I’ve always loved to work. One of my first columns at The Herald was about being a workaholic and how I became one. I spend 12 hours here at good ole TPI most days but it’s because I love what I do and I’m constantly working to improve. I like it that way; it’s just natural to me.

I was hired at Tallapoosa Publishers in 2017 as the design editor, and as much as I’ve told the story of how I ended up here I’ll tell it again for anyone who missed it. If there’s one thing I learned from Mitch Sneed — besides always carrying tools in your car, keeping snacks and ibuprofen in your desk and how to “redneck rig” almost any contraption to make it work how you want it to — you can’t tell a good story too many times.

It was February 2017 and I was in the middle of wedding planning. My wedding was five months away and I was also getting ready to graduate from Troy University. It was a busy time but things were going so great — or so I thought.

One night I got home from work and my then-fiancé pulled the plug on our relationship. He ultimately said he didn’t love me anymore and had no interest in a future with me. He didn’t know what he wanted but it wasn’t me.

Yikes.

If you do know me, you know I’m a tough cookie. It takes a lot — and I mean a whole heck of a lot — to tear me down. I may fall for a moment or two but I build myself up pretty much immediately. 

I was glad the breakup happened because I didn’t want to be in a marriage with someone who didn’t love me. The good grace of God and fate took care of me just in the nick of time. 

The very next morning I had a ticket to attend a very early-morning journalism conference about an hour away. Lord knows I didn’t want to go but something told me I had to.

I arrived late — a character flaw of mine, bless my heart mornings aren’t my thing — to the pre-conference breakfast and the only seat open was next to my now late editor Mitch and my now-publisher Steve Baker. Mitch struck up a conversation with me and next thing I knew he was asking me to come look at this Lake Martin community he raved about and consider a design editor position with TPI.

“Are you tied down to where you live now?” Mitch asked.

“No,” I gladly replied, knowing had it been only a day before I would’ve said yes. 

I graduated that May, came to work for TPI and haven’t looked back since. 

I tell people this part of my story — not because it defines me — because if it hadn’t happened I wouldn’t be working here and living in this community I love so much. I tell it because I don’t want to be a stranger my readers can’t connect with. 

I’m real and I’m gonna stay that way. I’ve been through a lot and this part of my story is one of the things that shaped my character even more. I’m human just like you. I’m me — just a regular ole small-town girl born in a tiny Georgia town who eats mayonnaise with her black-eyed peas. 

Mitch asked me during my interview what my five- to 10-year plan looked like.

Plan? Shoot, I was still just figuring it all out. 

I word-vomit answered and told him I’d love to be the editor of a paper or magazine one day. He told me we might make that happen — if he ever retired.

Those who knew Mitch know retiring was a long, long way away for him and I never thought too seriously about becoming the editor of TPI’s newspapers. That was a far-off tiny notion and a giant dream I couldn’t even fathom at that point. 

Here I am — and I have chills as I write it — sitting in epic newspaperman Mitch Sneed’s chair. 

I learned a lot from that man and I hope I do him justice but I also know he’d want me to do this my own way. He’d want me to find my groove, figure out what’s best and act on that — and my plan is to do just that. 

This is my job now and the success of the paper is up to me. The duty to our readers is up to me. Upholding our mission statement is up to me. Making things better than ever is up to me. I’m the one who has to figure out how to do it.

I’m up for the task. I think like everything else in my life this happened for a reason and is what’s meant to be.

I anticipate big things for this paper and am eager for all that lies ahead. I’m glad I’m on this journey, and if you see me around I hope you’ll introduce yourself. I’ll meet everybody in this “big little” community sooner rather than later.

I feel so honored to serve my community by being its hometown newspaper editor. It may be a small way to serve but it’s one that matters. I will continue to work day in and day out to make this newspaper the best it can be and hope you will support me along the way — mistakes and all because believe me I will be making them. Remember how I told you I’m human? 

Santana Wood is the interim managing editor of TPI's newspapers.