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January 15, 2021

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15 minutes with Tami Cupples

Tami Cupples

Okay, let's see, you graduated from BHS in what, 95? 96?

I graduated from Bluffton High School in 1995 and Bluffton College in December 1999.

Share some interesting stories about growing up in Bluffton. Favorite teachers, classes, friends, funny things that happened along the way and stay in your memory.

I loved summer evenings on the front porch at Lyle and Evelyn Everett's house on North Main Street. The Everetts were our neighbors, and their granddaughter Kimberly (now Eachus) was my best friend growing up. After dinner when it was nice outside, my mom and I would join Kim and her grandma, mom and aunts Jane, Jana and Jeannie to chat.

They'd converse with familiar passersby, which seemed like all of them; to me, it was the epitome of what's great about small town life. Those memories are even more cherished because both the Everett's home and my childhood home have been torn down since I left Bluffton.

You were an English major at Bluffton, right? Why English?

I've had a dream since fourth grade of writing novels. The English degree seemed like the proper path to achieve my goal. But sophomore year at Bluffton College, while seeking out summer jobs and with the prodding of my financially-responsible father, I determined I needed skills that'd guarantee me some cash. I added a communications minor and began preparing for a career in journalism. A novel is still on my wish list!

Fill me in on what you've done in the years since graduating from BC? I know you worked for Fred for awhile, and at Luke's or whatever it was back then.

Yes, the Bluffton News employed me from '97 to '99 off and on. I also worked for my aunt and uncle, Dee and Larry Dillman, when they owned Happy Ours (the "pub").

In January 2000, I started as a features reporter for the Valley Morning Star in Harlingen, Texas. I returned to Bluffton for a short time in 2002, before accepting the copy editing position I currently hold at The Monitor in McAllen, Texas.

How did you end up in Texas? What kind of town is McAllen? Is it right on the Mexico border? Do you travel to Mexico on a regular basis?

Texas wasn't even a blip on my radar until my senior year of college; a long-ago-ended relationship led me down, but the area instantly grew on me. Living 10 miles from the border of Texas and Mexico is, initially, culture shock; Spanish and English are commonly intertwined, cowboy hats are commonplace and back yard barbecues with fajitas, sausage and brisket are a Sunday afternoon standard.

I used to frequently visit a small, tourist-friendly Mexico town to shop, eat and relax -- you can enjoy an adult beverage on the street there -- but haven't crossed the border in a long while due to a busy schedule and lack of a passport. The entire South Texas region where I live, which includes three counties and the cities of Brownsville, Harlingen and McAllen, is called the Rio Grande Valley and is home to more than a million people.

McAllen specifically has a population of 100,000 people and, in addition to being landlocked by several growing cities, McAllen is a sprawling metropolis. Forget what you've seen in the movies, because this is no dusty border town.

According to the Monitor website, you're the copy desk chief and btw, the only employee whose photo doesn't appear on my screen. Tell me about your job. Describe the paper -- size, politics, etc. Is it part of a chain? What is a typical day like?

The Monitor is a 40,000 to 60,000 circulation daily, depending on the season -- we get a lot of Winter Texans (retirees who relocate to warmer weather) and they increase our readership. The paper was founded Libertarian and is a Freedom Communications paper (just like The Lima News), but because the company recently filed for bankruptcy our ownership will change eventually.

My job includes planning and, with the help of six copy editors, executing the pagination of the paper ... world and nation, local, state, community and opinion pages. I attend two meetings daily to plan what stories we'll use and where, and I work closely with everyone from reporters and editors to photographers and the gents in the pressroom who'll print our work. It's definitely a balancing act.

Did you start out in that position or have you worked your way up to that? Do you enjoy journalism? Do you get to do any writing now? What kind of advice would you offer to someone considering journalism as a career?

I was promoted from copy editor to copy desk chief in 2005. I enjoy my job because, while there are consistencies to my day, our goal is to give our readers a taste of everything that's happening in our world. This area is a tight-knit, family-focused community but also has all the problems of a big city: drug and gang crimes, political corruption, poverty and current affairs like illegal immigration. That's what keeps it interesting.

