Here's to our 142nd birthday — and to taking risks

by Mike Wiggins

Lamar Wiggins hated risk. His aversion to it — coupled with his fear of an array of things — defined his life and, by extension, that of his family.
A fear of heights meant when we traveled on vacation, we drove rather than flew — to Kentucky to see his cousin, to Seattle for my brother's wedding. It meant Dad missed out on the spectacular drive over Colorado National Monument and, because of that climb up the hill just inside the entrance, the wonder of Arches National Park, as he sat waiting at the Visitors' Center.
My father was afraid I'd somehow chop off my foot with the lawnmower, so a childhood chore that chewed up much of my friends' precious summertime bypassed me (not to my chagrin, mind you). My grandfather was a skilled woodworker and built an assortment of furniture in the basement shop of his and my grandmother's home. I loved the smell of sawdust that lingered there, but I never donned a pair of goggles and ear plugs and fired up a circular saw. It wasn't until I was an adult and my grandfather had passed on that I learned that Dad's vision of me emerging from that shop with a bloody stump of an appendage muted my grandfather's eagerness to teach me something new.
Thinking back on it now, it makes perfect sense that my father worked for 25 years in the banking industry, spending most of those years in the loan division. In the days of double-digit interest rates of the 1970s and 1980s, I'm sure he was the ideal person to scrutinize each customer and their ability to pay off a note.
Make no mistake, my father's firm entrenchment within his comfort zone touched nearly every aspect of his day-to-day life. New vacation spots were never discovered. New restaurants were never sought out. Tickets to a performing arts complex he hadn't stepped foot in before went unused. When it came to choosing between an old, familiar thing he'd done, eaten or seen dozens of times and taking a chance on a new thing and perhaps being disappointed by it, for him, there was really no choice at all.
For many years, I was my father's son. Stick with what you know, and if you like what you're doing, why change? It took a push from my mom to get me to attend college outside the Front Range.
Better to stay put and keep my head down — whether that's a hobby, a school class or a job — than to chance it and perhaps fail. Because failure meant what, exactly? For much of my life, I wasn't really sure. I just knew I didn't want to find out.
Which brings me to this spring, when Erin and I decided to leave the place she lived her entire life and I worked for 18 years, bid farewell to regular paying jobs with benefits, sell the house we remodeled and were a mere decade from paying off and invest in a weekly newspaper with no health insurance, vacation time or 401(k) plan while paying resort-town prices for a place to live.
Talk about risk.
The truth is, the newspaper industry as a whole is at risk. The downsizing at newspapers across the country remains startling, even though it's been happening for more than a decade. Many of the journalism folks we have worked with over the years have left the business.
Working at a family-owned newspaper in Grand Junction shielded us to some degree from the cuts that have devastated many publications elsewhere in the state, particularly those owned by big corporations and hedge funds. But there is no cloak of invincibility. The newsroom we worked in shrank by more than 25 percent in the last six years, and more trimming followed our departure.
We believe the greater risk is to stand still and let things beyond your control whip you around like a kite on a blustery day. So we bet on ourselves, our belief in community journalism and the importance of a strong, vibrant newspaper even in small places. And we bet on this community, knowing you have supported — and confident you will continue to support — a newspaper that should inform, entertain and educate.
So as the Plaindealer turns 142 years old with this issue, here's to many more years of publication. As we blow out the candles, let us say thanks for risk-taking, for believing in communities and for the newspapers that serve them.