I’m not sure if it’s because he had a distinct step, or if she was merely used to him coming in around the same time on Thursday evenings. All I know is our page designer Helen Reynolds would often exclaim, “I hear Otha!” every time Otha Barham would come in to review the Outdoors page on Thursdays.
Helen has decades of experience at The Meridian Star, so she’s likely heard Otha come in countless times. I’ve been here for only five years, but even so, it’s something to which I had grown accustomed. The Outdoors page would run on Fridays, so Otha needed to come in and review it on Thursdays.
Things changed, of course. When The Star became a five-day-a-week publication, the Outdoors page got shifted to Thursdays. I began seeing Otha less and less. Less than a month ago, our editor, Dave Bohrer, informed me Otha would be retiring from being our newspaper’s Outdoors editor.
As usual, it’s easy to take for granted that to which we’ve grown accustomed. At the same time, when our paths began to cross less frequently, I started preparing myself mentally for Otha’s retirement, and how I would honor someone who’s been a weekly staple in Meridian for countless publications.
I visited Otha Monday afternoon to interview him for a feature that will publish later this week. In his house are many trophies from his countless hunting adventures, as well as awards he won as an outdoors writer. The background wallpaper on his desktop computer is of him playing guitar. It was supposed to be set up to alternate between images but hadn’t done so since it had gotten out of the shop.
I thought the photo of him playing guitar was an interesting contrast to all the trophies and writing awards that decorated that particular room of his house — maybe because I didn’t realize he played guitar until I saw that photo. It offered an additional glimpse of who Otha is as a person.
If you read The Star, though, you know Otha for the many stories he’s told about being an Outdoorsman. As a Meridian native, Otha said to me during our interview that he couldn’t put into words how grateful he was to have been featured in The Star for decades.
“We’re the only paper I know of our size that’s kept a full-sized (Outdoors) page,” Otha explained. “I don’t know of any full-time Outdoors writers except for a guy in Arkansas. Everyone else has either lost their job or gone down to a part-time page.”
Steve Swogetinsky was managing editor at The Star in 1995 and recalls Otha coming to visit him one day, thanking him for putting local stories in the Outdoors section. Having known Otha to have written for the paper in the past, Steve said he offered Otha a chance to resume doing so, which Otha accepted. He joined a team of Mike Giles and David Hawkins that delivered content to what was then a twice-a-week Outdoors section.
“Otha has a wealth of experience nationwide because of the job he had with the federal government,” Steve said, referring to Otha’s time as an entomologist. “He studied insects, so that took him all over the West. I didn’t know this, but there are four types of turkeys, and he’s hunted all four of them. He’s an excellent turkey hunter and an excellent outdoorsman.”
More than that, though, Steve confirmed what I knew about Otha: how friendly he is.
“He’s a wonderful person, first class,” Steve said. “He’s a wonderful writer — meticulous. He’s just a joy to know.”
When I asked Otha why he enjoyed writing so much, he admitted he didn’t know. Writing about the Outdoors just came natural.
“I try to make stuff interesting,” Otha said. “I got to thinking that I must be able to put sentences together, and that’s what I’ve done my whole career.”
While he may be retiring as The Star’s Outdoors editor, Otha still plans to write outdoors stories for publications with a less-strict deadline. It’s a new chapter in Otha’s life, but he said he’s stepping down with no regrets.
“It’s meant a lot to me,” Otha said. “There have been all kinds of people I’ve met and enjoyed knowing (through writing for The Star). It’s been absolutely wonderful.”
Otha’s final Outdoors page will run in Thursday’s edition. Please be sure to pick up a copy to share in the sendoff of a wonderful writer and person.
Drew Kerekes is the sports editor at The Meridian Star. He can be reached at email@example.com.