Sakal: Leaving one of the best jobs in the world, saying goodbye to the Tribune - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

Sakal: Leaving one of the best jobs in the world, saying goodbye to the Tribune

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Mike Sakal’s column runs on Fridays. Contact him at (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com, or write to Mike Sakal, East Valley Tribune, 1620 W. Fountainhead Pkwy., Suite 219, Tempe, AZ 85282

Posted: Friday, January 4, 2013 6:45 pm | Updated: 4:41 pm, Mon Jan 7, 2013.

That happy rainy day has arrived.

After working as a news reporter and a feature columnist for the East Valley Tribune for seven years after leaving my native state of Ohio in January 2006, Friday was my last day as a full-time journalist. I have worked for newspapers for more than two decades.

On Monday, I will begin new employee orientation with the City of Goodyear — the spring training home of the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians among other good things west of Phoenix — where I have accepted a job as a public information officer.

In my new job, I will continue writing, only this time I’ll be writing the press releases to alert the media of city events and issues, writing for the city’s magazine InFocus and its newsletter. I’ll also serve as a media relations representative and as a city spokesman among other responsibilities, which I’m sure will be many as the West Valley city continues to grow.

I am very grateful for the exciting opportunity in Goodyear and very much looking forward to moving on to a new chapter in my life.

To also say I have had one of the best jobs in the world by being a news reporter and columnist for newspapers and most recently in the sixth largest metropolitan area in the United States (Phoenix now is behind Philadelphia), would be an understatement.

Where else could I write hard-breaking news and some of the biggest stories and crimes in the region that received national attention as well as stories about family and friends, educators who have made an impact on my life, baseball’s spring training events and world-class entertainers, the untimely passing of former colleagues who were among my best friends, schoolteachers losing their certifications for incidents of sexual misconduct with students, and extraordinary people I had the honor of meeting and sharing their stories for thousands of readers?

Countless East Valley residents have made an impression on me by telling me their stories of happiness, good fortune, tragedies, their interesting jobs — 80-year-old Mesa resident Larry Heebner comes to mind, a man who has ground more than 10,000 crankshafts in 50 years. His wife, Priscilla, called him “cranky,” when in fact, he was not a crank — his job was just a daily grind.

But I couldn’t pick just one favorite story — or one interview subject I liked the most — or even a news story to be the biggest one I broke.

Every one of them was just as important and a great many of them I will remember the rest of my life and take to my grave.

The story and whereabouts of missing “Baby Gabriel” Johnson is a story that quickly comes to mind. The story of the then 7-month-old who was last seen Dec. 27, 2009, was one of the big stories the Tribune broke and I covered until early last month. Gabriel’s mother, Elizabeth Johnson, 26, of Tempe was sentenced to 5.2 years in prison for making her son disappear in the midst of a custody battle. She said she killed the boy and later said she gave him to a couple she didn’t know in San Antonio. To this day, Gabriel’s whereabouts are unknown.

I’ll also well remember witnessing the execution of death row inmate Donald Beaty in the death house of the Arizona Department of Corrections prison in Florence. Beaty exhausted his appeals while sitting on death row since 1985 for the rape and murder of 13-year-old Christy Ann Fornoff of Tempe in 1984.

In the stories I wrote leading up to Beaty’s execution, I admired the grace and fortitude of Christy’s parents, Roger and Carol Fornoff, and Christy’s six siblings who waited for the day to see justice served for their daughter and sister.

It was a privilege to chronicle the stories of veterans who have served our country during World War II and talking with the families of servicemen — and women — who were killed in action in the Middle East including the family of Army Pfc. Barbara Vieyra, 22, of Mesa, the first woman from the East Valley to be killed in action.

Vieyra’s daughter, Evelyn, was just 3 years old when Barbara was killed in Afghanistan in September 2010, and wondered why her mother no longer called her on the telephone. Evelyn, who called her mother “Babala” would be at least 5 now and maybe in kindergarten.

And where else but in the East Valley could I work as a beer vendor for a day at a Chicago Cubs spring training baseball game in Mesa (lugging about 80 pounds of beer and ice on my back) and listen in on childrens’ Christmas requests to Santa while serving as “Santa’s Elf” at Mesa’s Superstition Springs Mall?

While working for the Tribune, I hope I have written those stories well and did the people and issues I wrote about the justice they deserved.

I couldn’t have done it without you and the help of a very dedicated group of co-workers and editors.

I’m thankful to all of my family, friends, my co-workers, bosses and to all of you and to God for allowing me the privilege.

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