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Karina Ramirez: Memories made on the beat, in print

I am as shocked as you are that this is my last business column.

My last day at my paper (still calling it “my paper”) was Friday. After six years of reporting for the Denton Record-Chronicle, I decided to start working closer to home.

Home is Dallas. I have been commuting from Dallas to Denton since Feb. 16, 2007. My fabulous car — my silver 2009 Prius — has about 106,000 miles. I bought it with 90 miles back in the fall of 2008. So let’s just say that for the love of my craft, I have driven a lot. On any given day I drove 38 miles to and from work in order to do what I needed to.

When I first started at the Record-Chronicle, I worked here part-time. At the time, I was also a graduate student at what is now the Frank W. Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism. I had met Dawn Cobb, our managing editor, (then business editor), through one of our University of North Texas classes.

I went to school for the purpose of getting a graduate degree I always wanted, not because I thought I would ever practice it as my profession. I call myself lucky that I received an opportunity to work here.

Basically, two part-time positions opened up at the paper and I was lucky to get one of them. My daughter was 9 years old and I was married then. And I thought, I would just be here for a short amount of time.

Sloppy at first, loved later

During our beginnings, it took us a while to get to know each other. Even if we had set up an appointment for me to interview you, you would still be surprised to find that I was a Latina and even more surprised that I was not Mexican.

I once had a source ask me about my time living in Mexico, to which I replied, “I have never been to Mexico, I am from Ecuador.” That conversation kept happening for at least the first two years. I was patient with you, very patient.

But because Denton is Denton and you just love to grab us and give us that big ol’ hug and never let us go, I ended up spending my first five years here as a part-timer.

Few people knew it was only just last year that I got hired as a full-time reporter. And few of them also knew that I did not live in town. The best thing I did for myself was to tell you that I did not live here. And because you love me so, you provided me with a lot of e-mails and a lot of tips. For that I am grateful.

I became a business columnist officially on May 24, 2009. By then, Dawn Cobb had taken the position as managing editor and one day — without asking me — put my face on the business column.

“You had been writing the column anyway,” she said with a grand smile on her face. My first reply was, “What are you doing?” Cobb will resume the previous column spot next weekend, and I am sure she will make me look good.

You want me to do what?

In my time as a columnist, I have featured hundreds of businesses and business owners. My goal was to tell you their story to the best of my ability. Through the column you have followed PJ’s Party Supply, Bookkeeper Girl (now on its fourth location) and Brad Mann’s car wash, and we have even celebrated the anniversaries of Acme Brick and DATCU and the openings of almost every business at Unicorn Lake, Rayzor Ranch and Golden Triangle Mall.

Along with the column, I have also been the keeper of the weekly business profiles. A total of 321 people have been featured in a business profile (on the left of Page 1D) since I became part of the paper. My first business profile subject was Aida Zihuatanejo, who was then the marketing director at Golden Triangle Mall.

Meeting and introducing people to the community through the business profile is a love we have shared, so I learned. Face it, you guys are just super funny and that shows up almost every weekend. My fellow co-workers knew that if they heard me giggling or just laughing so hard, it was because someone wrote something extremely hilarious.

The profile has also been beneficial to you as well. I heard of people getting new business because of them — and getting free stuff as well. One profile subject told me a business owner gave him a free flying lesson after reading in his profile that it was his dream.

As much as we love the profile, getting people to feature was also, well, challenging. You either did not know what to write, or took forever to turn it in. Who knew 26 questions would drive you absolutely insane. “I don’t know what to say,” you said.

In order to prove to myself it was not difficult, I filled out the profile questionnaire once. That happened May 31, 2011, and I placed it on my Facebook page. It took me 15 minutes. So you really do not have an excuse now.

During the past six years, the No. 1 answer in the profile dealt with traveling. Everyone wants to go somewhere when they retire. I often wondered what’s kept many of you from traveling right now.

And then there are stories

My biggest reward as a reporter is to learn that I have helped someone in one way or another. Or that I have told the readers something they did not know. Because as reporters we often have more bad days than good ones, I decided to keep a “Good Notes” folder, as a reminder that I do enjoy what I do.

In December 2008, Patricia Dobie from Lewisville sent me an e-mail with the subject line “Article from Denton Record-Chronicle 12-07 Saved My Life.” It turned out that a year prior I had written about the da Vinci Surgical System, a robotic, minimally invasive system introduced at North Texas Hospital. She wrote that she received a major abdominal surgery conducted by the doctor featured in the story; and instead of spending three days at the hospital and losing work time, she had day surgery and was home that night.

I am a historian at heart, and because of that I wrote some of the anniversaries pieces for our paper. My favorite was writing the 50th anniversary piece on Thomas’ Ethan Allen Interiors. Bill Thomas, who opened the store in 1962, was thrilled to share with me his archives. He also offered the best comment I had heard in a while: “One thing I learned is that every year we have a presidential election, business is off,” Thomas said. “I can shut my eyes and look at my books and tell which year is an election year. It is weird. I did not know at first, but then I started seeing it every [four] years. Like a roller coaster you go down and up, and you have to prepare for that.”

And because as a reporter you also have to write about the bad times. With tears in my eyes I wrote in May 2011 the obituary of 5-year-old Alexandra Nicole Richardson Sanchez, who had lost her battle with acute myeloid leukemia. I had been writing about her and met her only three times.

Mike Trimble, then opinion editor for the paper, described her in one of his editorials as “a princess: a princess of laughter, a princess of love, a princess of courage and hope.” I would have to agree.

The greats at the DRC

“It is a place where decorum is often checked out at the door,” said Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe.

I can only thank the DRC staff for having put up with me, including my postcards and Hello Kitty obsessions, for this long. In the newsroom, I have had the pleasure of working with the finest award-winning staff around. I have learned a lot from them. We have worked on some great projects from health care to payday lending. Everyone here knows something valuable, and everyone was always so willing to share what they knew.

I will miss our bantering, our coffee walks, the snarky comments board, and hearing people say, “I got it, I got it,” whenever some news would break. I will miss election coverage here just as much as I will miss receiving a cupcake when I was having a bad day.

The newsroom staff still owes me a wobble-off, an idea originated by Lucinda Breeding. And yes, Peggy, I will water the plant once a week, just as you suggested.

I will miss Denton and the DRC.

You are all loved.