Charlottesville Newsplex TV news director and lead anchor Jim Hanchett has been in Crozet (in Western Ridge) for about a year and a half now. Not long after he settled in, his company put up a billboard in Yancey Mills with the pitch “Jim Hanchett knows Crozet. He lives here.”
It wasn’t too long ago that you had to be at least a second-generation Crozetian to get away with a statement like that, and for many of more longstanding tenure even that credential was a piece of cheeky imposture.
Hanchett said the billboard was the idea of Brad Ramsey, the Newsplex’s general manger, who lives in Bargamin Park. A second billboard east of Charlottesville promotes the stations’ other anchors, Tiffany Sargent and Dan Schutte. “When people come to visit us they say they saw my picture on the way in,” Hanchett noted with a little wince of embarrassment.
So just exactly how well does Hanchett know Crozet?
Actually, pretty well. The Gazette peppered Hanchett with a 50-question quiz recently and he could answer about 75 percent of them correctly (he credited reading the Gazette), a solid enough performance to declare him a full citizen and the right to say, when he’s out of town, “I’m from Crozet.”
Hanchett, 52, had been at WECT, an NBC affiliate in Wilmington, North Carolina, before moving here with his family (his four kids, given their impressionable ages, 2, 3, 8 and 10, will have virtually native rights).
Hanchett had been a senior political reporter for NBC and had filed more than 3,000 live reports that appeared on “The Today Show,” CNBC, MSNBC and foreign stations, too. He reported on such big news events as the O.J. Simpson trial, the Oklahoma City federal building bombing and the funerals of Mother Teresa and Richard M. Nixon. He started out in newspapers—he remembered that he wrote for the Lansing [Michigan] Observer for 10 cents a column inch—before going into TV. He is a graduate of Boston University.
“I was looking for an management job, but I still wanted to do news on the ground and there aren’t many of those jobs in the country,” he said. “This station has good management and great growth potential.” As a boy he had lived for a while in Troutville while his dad taught at Hollins College and Virginia was high on his list of desirable places to sink family roots.
“When we were coming to Charlottesville, I checked out places to live and saw pictures of the Crozet Christmas parade [in the Gazette]. I noticed the murals under the railroad bridge. My boys were crazy about trains. So . . . .” His older boys are now at Brownsville Elementary and are playing Pop Warner football; they played Peachtree baseball last summer and belong to a Crozet Boy Scout troop. Immersion like that is the mainline way to acculturation.
Hanchett said one of his favorite things about Crozet is the 4-way stop at the Dairy Queen.
“There’s something special about a town where everybody meets at the same place and is respectful to each other. I hope we never lose that.” Notice the “we.”
“This place is neat because there is a low-level tension between the long-timers and the newcomers and the in-betweeners who have different views of the future. Everybody has an opinion and yet they don’t scream at each other.
“I love the farmers’ market because for a while no one was in charge of it and it still happened every Saturday. There’s no self-involved quaintness and cuteness here.”
So, for starters, where does he think the Crozet cougar is now? “He’s up there,” Hanchett answered, gesturing towards Bucks Elbow Mountain.
Who was Crozet? “A French engineer—I think I’m getting a gentleman’s ‘C’ so far.”
Quick, smart and self-deprecating, Hanchett kept up a stream of funny one-liners and quips as he thought about his answers.
More long-timers or more newcomers in town? “I think there are still more long-timers.”
Maybe. Who really knows the answer to a question with as many subjective features as that?
More Democrat or Republican? “Hmmm. More Democrat. I think Perriello will win this time in Crozet.” He won the western Albemarle precincts to get elected, but he is a native son. Historically, Crozet has tilted moderately conservative.
Where should you go for pizza? “They’re ALL good. They’re ALL good,” he exclaimed, dodging what looked like a trap.
“We’ve got everything here if you look for it,” he said with satisfaction.
Where’s Blue Hole? “Sugar Hollow.”
Team names of local schools? He missed only the Crozet Elementary Eagles.
What did Acme Visible make? “Filing systems and cabinets.”
What’s the clearance under the railroad bridge? “11 feet, 6 inches” Gold star for that. Most natives would have been guessing.
When was the Blue Ridge Tunnel opened? “1858.”
Why was Stonewall Jackson here? “To get a pizza?” [To get his famous “foot cavalry” aboard the Virginia Central Railroad for the Battle of McDowell in Highland County.]
Where will Park Ridge Road connect someday? “Cory Farm.”
Name a place a Crozet Pizza T-shirt has been? “Mt. Kilimanjaro.”
What’s the memorial at Mint Springs for? “Airplane crash victims in ’59.”
Where’s Main Street? “Crozet Avenue.”
How many people have been run over by trains in Crozet in the last 25 years? “Zero.” Oops: Two.
Where was Crozet’s first ABC store? “Pattersons.”
What’s Crozet’s elevation above sea level? “2,000 feet?” About 750 at The Square.
Name some local fruit-growing families. “Henleys and Chiles.”
What type of tree is the town Christmas tree? “We have a Christmas tree? The cedar at the firehouse?” Officially, it’s the hemlock in The Square.
What were the Crozet radio station’s call letters? “WPED” Wow.
Who is our supervisor? “Ann Mallek.” Planning Commissioner? “Tom Loach.”
What movie was partly made here? “Evan Almighty.”
Name a major league baseball player who lives in Crozet. “Billy Wagner.” Also Don Wright.
Where did the famous beauty the Gibson Girl grow up? “Ummm?” Mirador in Greenwood.
What was Crozet’s old claim to fame? “Peach Capital of Virginia.”
All in all, that’s better than average. Hanchett, a good sport with an easy laugh, deserves his sign at the Interstate gateway to his new home town.