By Gary Abernathy – firstname.lastname@example.org
When Sharon Hughes found herself out of a job in 1985 because Robertshaw Controls closed its doors in Hillsboro, she didn’t know it was a blessing in disguise, leading to a career in newspaper sales that she soon realized she was born to do.
On Wednesday, July 1, Sharon will celebrate her 30th year with The Times-Gazette. But when she first heard about the job, she had doubts about whether it was a good fit, let alone a career that would span three decades.
“I had signed up for unemployment,” Sharon recalls. “But I never collected my first check.” Her husband, the late Earl Hughes, longtime manager of the local Great Scot grocery store, came home one day and told her that Jim Hardin wanted to see her at the newspaper officer to talk about a job.
“I told Earl, ‘I don’t know anything about newspapers,’” Sharon recalls.
Nevertheless, she went to the South High Street offices of the newspaper – then known as the Hillsboro Press Gazette – and sat down for an interview with Hardin, who was the publisher. Hardin thought Sharon would be a good fit as an advertising representative, selling ads in the newspaper to local businesses.
“I started on July 1st,” says Sharon. While Hardin accompanied her on a couple of visits to local businesses, she basically recalls being thrown into the deep end of the pond and told to swim.
“Every place uptown was full then,” she remembers. “There were shoe stores, clothing stores, you name it. After my first day, I said, ‘This is me.’ I loved it.”
While today ad orders are placed using sophisticated computer programs – a skill Sharon has managed to master in recent years – she recalls a simpler time when “I’d write an order down on a napkin and turn it in.”
She also recalls learning to work with a cantankerous editor named Abernathy, at a time when the relationship between the newspaper’s advertising and editorial departments was sometimes adversarial.
“I just decided it had to work. We had to be a team,” says Sharon. “I walked into your office and said, ‘This is going to be fun.’ And it was, and it still is. We’re a great team.”
A natural saleswoman with a bubbly personality and a can-do attitude wrapped in a whirlwind of constant activity, Sharon started a number of projects for the newspaper and became involved in a multitude of community organizations and activities.
When a program called “A Taste of Home” came to Hillsboro, its organizers later decided the town was too small for the event. Sharon said, “We don’t need them.” She built on the premise and started what is known today as the Salt Homemakers Show, one of the most popular annual events in town that has been staged locally for more than a quarter of a century.
The secret to her success lies in her eternal optimism and a love of the newspaper and the community that keeps her going a hundred miles an hours, says her fellow sales rep of 25 years, Chuck Miller.
“She’s continuously selling, whether or not she realizes it at the time,” says Miller. “She has a love for Highland County in particular that comes through in every conversation she has. Her enthusiasm never wanes. There is no pause button. And she has as big a heart as you’ll find.”
Ann Runyon-Elam, inside sales rep for The Times-Gazette, has worked with Sharon for 21 years. She says former Times-Gazette publisher Phil Roberts once summed it up best when describing Sharon.
“He said, ‘She could sell ice to an Eskimo.’ That’s just true,” says Elam. “She just has a good personality, very warm and loving. She’s not a coworker. She’s family. Of course we all are here. She’s like our mother. She takes care of the kids.”
Sales rep Tracie Guisinger says that in the five years she has worked with Sharon, she has learned a lot, and continues to learn from her.
“I like to shadow Sharon and learn all I can,” says Guisinger. “I listen to her talk to her customers. She takes care of her clients like they’re family. I really aspire to be more like her. And she’s all about teamwork.”
Sharon says two of her closest friends are Pam Stricker, regional publisher, and Sharon Kersey, who recently retired as a sales manager at the Wilmington News Journal.
“I could always lean on them,” says Sharon. “Pam always encouraged me. If I had a new idea or project, she’d say, ‘Go for it. You can do it.’ And Sharon Kersey was my confidante and friend. I could share anything with her, and still do.”
On Monday, Stricker came to Hillsboro along with Nick Monico, the Ohio director of operations for Civitas Media, which owns The Times-Gazette. They presented her with a gift and thanked her for her achievements and dedication.
“What you do for all the people around you and for the community is amazing,” Stricker told her. “You have been the face of this paper and a huge reason for its success.”
Even after hitting the 30-year mark, Sharon says today that she has no plans to slow down or retire.
“As long as God blesses me with good health, I’ll keep right on going,” she says. “With this job, your family can come first. Everybody looks out for everybody.”
She says her son, Ronnie, and grandson, Colby, help her stay positive and bring joy to her life. She smiles and says with a wink, “Colby is the love of my life, my baby.”
She admits that when her husband passed away in 2013, she had to make a decision about whether to keep working. She said she had actually considered retiring about a month before he died.
“But after Earl passed, I knew that working was my salvation,” says Sharon. “Plus, I’ve always loved my work and staying connected to the county and the people. There’s no better job. I don’t even call it a job. I never have. The people here are fantastic. We are a team. We pull for each other. That’s what I love. That’s what I’m all about.”
Throughout the day Wednesday, the community is invited to stop in at the offices of The Times-Gazette at 108 Gov. Trimble Place for an open house to congratulate Sharon and enjoy snacks and soft drinks.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.
Photo:Sharon Hughes, second from right, poses Monday in front of the offices of The Times-Gazette with, from left: Gary Abernathy, publisher and editor; Pam Stricker, regional publisher; and Nick Monico, Civitas Ohio director.