Due to recent downsizing, the entertainment department began offering me opportunities to cover music events, usually country acts. I'm a salaried employee so the benefit for me is gaining entry to a show I wouldn't have been able to afford to attend. It's a win-win, and I've recently reviewed acts like Sugarland, Trace Adkins and Gary Allan.

Print journalism is like a fine wine, and technology is burning our fields! Ha. I'd encourage anyone considering this career to be prepared to wear many different hats and be open to learning various skills. Our future readership will decide if newspapers are wanted, and in the meantime the industry has changed to offer electronic options.

What's the toughest story, situation, you've had to cover or deal with along the way in newspaper work?

I was assigned the design of the front page (known as A1) the night in 2003 we learned of the Brownsville smothering, stabbing and mutilation-decapitation of three children, ages 3, 14 months and 2 months; and that their parents John Allen Rubio and Angela Camacho were charged. The story was late-breaking and gruesome, making it even more stressful for me to work with. I never dreamed I'd be writing headlines for stories like that.

Do you ever think about returning to Bluffton to live or is your heart now in Texas? Any similarities between McAllen and Bluffton? What do you miss most about Bluffton?

Bluffton will always be "home," but McAllen has helped me spread my wings. The only definable similarity between the two is the people and their big hearts. I've made and maintained so many wonderful friendships in both places. I miss my family in Bluffton the most, and love to tell my Texas friends about home.

I especially enjoy the look in their eyes as I describe a place where people sometimes forget to lock their front doors ... where you always know the pharmacist and the Community Market check-out clerk by first name ... and where you can go to the movies for less than $10, snacks included.

What do you do when you aren't working? Have you developed a "family away from home"? How often do get to visit your family in Bluffton?

A little more than two years ago, I became a big sister in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program to a now 9-year-old girl named Yahaira (pronounce ya-Hi-da). We see one another a few times a month, taking on various activities like roller skating, a trip to the movie theater or out for smoothies and ice cream.

I find it to be a fabulously rewarding experience and I have become a friend of her family as well. It's been essential for me to have a support system in Texas. I have had the opportunity while working in McAllen to make lifelong friends with co-workers from across the country, so consequently my "family away from home" has changed slightly over the years. The office is another home for many of us, and my co-workers are like brothers and sisters ... or crazy uncles (my editors).

This year, I attended a co-worker's second annual orphan Thanksgiving dinner -- attendees represented Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Rhode Island -- and am so grateful so know so many wonderful young people in a similar situation as myself. Sadly, I rarely get home to Bluffton more than twice a year.

When you visited Bluffton recently, you looked awfully cold. Do you miss the lovely Ohio winters? How cold does it get in McAllen?

Oh, I was SO cold the entire week I visited (Dec. 5-12). The average Rio Grande Valley winter offers a few days in the 40s and 50s but temperatures are usually anchored in the 60s and above. Last winter, it didn't freeze once.

This year, it's already been drastically colder and wetter. My blood has thinned and I've adjusted to 100+-degree springs, autumns and summers a little too well after several years of it. I just can't handle the Ohio cold anymore.

Are you aware of any other Blufftonites or other area residents living in or around McAllen?

I wrote a column for The Monitor after the Bluffton University bus crash in spring 2007, and in response got a phone call and letter from the Miller family of neighboring Mission, Texas, who were happy to connect with a fellow Beaver. Siblings Christine Miller Wenger, Jim (Esther Ramseyer) Miller and Margaret Miller Brauen (deceased) left Bluffton for the Rio Grande Valley in the late 40s.

Their sister Jane Miller Baker (deceased) and parents Charles and Bertha Miller remained in Bluffton; meanwhile Jim Miller became the mayor of Mission for three years in the 70s and is quite influential to that community.

Isn't that amazing? Also, I have heard from several in the Bluffton community who know people who winter in the Rio Grande Valley.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Still in McAllen or do you have an interest in moving to a bigger paper in a bigger city (or the opposite)?

Your guess is as good as mine!

My one hope in 10 years is motherhood. As far as my career, the possibilities are endless and I'm open to almost any opportunity. I love McAllen and its only downfall is the distance from my family and friends in Bluffton.