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Inside story

New community newspaper serves as the voice of Oak Crest residents

Created date

February 23rd, 2015
residents holding up The Observer publication


Mary Ann Lechowicz taught high school English and journalism for nearly 30 years, but only after she retired did she finally find her dream job. 

As editor of The Observer, a new, free, monthly publication produced by and for the residents of , the Erickson Living community in Parkville, Md., Mary Ann leads an all-volunteer staff of Oak Crest residents. They write, proofread, edit, and take photographs for the 16-page newspaper.

“I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time,” says Mary Ann. “When I first retired 20 years ago, I was doing some volunteer work with the Baltimore County Department of Aging and someone said to me, ‘If you are going to volunteer, look for something you enjoy because you’ll stick with it and get more pleasure out of it.’ And it’s true! Working on the paper means a lot to me. I just love it!”

Finding their voice

For two decades, Our Village Voice, an eight-page newspaper, kept the pulse of the 2,200 people who live at the community. But when the driving force behind the newspaper, longtime resident Tom Foster, passed away in early 2014, the paper stopped production. 

“There were many people who expressed an interest in continuing on with a community newspaper, so we held an exploratory meeting and invited residents who were interested in working on the paper to discuss ideas,” says Mary Ann. 

A questionnaire was distributed to all Oak Crest residents asking for feedback on the content of the paper, as well as suggestions for a name. Once the name was decided upon, the son of Oak Crest resident Gudrun Everett designed the paper’s nameplate.

With a staff of almost 20 writers and 4 photographers, the paper produces 12 issues a year with a circulation of 1,500 copies. All articles submitted to the paper undergo standard editing practices, and writers adhere to a style sheet in order to create uniformity within the paper. 

Joanne (Jo) Fennessey was one of the first residents to volunteer. 

“I’ve always had an interest in the written word,” says Jo, who still works part-time three days a week. “So I went to one of the early planning meetings. I volunteered to proofread, type articles, and occasionally write articles. I’m also well versed in using Microsoft Word, so if Mary Ann encounters problems, I am thrilled to help.” 

Nose for news

The Observer features everything from current events and feature stories about residents to in-depth pieces on how the community functions. A monthly “Campus Tidbits” section is reserved for announcements, campus event information, and various other news briefs. 

Mary Ann estimates she spends about 15 to 20 hours a week working on the paper. 

“My organizational skills as a teacher come in handy,” she says. “I want to make sure the entire community gets covered, so I came up with a list of news beats which covers all three of Oak Crest’s neighborhoods.”

Jo’s husband Jim is a beat reporter for the paper.

“I’m a correspondent for a few of the organizations I’m active in here at Oak Crest, including Acorn After Dark, the Computer Group, and MaCCRA [Maryland Continuing Care Residents Association],” says Jim. “I enjoy working with the other Oak Crest residents on a joint project.”

Jo says Mary Ann is very supportive of all the writers, whether novices or seasoned professionals.

“Mary Ann provides instructions and tips for everything from preparing for an interview to writing the final article,” says Jo. 

Retired nurse Nancylee DeGreif was happy to have an opportunity to put her photography and writing skills to good use. 

“Photography has been a longtime hobby of mine, and before I moved to Oak Crest, I wrote a newsletter for the condominium where I lived,” says Nancylee. “When I heard about The Observer, I thought it would be something I would enjoy. I get a lot of positive feedback about the paper. I think most people look forward to it.” 

Mary Ann says she hopes the paper will serve as a voice for Oak Crest residents for years to come. 

“It means a lot to me, and I enjoy seeing how much others enjoy the paper,” says Mary Ann. “With 2,200 people living in the community, I think it’s important to have a venue for residents to meet and read about their neighbors. There are a lot of interesting people living here. A large part of our mission is to share their stories.”