Local prankster makes Ashland's unique list

The recently deceased local prankster Chet Fitch simply has to be getting a good laugh up in heaven about now. Not even he could have imagined a little Christmas story about the last friendly joke he played on his friends would become an international story &

picked up by the likes of the BBC and "The Today Show" &

and reprinted in major newspapers from Boston to San Francisco, Canada and even Switzerland.

The Ashland resident, known for his good humor and practical jokes, died in October. But a plan he hatched many years ago with his barber Patty Dean was delivered to friends this holiday season. Fitch commissioned Dean to send Christmas cards to his friends after his demise, as a message from heaven. One of the card's recipients, Debbie Hansen-Bernard, said it best: "When I opened his card, all I could think was, 'you little stinker.'"

That stiffled laughter heard faintly through the winter storm must have been Fitch himself.

It is not entirely uncommon for Ashland to make news on a national scale. People love to talk about how odd, exotic or just plain bizarre Ashland is. Many media outlets seem to thrive on topics that perpetuate this idea, hyping stories like affluent panhandlers, the gangajis or the druids. But the stories that usually draw the most attention are those where regular people are doing interesting, creative or extraordinary things.

To be sure, recent city council counseling, the almost forgotten flag flap, or a body modification art exhibit that occurred a while back each contribute to Ashland's reputation for uniqueness. But these pale compared to the many notable, heartwarming and downright astounding stories that are routinely discovered in the nooks and crannies of Ashland.

The accomplishments of a Jeremy Guthrie, who worked his butt off for years in the minor leagues to finally experience success this past season for the Baltimore Orioles, should make all of Ashland proud. Likewise, professional football player Chad Cota, author Sandra Scofield and news anchor Ann Curry, have all shown how hard work can bring success and make good news stories.

The determination and vision of Angus Bowmer made the city what it is today, home of one of the world's best regional theaters. Likewise, visionary city leaders were willing to dream big enough to enlist the expertise of John McLaren, landscape architect of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, to build the gem of our city &

Lithia Park &

that has drawn mention in virtually every national magazine and newspaper over the years.

Ashland made the news also because of the unwavering activism of our own Winona LaDuke, who catapulted to the national stage as Ralph Nader's vice-presidential running mate.

Ashland's fingerprints on the national stage are as unique as the city itself. Ashland is home to the truly distinctive, like Uncle John's Bathroom Reader, or the truly natural, like Lithia Springs water.

Ashland is diverse spiritually, liberal politically and eclectic socially. But it isn't a spectacle of mockery as some outsiders might wish to advocate, but rather a remarkable place where on any given day someone may do something that will draw attention and win the praise of people everywhere. We're glad to add Chet Fitch to that list. May he rest in peace with plenty of laughs beyond the pearly gates.

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