Every year, just for kicks, I ask our data dynamo Gary Funk to check The Bee’s analytics to see which pieces from our treasure trove of writing from readers got the biggest audience online. We have those numbers from the Valley Voices essays that usually run every Saturday and also the Letters to the Editor.
Two things about the Valley jump out. Our tastes focus on two vital areas: Our hearts and our bellies. Far and away, the most popular writing deals with life’s deepest heart connections. Second, we are passionate about our favorite restaurant food.
Valley readers care most about real life. We care about people we love, our parents and our children. About showing up for loved ones who are sick or sad. About taking seriously that greatest privilege of being there when loved ones take their last breath of life.
Oh, and we love to argue about restaurants, namely Cracker Barrel, which doesn’t even have a shop here.
The Rev. Larry Patten’s poignant essay “5 Questions to Ask a Hospice Patient,” resonated far beyond our region to touch a national audience, thanks to McClatchy’s vast digital reach. Patten is a retired United Methodist pastor, who now helps people in bereavement through hospice.
He writes like a best friend with a sense of humor and is uniquely equipped to help us handle serious illness and say goodbye with grace. We are truly lucky he is willing to teach us how to give those we love a royal sendoff.
Another of his essays on grief was more lighthearted, and also landed in the top tier. It was called, “When your dearly departed loved one may not be so lovely.” What do you do when the guy’s a stinker?
The Valley also loves men who turn their grief into a plan of action that transforms our community. Two businessmen wrote about the unspeakable: the loss of their young daughters. But these dads took the next step, and became men with a mission.
Dean Eller’s daughter, Jenny, died of leukemia Oct. 28, 1995 at age 21. On her death bed, he promised to carry on her campaign for saving lives through blood donations. He was at first uncertain about what he could really do. He was, after all, a career mortgage banker for 29 years. He had no medical background. Life intervened, however, and when the opportunity arose, he agreed to step in as CEO of the Central California Blood Center. He recently retired after 18 years of service.
Last year, he wrote about the day his family was told their daughter, Jenny, would die within 24 hours. The headline was “One more day. Fresno’s Eller family got news no one wants to hear.”
Eller has written a lot about Jenny’s life and death. His commentaries are deep, honest dives into life’s greatest grief. Though I cannot get through them without tears, they are unfailingly inspiring at the great difference a person of conviction can make in only a few years here on earth.
Another dad on a mission is Douglas E. Griffin. His 23-year-old daughter, nurse Molly Taylor Griffin, died in a car crash at age 23. It was caused by a drunken driver, Hector Castillo-Pichardo. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison. In open court, Molly’s father forgave her killer. And he declared her birthday, Aug. 26, a random act-of-kindness day for the whole community.
“I didn’t want people to remember how Molly died but how she lived,” he wrote in his essay. So mark your calendars now to do something nice for folks in her honor: “Live like Molly!”
And then there was Danell TeNyenhuis of Clovis who wrote about “The worst day” when her husband, Patrick, was killed at age 49 in a cycling accident in Clovis.
Letters to the editor
Two of the top-ranking letters of the year were about a false alarm that Cracker Barrel restaurant was coming to Fresno. The most popular letter carried a headline that said, “Why support a redneck eatery like Cracker Barrel? Choose local restaurants.” The writer was Mike Dozier of Clovis. executive director, Fresno State’s Office of Community and Economic Development.
Another letter by William Hill of Fresno imagined, “Why Cracker Barrel said no to crummy Fresno.” (He blamed it on poor people, trash, gangs, slumlords, yard sales.)
Three of the top letters were about food. There was a big chatter when a popular local bagelry was replaced with a chain stationery store. This letter got lots of attention, “Fig Garden Village bosses, we love our Uncle Harry’s,” written by Eric Amador.
Anytime I am fortunate enough to sit among other folks who edit Opinion pages, there are two parts of The Bee they always ask about, Valley Voices and Letters to the Editor.
“How do you find people who can write like that?” is the typical question. I once got a call from a newspaper editor in Washington about a page of letters he read in The Bee. “These letters are so well thought out,” he said. “They have such good reasoning behind what they say.”
“We are extremely fortunate,” is all I can say. Fresno has a wealth of insightful writers. And we are always grateful for our bursting mailbox.
Gail Marshall: 559-441-6680
Online Top 10s in 2017
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
1. Why support a redneck eatery like Cracker Barrel? Choose local restaurants. By Mike Dozier of Clovis.
2. “Maniac” drivers pose danger to cyclists on Friant Road. By Carol Capitola of Fresno.
3. Manchester movie theater seating takes fun out of films. By Cindy Wotring Simpson of Fresno.
4. “I’m only 17. We have to do better” to end Fresno’s gang murders. By Tyairah Thomas of Fresno.
5. “Genuinely perplexed” parent concerted about probably Fresno teachers strike. By Catherine Young of Fresno.
6. Suddenly the GOP likes executive orders. By Belva Quattrin of Kingsburg.
7. Why Cracker Barrel said no to crummy Fresno. By William Hill of Fresno.
8. Hello, Fig Garden Village bosses, we love our Uncle Harry’s. By Eric Amador of Fresno.
9. Taxes tempt us to exit the state. By Debra Perry of Fresno.
10. Nunes runs away from voters. By Pamela Beck of Fresno.
1. 5 questions to ask a hospice patient. By Larry Patten of Fresno.
2. One more day. Fresno’s Eller family got news no one wants to hear. By Dean Eller of Fresno.
3. Fresno did the smart thing with its marijuana ban. By Garry Bredefeld of Fresno.
4. It’s been two years since Molly Griffin died. her dad’s advice to families. By Douglas E. Griffin of Fresno.
5. Military wife to Heather Carr: Deployments aren’t NFL camps. By Ashley Hayek, formerly of Fresno, now of the San Diego area.
6. Let’s stop biggest gas tax hike in California history. By Assemblyman Vince Fong of Kern County.
7. Unsure about Confederate statues? Ask yourself if you support white supremacy. By Blain Roberts and Ethan J. Kytle of Fresno.
8. When your dearly departed loved one may not be so lovely. By Larry Patten of Fresno.
9. The worst day: When her husband was killed in a cycling accident in Clovis. By Danell Tenyenhuis of Clovis.
10. 10 back-to-school tips teachers want us to start following now. By Jill Simonian, formerly of Fresno.