the East County Observer’s team since 2005, and I, like Mike, have been amazed at how you, our readers, have embraced us over the years and allowed us to be part of your lives. It’s a task we don’t take lightly, and it’s one we hope to continue — doing it better and better from week to week.
The last 15 years of East County’s history have been amazing — with high highs and low lows — but the East County has proved to be strong, resilient and optimistic. Yes, this past decade and a half has been incredible, but I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected]