One of the most exciting times of the year for the newspaper comes early. The staff starts buzzing about who has been doing what in the community, combing through pictures that have been printed, posted on social media, first-hand knowledge of work done. We think of the good times and the bad of the previous year and who was there through it all. We toss ideas around until two names come out, the man and woman we want to nominate for our annual Man and Woman of the Year issue.

This year I was driving down the road when I got the call. “What do you think?” I teared up instantly. My thoughts went to the kids impacted by both of their lives. “Perfect!” I almost screamed, “Can I call them?”

I called our dear friend, Alton Walker first. “Hey buddy,” he answered. I couldn’t help but beam as I shared with him that due to his service to the community and his efforts to give back in every way to our students, schools and people around, he has been chosen as the 2019 Man of the Year. He was shocked, speechless for a moment and then thanked me for the honor. “The honor is ours,” I assured. Walker has had a long year, with a very public health scare, but when the time comes for our students to take a court, field, stage, he’s there. When a big event is happening in the community, he’s in the front row. He meets and greets our visitors and stands around to find the moments he needs to capture for eternity. His eye is always on the glass, ready to snap the lasting memory. Kids flock to him, knowing they’ll become famous in social media land, and parents can’t wait to log onto his account each night to find their child. Walkers’ talent and love for his craft is what keeps his heart pushing forward, even when he’s so tired.

My next phone call was to a giant of a woman who I’ve admired for her tenacity and willingness to work wherever she can to make a difference. I saw her pack a senior citizen room full of ASU basketball players last year, which resulted in them spontaneously singing for strangers. I’ve thought many times, “Is there anything she can’t do?” I’ve followed her across the country, into Mexico, watched her make crucial phone calls during natural disasters, feed the hungry, clothe the cold, and banter back and forth with the former governor of our great state. She’ll do anything to get her cause out. So when I called her and heard a weak voice, I was surprised. “Ms. Jan? I just wanted to call and congratulate you for being selected the 2019 Woman of the Year!” While she was down, she was not out. Jan Paschal perked up for a moment and said, “It’s not about me! It’s about the children! I’m honored but I hope you can reflect that in your story.” She always has her mind in the game.

While there are so many deserving people around our fine county, I hope you can join us in agreeing that this year’s selection was indeed the right choice. We look forward to sharing their story, through pictures and words, in a coming edition of The Independent. Until then, congratulate them when you see them, you’ll be welcomed into open loving arms.