OPINION: Larry Cobler Helped WeLoveDexter Get Its Strong Start

When I led the relaunch of WeLoveDexter.com in its most recent incarnation as a hyper-local news website on October 15, 2014, our team was starting from scratch and feeling our way through murky waters. I wasn’t sure if folks would get on board with us after Dexter Patch ceased having a meaningful editorial presence in the community and Chelsea Update’s attempt to start a Dexter Update stalled out.

One of the goals of this website is to help each Dexter resident better understand and connect with their community and the neighbors that have involvement in that community in common through the practice and dissemination of community journalism.

Larry Cobler understood this well. He had always been forthcoming with information when called upon to provide it, whether it was an explanation of the processes of the Dexter Community Schools or a simple piece of information. Since coming to Washtenaw County to work for the Dexter Leader and Chelsea Standard for Heritage Newspapers in 2007, I had developed a good deal of respect for Dexter’s Board of Education President.

He always led the board with the utmost professionalism, kept meetings moving forward in a productive direction, and was respectful of all those who appeared before the governmental body that he was entrusted to lead.

He was also gracious enough to invite me into his home for a lengthy interview, as if I were still a reporter for a large professional newspaper chain, rather than an independent journalist trying to get his own entrepreneurial journalism enterprise off of the ground while working at a company that refurbishes school textbooks for steady income.

I recall explaining what we were trying to do with the website, which was met with much enthusiasm from Larry. The interview lasted nearly two hours, during which we discussed a range of topics from the way the Dexter Board of Ed was when he started out in 2004 to his background in the military and even his family, while we drank tea at his dining room table.

Cobler shared with me the reason that he ventured into the public education arena, which he did as a concerned parent who wanted to make sure that his daughter was receiving reproductive health education in a manner that he was comfortable with.

He spoke very candidly on this and a number of other topics, many of which didn’t make it into our October 30, 2014 article that I wrote from the interview, the focus of which was Cobler’s intention to recover from cancer again and return to the life of public service that he had come to relish.

I believe that the number of lives that Cobler positively impacted directly translated into a great deal of interest in the article. The announcement of his intent to triumph and reemerge in Dexter’s public arena was met with a great deal of interest as evidenced by the thousands of readers who found the story online; for many of them it was their first time being exposed to WeLoveDexter.com. The social media post promoting the story on Facebook caused our following to grow my leaps and bounds with the new likes counter showing “+200” at one point over the previous seven day period.

Talking about these metrics might seem strange, but I do so to illustrate both the level of public interest and support directed towards the fate of Larry Cobler and the extent to which his inviting me into his home and sharing his story with me and my readers filled our sails with wind that I believe still carries this effort forward to this day.

He leaves behind a number of legacies in the arenas of education, community health, and public service.

And I’m more than happy to share the credit for this website’s success with Larry Cobler stemming from his early support, putting him in the company of those who have historically carried the torch of local journalism out of the 1800s and passed it hand-to-hand into our present.

Thank you, Larry, for your encouragement and for taking us seriously, as if we’d one day be a local news agency that’s been around for going on four years and counting, from day one.

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