Guests offer a reminder

Sometimes, you can be so close to a situation that you might not be able to fully appreciate what’s right in front of you.

A subtle reminder of that came last week when Jonna and Tony Mendez visited Steubenville.

The two arrived in town Monday evening in advance of their Tuesday appearance as part of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, Herald-Star Lecture Series. That presentation was among the most recent stops for the couple, who said they have been traveling pretty much nonstop since the film “Argo” was released last fall.

It’s understandable that the couple has been so busy – both are former CIA agents and ex-disguise chiefs, and Tony’s efforts in the removal from Iran of six American diplomats who managed to escape when the U.S. embassy in Tehran was overrun on Nov. 4, 1979, are dramatized in the Academy Award-winning movie. The husband-and-wife team did not disappoint, offering details of that operation – and other insights into life as a CIA officer – to the more than 700 Tri-State Area residents who gathered in the auditorium at Steubenville High School.

I had the opportunity to spend some time with them Tuesday afternoon. It was interesting to hear them talk about how happy they were to have had the opportunity just to sit back and relax in our community. They were very pleased with their accommodations at the Garrett House on Fourth Street, and spoke highly of the attention to details paid by innkeeper Scott Dressel.

They enjoyed their morning coffee on the front porch of the downtown bed-and-breakfast, and they seemed to cherish the opportunity to sit back and relax and just get away, if only for a couple of hours, from the hectic lives they lead. They enjoyed their lunch at Scaffidi’s and welcomed the opportunity to meet with owners Dawn and Nino Scaffidi, offered encouragement after learning about how successful their restaurant has become in such a short time and then were very happy to pose for pictures with the local entrepreneurs.

Jonna and Tony Mendez also were interested to learn that Dean Martin was born in and grew up in Steubenville, and asked for details about the annual festival held in his honor.

Above all, they were very impressed with the kindness of everyone they had the opportunity to meet and the hospitality they were shown during their stay.

It was refreshing to hear that guests to Steubenville -especially these two who spent their careers working in locations exotic and not-so-exotic all over the world – were so thrilled with the people they met and places they had the opportunity to visit.

There’s no denying that the last seven months or so have been very rough on our community. It’s been a time for area residents to take a good look at themselves and our area as the incident that has become known as the Steubenville rape case has played out.

There also can be no denying that many people from outside our area have painted the community with a very dark and inaccurate brush, portraying Steubenville and surrounding areas as gritty, dirty places whose residents cling hard to an industrial past and where the signs at the corporation lines read not “Welcome,” but “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

That said, we also have to agree that only the most naive among us can say there are no problems that need to be addressed.

There are many serious concerns, from aging infrastructure to the continuing exodus of our young people as they graduate from high school and then go to find careers and lives in other communities.

But we also have good things, things that can be tough to quantify, but things that are important, things we have that we can build on. Things like a beautiful bed and breakfast and a young couple who are working hard to fulfill their dreams.

Sometimes we can be so close to those things that we can’t fully see and appreciate them, and by taking them for granted, we can miss opportunities for improvement.

That’s just one of the reminders that guests like Jonna and Tony Mendez can give us.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)