The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our lives upside down, and here at IndyStar, there’s been no shortage of news coverage as schools closed, Hoosiers were encouraged to “hunker down” and case numbers soared in the weeks before the holidays.
In a former life, I was IndyStar’s “good news” reporter, and it was actually my job to bring you stories that would make you feel… well, everything. (There’s nothing I enjoy more than making strangers cry — in a good way.)
Truth is, all of us here at IndyStar are “good news” reporters. Feel-good stories are just as much a welcome break for us to write as they are for you to read. And this year, we’ve all needed the relief of a good-news story or two.
As the year comes to a close, I asked my colleagues at IndyStar which stories from 2020 have put a smile on their face. Here are some of the stories they chose. You can find these and more at indystar.com.
IndyCar drivers surprise ticket holders on Indy 500 eve
When 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud, runner-up Alexander Rossi and the Borg Warner Trophy showed up at Susan Peverill’s home the morning before this May’s race, she was stunned.
“I have no idea what I did to deserve this,” Peverill said.
Peverill, who lives not far from Turn 4, was one of 33 lucky race fans to receive a surprise visit from one of this year’s drivers after it was announced Indianapolis Motor Speedway would be closed to fans due to the pandemic.
“The Indy 500? It means everything. Everything,” she said.
“I get asked that question all the time, and all you can come up with is, ‘Everything,’ and we’re all different, and ‘everything’ has a different meaning to each of us,” he said. “But it’s such a monumental event. ‘Everything’ is the perfect word to describe it.”
Post Malone greets fans at an Indianapolis Olive Garden
While in town for his sold-out show at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in February, pop star Post Malone had an impromptu meet-and-greet with fans at an east-side Olive Garden.
Turns out his love of the OG isn’t just a talking point for late-night shows.
“From the bottom of my heart, Post was so polite,” said Margo Blair Harczynski, an Indy resident who was at the restaurant with her grandchildren and snagged a picture with him. “Everything I said, it was ‘Yes ma’am’ ‘No ma’am.’”
Teachers go above and beyond amid pandemic
In a nod to hard-working educators, rather than holding its annual contest to recognize a single teacher’s contributions, the state named all 65,000-plus Hoosier teachers the “Teacher of the Year.”
For Teacher Appreciation Week, IndyStar education reporters Arika Herron and MJ Slaby put the spotlight on some pretty amazing leaders who had to adapt to a new classroom space when the pandemic shuttered schools last spring.
MJ and Arika introduced us to teachers across Central Indiana who went out of their way to connect with their students by creating YouTube videos, mailing owl pellets to students for at-home science experiments, challenging them to exchange acts of kindness for assignments and hosting virtual read-alongs.
“We’ve all formed a bond that’s just unbreakable,” said Megan Chandler, a teacher at St. Luke Catholic School who organized a drive-by birthday celebration for one of her students. “We’re going through this together.”
With months to live, high school senior marries
After doctors told Chase Smith he’d have only months to live, he knew what he needed to do.
The plan was always to marry his high school sweetheart, Sadie, who was headed to IUPUI as a diver. Once a nationally ranked swimmer, Chase was going to join her — hopefully in the water, too — and they’d get married after graduation. But life had other plans.
He’d been battling Ewing’s sarcoma since he was 13, and early this year, scans showed it was back — but this time, the tumors were in his shoulder, lung, back, hip and skull.
With a prognosis of three to five moths to live, Chase and Sadie planned a wedding in four days, diving deeper into their faith and promising to love each other through every moment.
In the months since, sports reporter Dana Hunsinger Benbow and photojournalist Mykal McEldowney followed along as they’ve navigated college, treatments, gains and setbacks. She’ll continue to follow their story, no matter what the future holds.
“We, every day, pray for a miracle together because we trust in God,” Sadie told Dana this spring. “We pray that Chase would stay on this earth longer so we can bring more people our story of love.”
How living liver transplants help people recover their lives
Years ago, when a New York City man died after donating part of his liver for a transplant, many hospitals halted their living donor programs in favor of cadaver programs. But when organ sharing rules were changed last winter, taking some 70% of livers donated in Indiana out of the state, IU Health resurrected its living donor program to get sick people help faster.
In early November, Ashley Carter and Wayne Brown became the program’s third transplant pair, with Carter giving part of her liver to Brown, who was diagnosed last year with cirrhosis.
The pair met not long before the surgery and now share an unbreakable bond.
“I tell him all the time he’s stuck with me,” she said. “He’s definitely not getting rid of me at this point.”
