TOP STORIES: Crabs on cocaine, Salem’s Potato Lady and Salem history

I’ve been at Salem Reporter since October, and in just a few months as your community reporter I’ve been able to dive into the important topics of healthcare and infrastructure

My favorite part of journalism has always been meeting people I may not have otherwise met, and telling stories that otherwise might have gone unheard. Here are my top stories that helped me get to know Salem.

When I was a kid, my brother, cousin and I would spend our whole summer making stop motion movies together. I developed a love for campy horror and practical effects, and as a teen would go to B-Movie Bingo at the Hollywood Theatre in Portland. Learning about the creative process behind the local film “Cocaine Snorting Crabs From Outer Space” was a treat. 

I really enjoy talking to people who love their jobs, especially in the sciences. Bill Fear has spent over three decades helping people when their basements leak strange fluids, and when their local creeks start acting out of character. I love putting names and faces to infrastructure that we all use, but seldom think about if things are working smoothly.

Anyone who works in veteran’s services, or in elderly care, can tell you about the dangers of loneliness. Eye contact and acknowledgement goes such a long way, and it was lovely to see over 100 people be recognized at this event.

Sharing the news that local legend John “Cheeseburger” Witherspoon was honored for over 40 years of service to area youth was already great, but the reader responses that flooded my email and our comments section was another level entirely. It helped me understand just how important Witherspoon is to the community, and I was happy to compile some of their stories into a follow-up article.

There’s always an added weight when writing about the legacy of someone who recently passed. Lisa Letney was an especially impactful person, who dedicated so much of her time to helping others. I’m grateful that her family was so open to sharing their memories with her.

I’ve worked in six Oregon cities and towns. Local bars are always familiar, yet never the same. Every head turned when I stepped inside this one with my notebook, and sitting down to interview a 50-year regular felt like getting an invite to the most exclusive party in town.

I’m a believer that it’s never too late to tell someone’s story. This exhibit at the Willamette Heritage Center on the erased history of Salem’s Chinatowns proved that. I learned a lot talking to curator Kylie Pine, who spent years finding the words and perspectives of Chinese-American people who lived here a century ago.

I sat down with Arthur Berman at a local coffee shop, and we spent over an hour talking about his late wife Linda, who died in February. They were married for over 50 years, and instrumental to the development of Salem’s sister cities program. I was honored to share even a few of their many adventures together.

Who would have thought an annual tuba concert would have so much going on behind the scenes? Me, actually, because I was in band through high school. I really enjoyed learning the history of this holiday event and talking to 81-year-old Dan Sewell, who rediscovered a love of playing music later in life.

“Elf” is one of my favorite Christmas movies, tied for first place with “The Holiday.” Having seen the former probably over 50 times, I had high standards for what makes a good Buddy the Elf impression. Local actor Corey Jenkins delivered, and it was a delight to see him in his element.

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.