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09) Ashton Hester



                                                                                                 Ashton….It’s Time You Come to the Front Page 

By Jim Sanders, III

     Many in the local area may not know that the Keowee Courier (KC) is the second oldest newspaper in the upstate. Abbeville wears the crown of being the oldest. The KC was founded in 1849, according to the signage on the building that sits on Short Street.

The building is also one of Walhalla’s older landmarks. Using quick math if the KC was only published weekly (Locals may remember when it was published twice a week for a short period of time to cover the high school football season and only cost a nickel), would tell you that at 163-years old, that’s over 8,400 plus newspapers, which is a lot of wordage of type and printers ink.

     Presently the KC Managing Editor is Mary Beth King and the Content Composition Manger is Candi Phillips. They are responsible for both the Westminster News and the KC and do a fantastic job with their limited staff. Mary Beth and Candi work out of their office in Westminster.

     This is where Ashton comes into the picture. He wears the title as Reporter and is responsible for manning the building on Short Street. Although Mary Beth and Candi are the backbone of both papers, Mary Beth told me, “We could not manage both weekly papers without Ashton Hester and he is the ‘main spinal cord’ to our success.”

     When in the USAF on leave to visit my parents this brief stay included to look up old friends and go “uptown,” stop at the pool rooms, Albert Dukes’ Drug Store and visit the KC office. During a visit in September 1974, a stop at the KWC Office sadly found that my friend Charlie Collins had died. Used to have coffee at Albert’s Drug Store with Charlie, Coach Johnson, and Bill Duncan, who was the manager of Castle's Five and Ten Cents Store. Some times just setting at the table as a spectator and listen to all the jargon and gossip about politics, sports or whatever the topics, always provided a delightful experience.

Although saddened by Charlie Collins death; met Ashton, who told me he had come from the Seneca Journal to the KC. Over the years we have become good friends and a have a lot in common. For example, Aston was surprised about my relationship with Paul League, of the Seneca Journal who Ashton replaced as the Sports Editor. Paul did a great job and really supported our local athletics and our county American Legion baseball team. Told Ashton about seeing Paul in Lancaster SC in 1972 while refereeing an NAIA college basketball game. Paul was there to cover the game for his sports page for the Lancaster News. The many in-and-out visits to the KC office over the last 38-years have led to many other conversations with Ashton. We found out over the years there was a lot of commonalty, and we are the same age. Playing for the Dodgers organization at Al Lang Field in St Petersburg in the Florida State League, our Saints team played the Tampa Tarpons at Al Lopez Field just across the bay which was in the same league. Ashton said he loved to go to both stadiums to watch their games. Since he had seen games at both of the “Al” stadiums maybe Ashton was in the stands when as a member of the Saints I was throwing from the mound or in the bullpen. Ashton played basketball at St.Leo College in Florida and I was a part-time adjunct professor teaching psychology for “St Leo” when stationed in Florida. We both loved baseball trivia of the late 1940’s and 50’s. My favorite player was Duke Snider of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Ashton’s was Mickey Vernon of the Washington Senators, and we still today test each other on the oddities of the “national past time.” We both admit illiteracy with the hi-tech cyber world of the computer age; yet we both loved to write.

     Ashton is non-assertively shy, tall, and a lankly-built person but is always cordial and has a big heart. His smile is slight but makes his customers feel welcomed when entering the front door on Short Street as the door is opened and the cowbell clangs to let him know he has a visitor. He does not jump from his chair at his desk and come out loudly talking to shake your hand like a politician running for office, but his greeting style is very, very sincere standing from his desk to acknowledge a customer.

    Ashton is never undisturbed from his task at hand by anyone’s unexpected presence. His weekly column, “Observations and Mediations” is only about 3/5 paragraphs, but the volumes of paragraphs he could write from his knowledge would probably stretch through all times zones from coast to coast.  Thankfully, the KC has preserved our local history, especially about Walhalla and Ashton has a plethora of knowledge which is unfathomable, and his research has kept our local history on “life support” by his weekly writings. He can sometimes quote “word for word” what was stated by a person at a Walhalla town council meeting twenty-plus years ago and what the response was that was discussed in rebuttal.

 By reading the past KC editions over the years, he has become a cerebral storage vault and a human-walking encyclopedia. If local history was a category on Jeopardy, Alex Trebek would have to retire before Ashton left the podium. Ashton once told me he became interested in looking back through the old volumes of Keowee Couriers from past years. One day he said while looking through a paper from around 1900, he saw that the proprietor of the Walhalla Hotel was W.H. Hester. The realization struck him since it might be his father's relative! He subsequently learned that Mr. Hester became the hotel proprietor in 1897 which was then called the Biemann Hotel, and his relative changed the name to the Walhalla Hotel. He told one of W.H. Hester's daughters married a Mr. Carter, and one of their children was the late Bill Carter, husband of Frances Carter who is my aunt and my late mother’s sister. Who knows, maybe Ashton is distantly kin. Ashton has covered all kinds of local meetings and taken photos of many events unimaginable, in addition to researching old volumes of the KC paper from past years. His mind is like Gorilla Glue, and one can assume a lot of history has just “stuck” to his memory bank. Many reporters of small and large newspapers come and go and opt for a new beginning but Ashton has been here since 1973. Think the KC reader audience would solidly agree we are very fortunate to have him and the way he “loans” us his talented memories weekly in the KC. He has become a solid platform that we can jump from and dive back into the rich and storied history our ancestors gave us when they settled here just on the rim of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Thanks Ashton for your dedication as a reporter. Ashton it’s time you were recognized and come to the front page.