The daughter of a fighter pilot, Trish Hogenmiller Vernon spent her early years moving from place to place before finally setting down roots in Rehoboth Beach as a young college grad.
For nearly half a century, she called the beach region her home – a place where she raised her son and helped build the region’s top newspaper.
On Oct. 30, at age 71, Trish died in the home she loved.
“She was an ideal partner to achieve the success that we were able to achieve,” said Dennis Forney, Trish’s business partner for 28 years, and coworker for 45. “She held down the news side of things, and I held down the business end. We had a great deal of respect and love for each other.”
The two first met when Trish got a reporter job in 1975 with The Whale, a weekly publication based in Lewes. The start-up newspaper had a bare-bones staff that included Dennis as editor and Sandy Barr selling advertising.
“Their work ethic and working together as a team is the best I’ve ever seen. That’s hard to come by today,” said Barr, who made the move to The Cape Gazette with Dennis and Trish in 1993. “It’s like family. Trish was awesome. She knew what she was doing, and she was a good person to work for. Both of them knew what they were going to do, and they succeeded.”
Branching out with their own newspaper in 1993, Dennis and Trish strove to build their own success covering every aspect of local journalism.
“We didn’t want to walk away from a really great newspaper market and community that we had already invested 18 years of our lives to build, so we said we’d build our own newspaper,” Dennis said. “That’s that history, and then we had 28 years after that.”
In between the hours she spent putting out a newspaper, Trish volunteered for Meals on Wheels of Lewes-Rehoboth Beach for 30 years, serving as an officer and on the advisory board. She also volunteered as a docent for the Rehoboth Art League.
Trish’s dry wit and playful sense of humor brought everyone a chuckle. Her St. Patrick’s Day celebrations were epic, topped by her family's Irish Soda Bread recipe. Every year in early March, she went on a baking spree producing several loaves of the anise-tinged bread that she passed out to friends and family. “It was three days of craziness in her kitchen, but the bread was delicious,” said son Glenn.
Trish got her baking skills from her mother, Betty, an Irishwoman who lives in Pittsburgh, the city where Trish was born. The eldest of four, Trish and her siblings – two brothers and a sister – moved frequently when her father, Maj. Gerald Hogenmiller, a fighter pilot with the U.S. Air Force, was stationed at bases in Germany, Nevada and Oklahoma.
Gerald tragically died in a fighter jet crash in 1960 when Trish was 8. Her youngest brother was born the next day. In the wake of the tragedy, the family moved back to Pittsburgh, where Trish was pressed into service helping her younger siblings, and learning the art of cooking that lasted her a lifetime. She received a traditional Catholic school education before attending Chatham College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree.
Every summer throughout her college years, Trish packed into a car with a tight-knit group of college friends and headed to Rehoboth Beach, where she waitressed at the Sea Horse Restaurant.
College friend Theresa Sponaugle said she was one of three coeds who packed into Trish’s green Karmann Ghia for a summer of fun.
“We did things that nobody should ever do,” Theresa said, recalling a time when they ran out of gas on a Pennsylvania roadway at 2 a.m. on a Sunday. She said they sat on the roadway until a truck driver pulled up and two of them went off with the driver to get gas. “It turned out for the better, and we got back to school in time for Monday classes, even though we were a little blurry-eyed,” Theresa said.
The summer seaside trips soon turned to weekend trips after some of them met their future husbands. A trip that normally takes more than six hours from Rehoboth Beach to Pittsburgh, Trish could do in five, Theresa said. “She could really get that car going, when it didn’t run out of gas,” she chuckled.
After moving to the area for good, Trish eventually met a local boy, Geoff Vernon. The two married and had a son, Glenn, in 1979, who was her pride and joy. She equally loved her daughter-in-law Charity – Trish’s rock of support.
Over the years, as more people discovered the same charm that drew Trish to the area in 1975, the Cape Region grew, and so did the newspaper. Trish deftly managed the news end of the business, fielding phone calls and assigning stories to her crew of reporters, photographers and freelancers. Their hard work paid off with countless press association writing awards, and helped earn the newspaper numerous Best of the Year honors.
As editor of the Cape Gazette, Trish pledged early on to establish a community newspaper which reflects the rich tapestry of the area, and she never failed to deliver.
“Our most sacred mission is to publicize the positive efforts, activities and attainments in our community, which are all too often overshadowed in the media by negative and sensational,” she wrote in the first edition of the paper. “We plunged into this endeavor with the belief our goals would be shared by many, and we have been overwhelmed by the show of support and good will. We’ll do our best to meet your expectations.”
Job well done, Trish. May you rest in peace.