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‘Please allow me to introduce myself’

I put that headline in quotes because it’s a phrase from “Sympathy for the Devil,” by The Rolling Stones, my second-favorite band of all time, and because the point of this column is to tell you, dear readers, a little more about me as I take the helm of The News from Bill Speer.

I’ve met many of you since I and my wife, News Lifestyles editor Darby Hinkley, moved here in July 2018 with our son, Mason.

But, as managing editor, my work hours kept me holed up in the newsroom long into the night, which meant most of my mornings were spent in bed, and I had fewer chances than I’d have liked to get out into the community.

That will change in my new role.

Still, for those of you whose hand I won’t get to shake — or, in the pandemic, whose elbows I won’t get to bump — I wanted to use my inaugural column as publisher to give you the basics about me.

I think the truest thing that’s ever been said is “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” If a few things happen differently in any of our lives, we could end up exactly like almost any person we meet. So, we’ve no right to judge anyone.

My mom taught me that.

I think you can tell a lot about a person by his or her sense of humor. I don’t know what it says about me, but here’s my favorite joke: “Daddy Tomato, Mommy Tomato, and Baby Tomato were walking down the street. Baby Tomato fell behind, so Daddy Tomato went back, squashed him, and said, ‘Ketchup!'”

Most relevant to our relationship, dear reader, is that I became a journalist because I truly believe in the power of newspapers to give voice to the voiceless, to uncover wrongdoing, and to hold powerful people accountable to the common man and woman. I’m here because it’s a calling — not a job — and I work my tail to the bone day in and day out because I believe what we do is important.

I was born and raised in Battle Creek, and I still have family there. I also have family in South Carolina, Arizona, Colorado, and Alabama.

Darby was born and raised in Alpena, and most of her family still lives in this area.

I grew up very poor in my youngest years. Sometimes, all we had to eat were “dough gods” — flour and water mixed and fried, covered with butter and either sugar or jelly. Like knockoff pancakes. I hated them.

Through the hard work of my mom and stepfather and a lot of God’s grace, my family worked into the solid middle class by the time I graduated high school.

I am a proud Christian. Darby and I attend Living Hope Church on M-32, the best church I’ve ever attended because we learn about God’s unending love but are also held accountable for following God’s direction. Other churches I’ve attended have had too much or too little of one or the other.

My favorite band is Everclear, because most of frontman Art Alexakis’s lyrics read like my biography. But my favorite song is Linda Ronstadt’s version of “Blue Bayou.” My favorite guitarist is Glen Campbell. I also love Johnny Cash, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, and The Stones. I also like Merle Haggard, George Jones, Conway Twitty, and Red Sovine, and Kanye West and Jay-Z.

I played guitar and sang in a rock band in high school and for a few years after. We did a lot of Battle Creek-area bars and even got paid a few times. I made a lot of friends. The band broke up, but I still play around the house and would love to join a band again someday.

My favorite author is Hunter S. Thompson, but my favorite book is “A Tale of Two Cities”. I also collect books by Nick Hornby, Ernest Hemingway, and Bob Woodward (I have a copy of “All the President’s Men” that Woodward signed when he spoke in Alpena). I also like Jack Kerouac, Jon Krakauer, and Mark Twain.

I’m a big Star Trek fan, but my all-time favorite shows are “House” and “M.A.S.H.” My great-grandfather, whom I had the chance to know well before he died, was an auctioneer specializing in antiques, so I also thoroughly enjoy “American Pickers” and “Pawn Stars.”

Finally, I like the outdoors and have done a lot of hiking and some mountain biking and rock climbing in my time, but I’m not all that skilled at any of it and would like to learn more. If anybody wants to teach me how to ice fish, please holler.

That’ll do for now, I suppose. I look forward to continuing to get to know you better in the years ahead, dear reader.

Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-354-3112 or jhinkley@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.

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