Stories of What It’s Like Returning Home After 25 Years

by dave ammenheuser

A year ago, in the January issue of The Catoctin Banner, Blair Garrett wrote a nice profile of me and of how my journalism career took me from Thurmont to across the world’s sports stage.

I was flattered. Thurmont will always be my home. I was proud that my local newspaper cared enough to write about my career.

My mother was thrilled. My father’s friends got him extra copies. My father-in-law, who lived in Delaware, asked for a copy, too. I also coordinated a 40-year reunion of Catoctin High School basketball friends and teammates, while I started planning to take my USA TODAY sports staff to Japan for the upcoming Tokyo Summer Olympic Games.

The rest of 2020 wasn’t so great.

COVID-19 impacted the world and our family. There was the difficult day in March when I had 24 hours to get my son out of Ecuador, where he was spending a college semester studying abroad. It was a crazy day. Luckily, he got on the final American plane out before the country closed its airport because of the pandemic. 

But that was only the start of a terrible year. A nasty tornado ripped through the Tennessee town (Mt. Juliet) where we lived. Our home was spared, but hundreds of neighbors lost their homes. Two schools were destroyed. The community remains in recovery mode.

We also learned that my father-in-law, who was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, also had melanoma on his brain. The double-whammy cut his life short. He died in July.

My own parents, who have lived near Creagerstown for 50 years, also battled health issues. My father, John, died in September when his heart finally gave out.

Cancer struck my mother, Liz. First, the cancer was located in her breasts, then in her spine. Combine that with dementia, and you have a very unfair battle for a wonderful person in her senior years. She died a few days before Christmas.

I finally decided that it was all too much to handle from afar. Thus, two months ago, I returned home. My wife, Maura, and I sold our home near Nashville and moved back East.

I gave up my amazing career as a sports journalist to care for my father-in-law’s estate in Delaware and to care for my parents’ home in Thurmont and their estate.

It’s been almost 25 years since I left Frederick County. My journalism career took me to the Carolinas, Connecticut, California, and Nashville. Two years ago, I was named the sports director of the USA TODAY Network, overseeing more than 700 sports journalists across the nation.

All of those 700 are important to me. But my family and my mom’s needs were more important.

So, instead of working for a paycheck for USA TODAY in 2021, I’ve volunteered to write a free monthly column for Deb Abraham Spalding and The Catoctin Banner this year. I’ll write about what it is like to return home after being away for 25 years. I’ll recount stories of growing up in Creagerstown and of matriculating through the local school system. I’ll tell what it was like being an Eagle Scout in this community and about being the worst baseball player in the history of the Thurmont Little League.

Without a doubt, 2020 simply stunk for all of us. I’m looking forward to 2021 and hopefully seeing many friends I have not seen in a few decades.

Liz and John Ammenheuser visiting Bethany Beach in 2018.

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