Andrew Kenneson was a staff writer for The Walton Tribune from 2018-20.


Andrew Kenneson interviews Rose Crawford at Piedmont Walton Hospital on Feb. 17, 2020.

Growing up in Johnson City, Tennessee, there was a certain type of person I didn’t understand.

They grew up in Johnson City. They went an hour and a half down the road to Knoxville for college at University of Tennessee. Then they came back to Johnson City, got jobs at insurance companies or the hospital or the high school, got married, had kids, and never left again.

I grew up with parents from Kansas and Indiana who happened to move to Johnson City. There was a map of the world hanging next to my bed. I read every page of every National Geographic for something like eight straight years. By the time I was 13, I knew Johnson City wasn’t for me. There were caves in Borneo to explore.

Leaving my hometown made sense to me. But what I couldn’t figure out was how anyone could be satisfied with living in one place their whole lives, seemingly never even wondering what might lie outside the top right corner of Tennessee.

After living in Monroe for two years, however, I understand.

There’s this deep satisfaction I hear in people’s voices who either grew up here and still live here, or moved here and plan on dying here. They’re invested. They care. They’re the ones making Monroe a better place for everyone.

They’re the first ones to tell you their hometown isn’t perfect. But are they going to just complain about it, or wait on somebody else to fix it? Hell no. They’re out there running for City Council, opening restaurants, creating museums, showing up to public meetings, recruiting industries and volunteering.

These kinds of people are also the ones who have made my decision to leave Monroe so difficult. Because I so admire them. I want to be like that.

But I don’t know if Monroe is that place for me. The tug of the great beyond, the possibilities in the rest of world still haunt my 26-year-old mind.

My last day was Friday. I’m hoping to continue my career in journalism on the Western side of the United States, but I haven’t nailed anything down yet.

I hope this column has been worth reading, at least most of the time. If you’d like to stay in touch, my personal email is I’m also on Facebook every now and then.

Thanks to Patrick Graham and David Clemons for giving me a chance to be a reporter. And, finally, thanks to all of you for reading The Walton Tribune.