I was familiar with Garden City and western Kansas before I moved out here in September 2006 to work as the area and agricultural reporter for The Telegram.

By familiar, I mean I knew the area existed, which seems to be a hurdle for some I run into who think Kansas stops somewhere around Wichita.

My grandmother used to live here she worked at what is now the Clarion Inn. We'd travel from Wellington, my hometown, to visit her and I remember going to Lee Richardson Zoo, swimming in the hotel pool, eating at Taco John's before it closed and occasionally, my mom and dad would stop at the scenic overlook at Ingalls and let my brothers and I out of the car to watch the cattle watch us.

I always had fond memories of Garden City, and so when the job opened up here, I thought I'd give it a shot. I already knew the town and had a friend living here who spoke very highly of The Telegram and community.

Somehow I was able to convince Managing Editor Brett Riggs to take a chance on me, and he did. I've spent the last three years working, trying to pay back the risk he took in hiring a reporter with about a year's professional reporting experience.

I'll be leaving The Telegram at the end of September. I'm moving back to the Wellington/Wichita area to be closer to family. Shajia Ahmad will take over the government beat.

As I prepare to go, I leave with a better knowledge of southwest Kansas than I had on my first day here as a fairly green reporter. I remember my first day writing a story on gas prices rising and then heading to Scott City that afternoon and night to shoot a photo of damage a fire left behind at Helmers Motors, and then to listen to the Scott City Council discuss a possible vicious dog ordinance.

I'll be forever grateful to Scott City Clerk Brenda Davis and Mayor Junior Strecker for taking me in and being the first people to show me the warmness and hospitality of western Kansas. The towns I covered as the area reporter will always have a place in my heart.

I thank all of you who've shown me the same dignity and respect I've tried to extend to everyone I've met, including Vance and Louise Ehmke, Steve Irsik, Bob Dechant, Russell Komlofske, Carol and Mike Deaver, Whitey Whitehill and Finney County Extension, staff at K-State's Southwest Research and Extension Center and everyone who helped a girl out who didn't really know much about agriculture.

I'd also like to thank Christy Hopkins and the community of Greeley County; TruDee Little and the Gray County community; Gary Baker and the Stevens County community; Karla Dimitt and Stanton County; Sharla Krenzel and Wichita County; Thadd Kistler and representatives of the city of Ulysses, as well as the entire Grant County community; Brad Applegarth and the communities of Healy, Dighton and Lane County; Fred Jones and the Kearny County community; Jeannie Trigg, Mitch Messerly and the community of Haskell County; and Krista Norton and the Hamilton County and Syracuse community.

I'd also like to thank staff at St. Catherine Hospice, the Dirkses, Beverly Schmitz Glass, Tim Regan and downtown folks, Don Harness and the representatives and staff of the Garden City and Finney County commissions and Holcomb City Council, who've been more than patient with me.

And above all, I'd like to thank the staff of The Telegram especially Brett Riggs, Diane Elliott, Dena Sattler, Emily Behlmann, Laurie Sisk, Brad Nading, Debbie Schiffelbein, Monica Springer and Shajia Ahmad for taking me in, being patient with me, molding me and sending me off a better person and reporter than I came here as.

Staff writer Stephanie Farley can be e-mailed at sfarley@gctelegram.com.