I recently learned the Dawson News & Advertiser was the first newspaper in the country to begin carrying the columns of best-selling author, Ronda Rich.
It may come as a surprise to you, but the 126-year-old newspaper you're holding in your hands is part of a big family. There are 28 newspapers that make up Community Newspapers Inc. (CNI), and our family is spread from Florida to North Carolina. Right here in North Georgia, there are 10 of us: the Dawson News & Advertiser, White County News, The Clayton Tribune, The Dahonega Nugget, The Northeast Georgian, The Elberton Star, Franklin County Citizen Leader, The Hartwell Sun, The Toccoa Record, and The News Observer.
But it was the News & Advertiser that first saw a spark in Ronda.
Here's how it started: Ronda majored in journalism/broadcasting at Brenau University in Gainesville, and after graduation she went to work as a sports reporter for the local paper. At the time, Bill Elliott was a smokin' hot driver on the NASCAR circuit in the mid-1980's, and Ronda was in the right place at the right time. She said that Dawsonville, and its people, became very important to her.
Ronda told me she also spent time working for USA Today and later went to work full-time for NASCAR.
But it really wasn't until her first book - "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)" - started selling like crazy that people outside the NASCAR world knew her name.
It was after this success that she started to miss telling the simple stories that all people can relate to, so she reached out to Phil Hudgins, CNI's senior editor, and asked for his advice.
"Do it," Phil said. "I think you'll find a place for it." She asked Phil's advice on what to charge and then called the former publisher of the News & Advertiser.
"Let me see if I can find a place," the publisher told her. He later called her back and said, "We want your column." The year was 2003.
Ronda said she remembers it so clearly.
"I was jumping up and down - so excited," she said.
Shortly afterward, the White County News picked her up, followed by The Dahlonega Nugget.
Today, Ronda's columns are carried in 53 newspapers -- from Myrtle Beach to Biloxi to east Texas.
"Dawsonville started it all, and I won't ever forget that," she said. "It was like coming home to family. It's been a fantastic 10 years. Actually, August is the anniversary."
It sure is nice to be able to say that we launched Ronda's column-writing career. And to celebrate our 10-year anniversary, we're setting aside space for her again. This week's column is on page 11.
And, soon enough, she'll be jumping up and down when she sees what Bill Elliott's son, Chase, is going to do in the NASCAR world.