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The second floor is a lot of clean, white space with orange accent furniture. Studios and conference rooms. Not a place you would want to spill coffee. The third floor seems to transcend Honesdale. Young people working in a mini Google-style open office on Macs of different varieties. Two attractive people in front of me looking contemplatively at the same computer screen are almost definitely cardboard cutouts from a stock photo for “startup employees working.” Is everyone wearing thick-rimmed black glasses? I think so. I don’t know. There are only about 10 people in the room but I have to ask where Jim Jennings is because I’m recuperating from the shock of teleportation.
Jennings has a habit of taking jobs at just the right time. He started at YI three years before it was named one of Inc. magazine’s 500 fastest-growing companies in the country and is now its marketing manager. Before that, he was asked not once, not twice, but three times to write for a media outlet that was going to “sink if he didn’t take the job” and left each place better than he’d found it.
That where-the-road-may-take-me attitude stems from not having a set plan to begin with. Jennings didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do in high school or in college at Temple University in Philadelphia. When he graduated, the recession was on, so older, wiser people told him, essentially, to find shelter and buckle down—anywhere. Jennings took a position at Comcast SportsNet—he’s a Mets, Eagles and Liverpool fan, if that’s important to you—where he stayed for six years. On the side, he ran a blog to document development in his neighborhood, Pennsport. It gained traction.
“So then I became a reporter, and people wanted to, like, pay me to report the news,” he says, sheepishly, “which was kind of cool.”
Jennings’ media resume includes Curbed Philly, which he helped turn into a successful vertical; the Passyunk Post, a one-person manned news site based on a restaurant-riddled street in Philly; and a full-time reporting gig at Philadelphia Magazine. “It’s funny how life works.” We’re in a conference room of sorts, talking over a rock salt lamp. “At least in my life, I’ve been in very specific places at times that have been very important in terms of—put up or shut up, really.”
When the time came to move back to Honesdale with his family, Jennings again didn’t have a plan. He grew up thinking of professions as “normal jobs”—a lawyer, a doctor, a fireman, for example—not a real estate news blogger turned reporter turned marketing and communications manager for a yoga magazine turned online streaming website. It seems to have worked out anyway.
Jennings takes on the labels he’s assigned. He’s flustered by the designation of writer, though he admits that’s true, and is equally wigged out by someone’s recent suggestion that he’s a politician. Which, as a member of Honesdale’s Borough Council, he technically is.
When I ask Jennings to define himself, he fumbles: “Maggie and Desmond’s dad?” “Ryanne’s husband?” How do you define yourself not in relation to other people? “I’m just, you know, I guess…” he smoothes out the wrinkles in his pants, “I generally just consider myself a regular guy.”
Jennings’ coworkers, many of whom are not from the area or grew up at the Himalayan Institute outside of town, refer to him as “River Jim,” because of his early involvement with Jeff George to start the Honesdale River Project. They also jokingly call him the Mayor. When we walk down the street later, he waves and literally doffs his baseball cap to about four people on the way. “Hey cuz!” one man says as he exits his vehicle.
His wife, Ryanne, describes him as a “warm hug”—everyone who meets him loves him, she assures me, before I meet him. And he is: geunine, affable and mirthful. Someone who wears fun socks. It’s Ryanne, he says, that’s given direction to his talents and whims. When the two of them drove to work together in Philadelphia and he expressed frustration with a lack of access to the riverfront, she was the one who pushed him to start the blog. She supported him through part-time reporting gigs. “I have this weird self-deprecating nature,” he says. “When we decided to move back, the confidence that Ryanne instilled in me helped me understand that… if I had to have freelance gigs, or whatever it was, it was all going to work out.
“I mean I probably drive her… maybe not-so-secretly crazy with some of the things that I do,” he says, “but... we’re pretty patient people with each other. And, we’re generally just nice to each other.” (Click here to read Ryanne's story. )
Jim insists that Ryanne can be silly.
“People see Ryanne in a very professional setting, so not many people see her as an out-and-out mom,” he says. On the night after Ryanne and I meet, she’s booked to dress up as a goofy cook and read to children at the “Night of a Thousand Reading Stars” at Lakeside Elementary School. “Please don’t include a photo of me from that,” she says. Though I’ve seen the photos on Facebook, and let me tell you, they are quite silly.
But there’s a time and a place, Ryanne reminds Jim. “We kind of balance each other out. She really understands what needs to be done before we can have some silly time.”
She also gets him to think ahead. As the comedic magician was performing at the Cooperage’s music and magic night, Jim couldn’t stop laughing. "I mean, I'm an easy laugh anyway, but this guy was genuinely funny, and she was like ‘Jim, you know you better be careful. If you laugh really loud, you’re going to be brought on stage.’” Which he was.
From the audience, some kids were probably whispering to their parents: ‘That’s Maggie and Desmond’s dad!”
In retrospect, it’s not so strange that eithe member of the pair thinks of themselves mostly in relation to other people. When I ask Ryanne if she thinks she’s a “community figure,” she says, “kids probably know me as ‘that lady from the Cooperage.’” And as we walk down Main Street toward the park Friday afternoon, Ryanne and Jim holding hands talking about how she found her wedding dress at Salvation Army, and me running a few paces ahead with a camera, I do feel a bit like I’m trailing two local celebrities.