Phyllis Britt

Phyllis Britt

Sept. 2 will mark the 65th anniversary of The Star newspaper serving as North Augusta’s hometown newspaper. As such, the folks in North Augusta have been in the unique position of having a newspaper dedicated to everything that happens in North Augusta and everything that affects life in North Augusta since 1954.

For 65 years we have been here to chronicle the many milestones in this fair city. We at The Star have been dedicated to keeping our readers informed of the good, the bad and the ugly. We’ve filled our pages with what was going on in City and County Government, what’s happening in our schools, who was born, who’s getting married, who’s been promoted, who made the dean’s list, what our churches and church members are doing, who died, what civic groups have going on, which projects the garden clubs have taken on, what programs the library is offering, how our local sports teams are doing, and more – plus what we all think about each of those milestones.

The Star was there when the City Municipal Building moved from Georgia Avenue to Buena Vista and again when the offices moved to Center Street. The Star was there to make sure what was going on in City government was made known to local residents, to the dismay of a few members of City Council at the time – even when some Council members tried to put The Star out of business by getting local businesses to boycott advertising in the paper, editor/publisher Sam Woodring stood his ground, refused to go away and eventually won the Elijah Lovejoy Award for Courage in Journalism for “Justice,” an editorial written in defense of transparency in government. And The Star survived.

The Star was there when the “new” high school was built – and our local paper was a critical component in the ensuing campaign to raise private funds (around $200,000) to build a stadium at the high school (when the school district didn’t have enough money available to do it).

The Star was there often to give a budding journalist a chance to find out what working for a newspaper was really like. Many a local teen through the years learned the ropes at The Star.

The Star was there when Grace UMC’s sanctuary burned down in the mid-‘80s, as well as when the Wesley Center was built, when First Baptist expanded across the street (first with a new sanctuary and then with a children’s learning center) and when TrueNorth was formed and eventually built its facility on Martintown Road.

The Star was still there when the Buffalo Room (Seven Gables) made national news after representatives of the local NAACP were denied service in the restaurant. The Star was there to record the events when Seven Gables burned down, and most recently, The Star has been there to report on the proposal to build a new fire station on the Seven Gables site.

And, speaking of significant fires in town, The Star was there when the North Augusta Country Club burned down, as well.

The Star was there when Riverview Park was developed, when the property was acquired for the Greeneway, and when the old railroad trestle across Martintown Road gave way to a Greeneway bridge.

We were there as schools grew and expanded and were replaced and rebuilt – including the construction of North Augusta Elementary and Mossy Creek Elementary, the rebuilding of North Augusta High School and the renovations of other schools.

The Star was there for every step of the riverfront development following a change in the federal flood plain requirements – from the construction of the River Club golf course and the homes in River Club and River North to the acquisition and subsequent expansion of Hammond’s Ferry, including the growth of the neighborhood, the construction of Brick Pond Park and Project Jackson (including SRP Park and Riverside Village, retail shops and restaurants around the ball park, the hotel and the recently announced riverside park and amphitheater).

And we have been there for a number tragedies in North Augusta. Among the more difficult stories have been the death of 6-year-old Keenan O’Malia and the hunt, subsequent arrest, conviction and execution of his killer, Junior Downs; the murder of local resident Bill Powell in an attempted carjacking at the Huddle House on Highway 25 (His killer is still at large); the conviction of long-time planning commission chair Ed Meloan for sex crimes committed against children, followed by a similar conviction of former school administrator Stephen Eubanks; and the 2008 execution of David Mark Hill, who killed three people in the North Augusta Department of Social Services office in 1996. We followed these events every step of the way.

The Star was an integral part in the committee that eventually resulted in North Augusta 2000 (now North Augusta Forward), a community foundation dedicated to supporting initiatives to make this city a better place to work, play and live – such as Real Life 101, acquisition of land that eventually became the site of the new municipal building, support for an effort to bring the Greeneway downtown, purchase of the old North Augusta Carpet Shop Building and much more.

In the last 20 years, The Star has made many transitions of its own. Sam and Mim Woodring sold the paper to Aiken Communications in 1998. Since that time the paper has moved three times – from Buena Vista Avenue to Martintown Plaza and now to a space at the North Augusta Chamber of Commerce. At our 50th anniversary, The Star “grew up,” transitioning from a tabloid format to a larger broadsheet, and eventually moving from our readers’ mailboxes on Thursday to their driveways on Wednesday.

Please realize that if a number of events had not occurred together in the early 1950s, there may not have been a North Augusta hometown newspaper. Very few communities this size are lucky enough to have their very own newspapers. Sam and Mim came here because Sam had an aunt in Augusta who let him know that something big was coming in this area and that there should be lots of work available for veterans like Sam. So Sam and Mim came from Pennsylvania to North Augusta with the “bomb plant” (Savannah River Plant, now the Savannah River Site), but Sam soon was laid off and trying to figure out what he would do next. At the same time two men in this area had started a newspaper. (I apologize that if I’ve ever heard the names of these men, I do not recall them.) Apparently these two quickly found they had “bitten off more than they could chew” and, I gather, ran out of money. Enter now-unemployed Sam Woodring. He later told Mim he had always wanted a newspaper – something she never realized until it was a done deal. He paid $1,000 to take possession of The Star, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The couple made it work by also serving as the printer of church bulletins, stationery, business fliers – anything in print. And the Woodrings also got involved in the beauty pageant business, coaching a number of young women who made it to national pageants; and Mim became well-known as a wedding consultant. For decades anyone who was anybody in North Augusta had Mim as her wedding director. And Sam made a name for himself through a column in the paper called “Sideglances with Sam” – and in that arena, anyone who was anybody in North Augusta could count on someday being the object of humorous comment, praise and/or ridicule.

As the Woodrings aged, they tried to put in place a plan that would ensure the continuation of their “baby.” When they sold the paper to Aiken Communications, they recommended me as The Star’s first news editor, in part because I had worked for them since 1986. During my tenure we went from cutting and pasting columns of copy onto paper pages to a completely computerized system of production, thanks to the new association with sister paper the Aiken Standard. And in the last 20 years we have added a website (www.northaugustastar.com), a Twitter account, a Facebook page, in addition to home delivery.

When the city of North Augusta celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2006, local attorney and emcee extraordinaire Kelly Zier pointed out that The Star had served as the City’s historian for 50 of those 100 years. Now it’s 65 years and counting.

Our move to the Chamber offices put two huge advocates for North Augusta under one roof and returned us to downtown.

But even as The Star made those internal changes, we have continued to work diligently to follow and report on all those day-to-day events that touch our readers’ lives. We have grown as North Augusta has grown.

I will say that there are new challenges in 2019 as traditional newspapers find new competition daily. The internet and all those outlets associated with it require that we find new ways to attract readers, as well as advertisers. As a result small newspapers such as The Star often struggle to maintain our loyal readership. We strive to serve our community by continuing to provide news of all that happens here. We continue to provide “all the news that’s fit to print” in and about North Augusta.

And, as we celebrate our 65th anniversary in North Augusta, those of us at The Star look forward to continuing as your “hometown newspaper since 1954.”

Thank you for your continued support.

Lindsey Hodges is a general assignment reporter at the Aiken Standard and North Augusta Star. Follow her on Twitter at @LindseyNHodges.