The end of an era at The Valley Banner

The Valley Banner

ELKTON – For nearly three decades, the greeting to anyone entering The Valley Banner’s office in Elkton has remained the same.

A familiar “hey” and accompanying smile were flashed almost before the jingling bells attached to the door could announce a customer or, just as likely, a friend’s entrance to the office at 157 West Spotswood Ave.

Because, to Carol Campbell Helmintoller, all her customers, whether she knew them personally (and she probably did) or was just talking to them for the first time, quickly became more than someone placing a classified ad or advertising a Vacation Bible School or auction.

The sociable voice behind the behemoth desk just inside the door is set to change this week, when Carol enters her retirement.

She started working at The Valley Banner in November of 1988 and has been with the newspaper for more than half its run in Elkton. A 1969 graduate of Elkton High School, Carol was just starting her sophomore year when the Banner’s first edition was printed on Sept. 15, 1966.

“For nearly three decades, Carol has been the face of The Valley Banner to the community that we serve,” said Peter S. Yates, editor and general manager of the Daily News-Record. “Her contributions have been invaluable, and the readers and community members that she has helped are too numerous to count. We wish her nothing but the best as she begins this next chapter in her life.”

Just as with town itself, the newspaper has seen many changes over its almost half century in existence. Carol, however, has been one constant when it comes to news in Elkton, which, despite her residence in Massanutten, remains her hometown.

“Elkton has some really nice, down-home people who live here,” she said, when describing the town and what she has liked the most about her time at the Banner. “The best part is definitely helping everyone who came into the office.”

While some of the faces she has worked with have changed, her dedication to the job hasn’t wavered over the years.

“These almost 28 years have gone by fast,” noted Carol, who is the longest-serving employee in the newspaper’s history. “When I first started working here, I knew everyone in town. Now, there are a lot of new faces moving here … I have seen many businesses come and go.”

That change has been replicated at the paper, where technological advances have made gathering and delivering the news much easier than the cut-and-paste process used when she entered the business in the late 1980s.

“When I first started, we used a waxing machine to attach the news copy and the finished ads to the pages before they were delivered to Harrisonburg by courier,” Carol related.

Moving from the puzzle-like method of mixing and moving ads to create a back page to a strictly-computerized layout took some time for Carol to master, but, like many other challenges, she has managed to overcome the obstacles and keep her focus on the customers, while also having a little fun in the process.

“I used to work with some fun and crazy people,” said Carol, remembering when a former graphics designer for the paper would have some fun at her expense.

“I used to leave my keys in my car all the time when I would go out on sales calls, she would go find my car and park it somewhere else - making me think it was stolen,” recalled Carol, who reminisced about another memory that made her smile.

“I remember that it was by birthday,” she started. “When I came back to the office, everyone was wearing the same t-shirt with a picture of my head on a different body – a female weightlifter.”

Through all the hard work and light-heartedness, Carol has made some true friends and profound memories at the Banner.

“I came to work for The Valley Banner 10 years ago,” said Delores Hammer, an Elkton native who worked for the paper for several years before moving to the Daily News-Record.

“At that time, I not only started a new journey in employment but I also made a friend for life,” Hammer continued. “Carol was my supervisor and taught me so many things – work-related and personal. When I would tell people I work at The Valley Banner, everyone always said so you work with Carol.

“Carol is a special person and I treasure her friendship, advice and guidance,” Hammer continued. “Some people just know how to bring out the best in others. Carol is this type of co-worker and friend. I want to thank her for everything.”

The affection for Carol spreads from the office to her family, which includes her husband Vernon, who is retired from Coors, and children Penny Cline, who is manager of advanced imaging at Sentara RMH Orthopedic Center, Jill Downey, a manager at Ace Hardware-Dean Home Center in Elkton, and Dusty Campbell, who works with Wayne McAlister Painting, as well as eight grandchildren.

It was the tragic death of one of those grandchildren, Jerrick Hammer, which showed how much compassion the community has to offer and how entrenched Carol has become in her hometown.

“I have so much love and thankfulness to send to this town for all the love and concern that was shown to our family this year after the death of my grandson, Jerrick,” she said. “This town is full of love and ready to help. It is a great place to live.”

And now, she hopes it will be an equally ideal place for retirement.

“My plans are to wake up and say to myself, “what do I want to do today?” Carol said. “My ‘bucket list’ is empty, so I will think about what I want to put in it.”

Although she won’t be seated behind the front desk at the Banner accepting church news or seen zooming back and forth to the post office a few times a day, Carol won’t be absent from town either and will make the move from promoting the town’s newspaper to spending time with family, which means the most to her.

“My grandkids are in sports, so there is always someone to go and cheer for.”

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