This is the time for pioneer spirit

The past two weeks were not what the communities around Lake Okeechobee expected. March is our busy festival season. Two weeks ago, we were looking forward to the lineup of entertainers at the Clewiston Sugar Festival, the attractions at the Okeechobee County Fair and the shows at the Dolly Hand Center.

Then everything changed. And it kept changing. Every time we thought we had a handle on our new reality, it changed again. Each change brought new challenges. Every time we solved one problem, a new problem presented itself. Businesses are closed. Whole sections of stores have empty shelves. Schoolchildren are home at least until the middle of April.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Pictured at a celebration of Okeechobee County’s Centennial in 2017 are Katrina Elsken (right) and Okeechobee Historical Society President Magi Cable (left).

In Florida, we know how to prepare for emergencies. We practically invented “hunkering down.” But this emergency is not something we can track on a map. This is new, and it’s only natural that people are scared.

Back in 2015, as the representative of Okeechobee’s oldest continuing business, I was on the committee to plan the celebration for the City of Okeechobee’s 100th anniversary. The committee spent a lot of time coming up with the motto for that celebration. We spent a lot of time thinking about and discussing who we are as a community. The motto we chose: “Our pioneer spirit endures.”

I believe that is true for all of the communities around the Big Lake. Our pioneer spirit endures. Even those of us, like myself, who were not born here but chose to make this area our home, feel the strength and resolve of that pioneer spirit. We will endure this. We will find a way through it. Like the pioneers, we will find ways to help each other through the most difficult times.

As the community newspaper for the towns all around the Big O, our mission is to keep our readers up to date on the local issues. As we do during emergencies such as hurricanes, our news team has been on the job seven days a week, providing the community with the latest updates on our website lakeokeechobeenews.com and in our print editions. We are here to find the answers to your questions, to keep you updated on what is going on in your community. As the crisis continues, we will be there for you, and we encourage you to share your stories with us.

We have created a “Coronavirus” tab on our website lakeokeechobeenews.com. In the past week, we have shared nearly 100 stories about COVID-19 and its impact on the communities around the Big Lake.

Our online readership has soared.

We are extremely thankful for the support of our advertisers. They make it possible for us to continue our service to the community as community journalists. We encourage everyone to support the advertisers who support our community journalism.

The Lake Okeechobee News will keep publishing, even as we adapt to the new circumstances of our lives. To help local businesses, we will publish business news on our website free of charge. Submit your business news online at lakeokeechobeenews.com/business/ and it will be posted online by the next business day. Whether you need to promote a change in hours, closings, availability of products or the addition of online commerce or delivery — we are here for you.

We are also thankful for our loyal readers. According to the World Health Organization, it is safe to receive packages, including newspapers. However, subscribers also have complete digital access to our website and to the digital replica of the newspaper. To set up digital access to the e-edition of the Lake Okeechobee News, go to our website at lakeokeechobeenews.com and click on “Subscribe,” or email readerservices@newszap.com.

Due to the “social distancing” rules in effect, many of our news staffers are working from their homes. But you can always reach us by email. If you have a question, if you have an idea to share, if you have an idea for a story, if you took a photo that made you smile or cry, share that with us, so we can share it with the community.

The email for the editorial team is okeenews@newszap.com. My personal email is kelsken@newszap.com.

Another thing we learned from the pioneers: In stressful times, you need a little fun in your life. The pioneers would get together and entertain each other by playing music, singing songs, wearing silly costumes, putting on skits, telling jokes … anything they could think of to make each other smile. Since we can’t gather for a fish fry or a frolic as the pioneers did, we’re starting a community gathering online. Join our Online Talent Show at lakeokeechobeenews/contests. Use your mobile device to record yourself and family members. Categories include Best Family Dance Party, Cutest Kid Talent, Teens with Talent, Unique Use of Time at Home and more!

We want to hear from you.

Our pioneer spirit endures.

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