PITTSBURG — Stephanie Potter lived in a variety of places in southeast Kansas when she was younger, as well as in the Kansas City area — “up and down the 69 Highway essentially,” she says.
After living in Pittsburg from her middle school years through finishing college and graduate school, and going on to teach at the college level and work as a staff writer and photographer at the Morning Sun, there’s nowhere else she feels more at home.
“I don't know if I could ever leave Pittsburg,” Potter says. “This is the first place that I’ve actually felt at home, stayed long enough to call home, and when my mom moved away, I was determined to continue to make it home.”
Today, Potter is active in a variety of community nonprofit organizations, including the Lord’s Diner, where she volunteers regularly, the Salvation Army, where she not only volunteers but is a member of the organization’s Pittsburg Advisory Board, and Pittsburg Noon Rotary.
“This sounds cheesy but it really is to give back,” Potter said, “because many of the organizations helped my family out when I was a child, and so I really looked up to those people. So that’s why I think I wanted to not only help others as an individual but be part of a group that can help people when things aren’t the best.”
Looking back at growing up in Pittsburg, “it’s nice to see how that help that I received, between like Big Brothers Big Sisters, various charities, those people had a lot of guidance and I think they helped me be where I am today,” Potter says.
“I guess looking back if you had asked years ago would I be here or even be getting recognized for anything, I wouldn’t think so, just because of where I was at in my life,” she says. “I didn’t think I would be going to college, even though I was determined, and I didn’t think I would have a super cool job, even though I was determined to do that.”
When she was younger Potter did not aspire to be a writer. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Pittsburg State University in communication, with an emphasis in photojournalism. She later taught photography and photojournalism while she earned her master’s in communication from PSU, and continues to teach those subjects today when she is not taking photos for the Morning Sun — probably her favorite part of a job that regularly requires her to wear many hats.
“When I first started I think that’s when I realized ‘Oh, people are watching,” Potter says. “And they’re watching for your mistakes, and they’re also watching for how you’re informing the community on things that need to be said, so getting to be a part of talking about mental health, or health, education, is a pretty big deal to me.”
While Potter may not have thought she would be a writer when she was younger, “I don’t think I can stop now,” she says.
When she heard she was nominated as a 2020 Woman of Distinction, Potter says, she was overwhelmed. “That was a whirlwind of emotions,” she says. “When I found out I was really, really surprised and shocked, because there’s all these other really awesome people out there and they’re doing stuff that really matters.
“They’re dealing with abuse cases or they’re dealing with sick patients, or they’re working with nonprofit organizations, which takes a lot of work,” Potter says. “I just get to talk about what they do.”