Solar developers planting flowers that could help save butterflies and bees
Replacing coal, Logansport’s newest electricity-generating facility will be 80 acres of solar panels and flowers. Yes, flowers.
While the construction of a solar farm typically would require the removal of vegetation and flattening of the land, a recent trend in “pollinator-friendly” projects aims to create more habitats for pollinators like bees or butterflies whose habitats have been destroyed.
While the Logansport project isn’t not likely to make a dent in the larger issue, widespread use can make life a little better for these creatures — and help Indiana farmers.
“We need solutions that do more than one thing,” said Purdue University entomologist Brock Harpur. “We have to say yes, we need solar, but we can also do it while we save the bees … it’s exciting to be able to do two things at once and feel like it’s making a difference.”
Meet the creator of the tiny bronze face glued by Circle Centre
In early March — the end of the before times — IndyStar arts reporter Domenica Bongiovanni wrote about a small bronze sculpture glued to a stairwell in the Indianapolis Artsgarden.
The day it published, the artist revealed himself. Dominic Sansone said he created that statue and over a dozen others he hid throughout downtown Indianapolis as part of a class project while he was working on his master’s degree at the Herron School of Art and Design 11 years before.
Domenica and IndyStar photographer Kelly Wilkinson, armed with Sansone’s map of the statue’s locations and a determination to track them all down, explored the city in an effort to find each piece.
“What do people associate with public art? It’s usually large, monumental sculptures of historical figures or important people or larger abstract, kind of corporate-friendly safe pieces,” Sansone said. “I was trying to challenge those notions.”
Indiana grad accepted to 65 colleges will go to Howard University
Taron Richardson has always been high-achieving, his mother said.
This year, he graduated from the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated High School, having made the Dean’s List and graduated with a 3.7 GPA, all while working part time pushing carts at Walmart, participating in community service through the Lions Club and the Boy Scouts, competing in four sports (track, cross country, soccer and basketball), show choir, National Honors Society and serving as his class president.
And he had no shortage of options for where to go next. After applying to over 70 schools, Richardson was accepted to 65. He chose to enroll at Howard University this fall. He didn’t do it for the attention — although that’s nice. But he’s inspired by the chance to make an impact.
“Obviously I wouldn’t be in the situation or the place I am right now without all those people that helped me get to where I am,” he said. “And I want to do the same for others.”
Colts QB Philip Rivers opens up about his nine children
Early in the season, new Colts quarterback Philip Rivers spoke with Colts Insider Joel A. Erickson about his family — introducing readers to his wife, Tiffany, and all nine of their children. At the time of publication in September, those kids ranged in age from 1 ½ to 18.
The couple haven’t put a number on just how many kids they’ll have, but they’re happy with their brood.
“Our relationship is key, too, in raising a big family, because we were best friends first,” Rivers said. “My wife, she always says I’m the head and she’s the heart.”
One by one, Rivers described each of his children to Joel: Halle, Caroline, Grace, Gunner, Sarah, Peter, Rebecca, Clare and Anna.
“They’re all awesome in their own unique way,” he said.
IndyStar brings you news in Spanish
Now, this isn’t a single story, but a collection of work by reporter Natalia E. Contreras and editor Daniela Franco Brown. La Estrella, IndyStar’s first-ever Spanish-language newsletter, was launched in August in an effort to bring critical COVID-19 resources and news to the city’s Latino and Hispanic communities.
Since then, it’s blossomed. Natalia has been bringing you stories about the survival of Latino-owned businesses during the pandemic, the Latinas Welding Guild, immigrants sending help to Honduras after Hurricane Eta and a series of profiles of the Hoosiers helping the Latino community thrive.
Several of my colleagues reached out to say how exciting it is to see their own work translated for a new audience, but I think it’s also significant to see IndyStar put time and resources into providing this vital service to our Spanish-speaking readers. We’ll be expanding our efforts to cover under-served communities next year, thanks to a new partnership with Report for America.
There are handfuls of other 2020 stories that made us smile for one reason or another, like the Indy 500 fan who was going to watch the race from a makeshift treehouse, sports columnist Gregg Doyel’s thank you for answering Jim Irsay’s $1 million challenge to help Gleaners Food Bank or even the deer that ran through the Zionsville Kroger in February.
Amid a year that has seen so much heartache, these stories are a reminder that there’s still some good out there. And it’s our pleasure to share those stories with you whenever we can.
From our newsroom to your home, IndyStar wishes you a happy and healthy 2021.