Journalist retires: ‘It’s been a good ride’

OKEECHOBEE — To quote Dandy Don: “Turn out the lights. The party’s over.”

When the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback would try to sing that refrain at the end of a Monday night NFL contest, I never thought that it would ever have anything to do with me. Heck, after having a long conversation with Uncle Dew I normally couldn’t even find the light switch, let alone turn it off.

Eric Kopp, reporter for the Okeechobee News

But, the time has come. And, it’s with mixed feelings.

As of Friday, Sept. 29, I retired from the Okeechobee News. No more deadlines. No more dealing with an office full of bossy females. The Dragon Lady will have to find someone else on whom she can unleash her venom and impose her unyielding will.

Come Saturday, Sept. 30, I’ll be able to sleep late and go fishing whenever I want. I’ll be able to lean back in my recliner and tell the grandchildren: “In my day, we would ….” And I’m sure they’ll look back at me and think: “What in the world is he babbling on about?”

Folks, it’s been a great 30-some years here at the newspaper. I’ve met some great people in Okeechobee and I’ve had a ball here. But, it’s now time to move on to and open a new chapter in my book of life.

Before I load up my wife and belongings and head back to the Midwest, please allow me a few moments to reflect on some folks who have had a big impact on my life.

I’ve lost some good friends — people I really respected, enjoyed and was proud to know. I know I’ll forget some folks, but as the youngsters in the office remind me daily — I’d forget my name if they didn’t attach a name tag to my shirt pocket every day.

I remember back to my early days here when I covered the Okeechobee County Board of County Commissioners. I used to have a lot of fun with former commissioners Charles Harvey, Jim Lashley and Elder Sumner.

Elder is a big University of Florida football fan. I’m not. My allegiance lies a little farther to the north — between the hedges in Athens, Ga.

Well, as the day of the World’s Biggest Cocktail Party approached Elder and I entered into a little agreement — he took the Gators and I took the ’Dawgs. The bet? If he won I had to wear a Gator shirt to the next commission meeting. If I won, well, you get the picture.

It just so happened that UGA won. So, when the commissioners next met there I was — sitting in the front row with a Bulldogs T-shirt in hand and a big grin on my face as I wondered: “Would the commissioner go through with it?”

Elder looked down at me and in a somewhat less than joyful voice said: “All right. C’mon. Let’s get this over with!”

So, I proudly walked up to where he was seated and handed him that beautiful University of Georgia shirt I had purchased just for this occasion. Without the least bit of a smile, Elder put it on and wore it the entire day. I kind of felt sorry for him — but not enough to let him slide on wearing the shirt.

When it comes to Jim, there are more stories than I have room. But, I can honestly say I always enjoyed our time on the big lake — whether it was fishing or just talking. I wish he was still here so we could go fishing just one more time. He was a good man who cared deeply about this community and the people in it.

I’ve also had to say goodbye much too early to a couple of very good friends – Kevin Foster and Mac Simpson.

I miss the talks Kevin and I used to have about the lake and our favorite subject — the South Florida Water Management District.

And to this day — and every day from now on — when I’m on the lake the first bass I catch goes to Mac. Damn, I miss him.

Since I’ve covered cops and courts for the last umpteen years, I’ve got to know a lot of good people who protect us day and night.

Former Chief of Police Larry Mobley and I spent a lot of days together on Lake Okeechobee — do you sense a pattern here? There was even the time I thought my boat had blown up, but it was just his cigarette lighter exploding. Don’t ask. It’s a long story.

I know I’m dating myself, but I was with the Okeechobee News when former chief, Denny Davis, started as a rookie patrol officer.

Eric Kopp and Sheriff Noel Stephen at the retirement party in Okeechobee, Sept. 28, 2017.

Speaking of when they started, I can also recall when current Okeechobee County Sheriff Noel Stephen first got behind the wheel of an OCSO patrol vehicle. Egad! Somebody get my Geritol!

Probably the most fun I’ve had at the sheriff’s office, though, is listening to the banter between former Sheriff Paul May and Noel — who was the undersheriff at the time. Paul was almost brutal in his ribbing of Noel. Although I tried not to — I really did — once in a while I had to join in on the verbal jousting.

“Don’t egg him on, Eric!” ordered Noel.

For whatever reason, though, I just couldn’t help myself.

Good times? There have been more than I can remember which, according to the ladies in this office, is probably due to my former way of life. None the less, I cannot turn in my key to the back door without mentioning the Dragon Lady (Katrina), Ann, Booger and all the other ladies in the office. They did the best they could to break my spirit, but I wouldn’t let ‘em. Not that I’m that tough — just hard headed.

For a long time I was the only man in the office which was worse than tough. There were times I felt like the last slice of turkey on the Thanksgiving table being salivated on by 10 ravenous women armed with knives and forks. I had to stand up to them. I’m too old and too fat to run.

But now that I’m leaving, Katrina has hired three new young men to work here. Three!! I guess she and her cronies figure they were able to run me out so they’d bring in some youngsters who they could beat down to a gelatinous glob of subservient yes men.

All I can say is: “Hang tough, guys! Band together! Put your backs to the wall and face the enemy head on! You can do it. All mankind is depending on you!” Well, most newspaper guys anyway. Well, at least most of us 60-somethings who can’t remember what it was like to be 30.

Eric Kopp says goodbye and says thanks for the memories.

You can’t either, can you Bill? Sorry, that’s an inside joke from one gray beard to another.

Before I flip the switch on this computer to the off position for the last time I sincerely want to thank everyone at this newspaper and this community for making my time in Okeechobee such a joy. It’s been a wonderful ride, folks, and one I’m truly gonna miss.

To each and every one of you — I offer a sincere, “thank you!”

But, the time has come. So, turn out the lights.

– 30 –

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