How does someone say goodbye to a career that has spanned a half century? I'm not quite sure, although I'll try.

After 51 years of writing for The Journal Gazette and The News-Sentinel, our second-floor neighbors across the hall, the prospect of retirement grew closer with each day. That day has finally arrived.

Over the years, I would often be asked what famous people did I meet, especially since 47 of those years were spent as a sportswriter. The answer is more than I could have ever imagined as a kid growing up in New Haven.

For this final time, however, allow some names to be dropped that touched my soul.

One name is Autumn Forti.

When we met almost four years ago, she was a shy, 9-year-old who, with her brothers and sisters, was home-schooled by her remarkable mother, Ann. We had heard about Autumn's uncontrollable epileptic seizures that came so often and so violently, her siblings would take turns on “Autumn watch” so she wouldn't hurt herself. After months and months of adhering to a strict diet – the ketogenic diet (I'll never forget that) – Autumn's seizures never returned.

More than a year ago, Ann, who told me, “You're part of our family now,” invited me to see Autumn in a play, and I couldn't help but wipe away the tears of pride and gratitude for that little girl.

Another name is Berin Lacevic, a former Purdue punter from Bosnia.

It was a warm, late summer in 2002 when Berin and I talked on the Purdue campus about that horrific day when he was only 11 years old. Shortly after he and his family completed a mile and a half walk to get fresh water at a bottling plant, a mortar rocket exploded nearby that injured him and his sister, but killed both parents. When an ABC television camera crew showed the little boy covered in blood, a middle-aged couple watching from their home in Kansas were so moved by the story, they adopted him several months later.

There is the name of Lily Johnson.

The 2-year-old, with eyes the color of honey, sang Pharrell Williams' “Happy” song while she played in the living room of her Woodburn area home – the same ranch style home where four-time Olympian Lloy Ball was raised. Lily suffered from a congenital heart defect that required surgery for her to live. But here was the cruel twist: Lily's months-old sister, Dylan, who slept in the arms of her mother, Mindy, had the same defect. Before she could survive an identical surgery, Dylan had to get bigger. She did, and now both girls are doing well.

Another name: Chris Stavreti.

Maybe you knew him. He was the longtime Northrop High School baseball coach who would be inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame. He was also a dear friend.

A few months before Stav died from Lou Gehrig's Disease, his brother Carl and I visited Stav and his wife, Dottie, to watch a Seattle Mariners baseball game on TV. Although the Cleveland Indians were his first love, he became an instant Seattle fan because his former player, Eric Wedge, was the manager. And on that day, with Stav in his recliner and attached to a machine that assisted his breathing, Seattle pitcher Felix Hernandez pitched a perfect game, and we all cheered. Three months later, my friend was gone. Blurred by my own tears, I wrote a farewell column.

Across these 51 years, I received the occasional letter and, as times would change – email – of thanks for what I had written about someone. All were appreciated; and good or bad, I responded to everyone. But the greatest compliment I ever received came from a former Homestead basketball player who also became a close friend.

I was covering an NCAA tournament in Indianapolis several years ago when an alarm sounded in the hotel. The guests were all herded into a large ballroom, and that's when Tracy Foster tapped me on my shoulder. I hadn't seen Tracy in a few years, and of course, we began to reminisce.

He told a story that I had forgotten. In a post-game interview in which he played well as a Homestead senior, Tracy started to boast about himself. “Talking all sorts of noise” is the way he remembered it. That was in the early 1980s. More than 20 years later, as an adult in that hotel ballroom, Tracy said, “After that game, and we were in the locker room, you told me, 'That's not who you are, Tracy.' You didn't write about me bragging on myself, and I've never forgotten it.”

I understood early in this career that journalism and compassion aren't that far apart.

Admittedly, I've been ridiculously fortunate to have seen and done things, and to have been paid for the privilege. I was there when IU's Keith Smart hit “The Shot” that gave Indiana the national championship in '87; was in Notre Dame Stadium for the famed Catholics vs. Convicts game, when the Irish beat Miami; covered bowl games and Indy 500s and interviewed the walking baseball card collection at MLB All-Star Games. Had beers with Harry Caray after spending an afternoon in the WGN booth, got a rare invitation to an IU practice from Bob Knight, and was given underhand free-throw shooting lessons from NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry when he was the Fury coach.

For more than 50 years, each game I covered, each person I interviewed, each friend I made along the way and maybe even some I unknowingly disappointed was the culmination of a lifetime tapestry I shall always treasure.

I was barely 16 and a part-time stringer when I wrote my first story for The Journal Gazette. Because I was too young to get a driver's license, my parents took me to the game, chauffeured me to the Fort Wayne Newspapers offices on 600 W. Main St., then waited in a nearby restaurant for their young journalist to write the story before returning home. They would do this for several more weeks until I could drive myself.

Their names were Doug and Ruth.

On their behalf, thank you for allowing me into your homes on a semi-regular basis. I hope I informed, entertained, and perhaps touched a few hearts. It's been an honor.

Steve Warden's last day at The Journal Gazette is today after 51 years as a journalist. He is a former sports writer and columnist and spent his last years as a reporter in the Features department.