Morning News’ Mark Haselden hailed as a journalist and much more

November 16, 2018

Mark Haselden stands with other news room staffers in this Morning News staff photo from late 1996.

FLORENCE, S.C. — Longtime Morning News journalist and assistant sports editor Mark A. Haselden died Thursday following a years-long battle with colon cancer. He was 50.

“Heartbroken again,” said Joanna Young Huett, who worked with Haselden in the mid-90s. “Mark Haselden, a good friend of mine from my newspaper days, has died. He put in one helluva fight against cancer. He always kept his faith, and now God has called him home. Mark was always a gentleman. He was always kind, even when I interrupted him writing hard about last night’s high school game. He helped me as a reporter and a friend. ”

Luke Reasoner, a former staff member, said he didn’t know where to start.

“No words will be good enough,” Reasoner wrote. “Mark Haselden was a gentle man who helped me get going when I started out in journalism at the Florence Morning News. During my brief stint there, he was one anyone could count on for advice.”

Haselden was a 1991 graduate of Francis Marion University and covered the Patriots for many years. FMU observed a moment of silence in his honor Thursday night before the men’s basketball team played host to Methodist University in its home opener.

Current Morning News sports reporter Scott Chancey said he is just heartbroken.

“You fought cancer SO hard,” Chancey wrote. “You now have the best seat in the house, from up high, to watch your beloved @dallascowboys.”

South Florence High School athletic director Bob Wilson also called the news heartbreaking.

“I have known Mark since he began at the Morning News while I was working at FMU and had a working relationship with him while I as at West Florence, Wilson and now South Florence,” Wilson said. “Not only was Mark a talented writer, but he was also fair to the coaches and players he covered. He will be missed.”

Haselden will be remembered at the Morning News not just as an outstanding journalist whose passion was writing about sports and people but as a wonderful person who was highly regarded in the newsroom and in the community, Morning News Editor Don Kausler Jr. said.

“We will miss his exceptional storytelling ability, his gentle manner, his sense of humor and his warm smile,” Kausler said. “I will miss talking about St. Louis Cardinals baseball and glory days with him.

“Mark’s talent could have gotten him a job anywhere, but Florence County was home. He cared about his community, and his community cared about him. That became quite evident in the past few years. It was my privilege to work with him for five of his 25 years here, and it broke my heart to see him suffer. What a true pro.”

South Florence football coach David Prince said he was sorry to hear the news.

“Prayers for the staff there and his family,” Prince said.

Al Calcutt, Hemingway High School’s football coach and athletic director, had something in common with Haselden.

“I’ve known Mark for quite a while, as we both grew up in Johnsonville,” Calcutt said. “He always had a love and passion for sports, but I’ll remember him for being a man of tremendous courage. He fought to the very end and still managed to lift the spirits of others while he was in such a difficult battle of his own. What a man! Rest in peace, Mark!”

Former Morning News Sports Editor Henry Miller said Haselden dealt with life and death with more grace, humility and even joy than we could ever ask of anyone.

“Oh, if all of us could emulate how he handled this even in the slightest of ways, I think our lives would all be better,” Miller said.

Tracy Tweed, a longtime Morning News staff memebr, said she remembers when Haselden started at the newspaper in 1993.

“We hit it off immediately,” she said. “Our friendship would only grow through the years. Mark was one of the most kind, honest, humble and loving individuals I have ever had the honor to cross paths with. He fought a long and hard battle. He never gave up. Even in his not-so-good days, he would still lift up and carry on. Even checking on others in their health battles. Mark always gave glory to God as he soldiered the fight. I believe Mark is looking down from heaven on this day and saying to all: Keep your chin up. Keep your heart full. And put your sword down. The fight is good. Amen.”

Hunter Thomas, a NASCAR writer with TheFourthTurn.com, said he was sad to hear the news.

“He was such a nice guy, and he absolutely loved the Pee Dee community and its sports,” Thomas wrote. “It didn’t matter if it were just kids playing around or if it was high school sports, college sports or NASCAR, he treated it all the same as he captured the stories. I communicated with Mark primarily through email, but I always got to see him during the Bojangles’ Southern 500 weekend at Darlington Raceway when he was writing for the Morning News. He always featured a smile and was eager to give advice to the young reporters in the deadline room. Godspeed, Mark.”

Gregg Hampton, a former Morning News assistant sports editor, called Haselden a very talented reporter and writer and an even better person.

“I can’t fathom the pain and suffering he went through with this horrible disease, but he went through it with humility, the strength of knowing he was going to a better place and with grace,” Hampton wrote.

Nicole Gustin worked with Haselden in the early to mid-90s at the Florence Morning News.

“He loved covering sports for the paper, and he was a fun guy with a great sense of humor,” she said. “Most of the fun times we had while working there included Mark, and everybody liked him.

“After I left the paper and moved to Boston, Mark and I stayed friends, and he came to visit me in Boston. We went to a Red Sox game together — my first — and he answered my many questions about the game. I will never forget that trip. He and I lost touch over the years, but I remember how important his family was to him then, and imagine that was still true up until the end. I am so sorry to learn of his passing, and send my deepest condolences to his family.”

Murray Hartzler, the director of athletics at Francis Marion University, called Haselden “one of the most professional sports writers I have ever been involved with.”

“He had high integrity and was extremely loyal to his alma mater and the Florence Morning News,” Hartzler said. “His presence will be greatly missed at all Patriot sporting events. It was my honor to have known him and to have considered him a friend.”

Emily Harris worked for Morning News as a night desk copy editor/page designer for a brief stint in 1996.

“One evening, Mark and I stopped at the First Union on Irby Street so I could grab cash from the ATM for dinner,” she said. “A tiny kitten sat in the middle of the sidewalk, almost daring me to pass it by. This kitten was so small and black, and I was worried it would be hit.

“I hadn’t gotten out of the car yet. I looked at Mark and said, ‘I’m gonna get that kitten.’ He said, ‘I know this.’ He had a smile on his lips and a twinkle in his eyes. He didn’t mention that I had a cat and that my roommate (Jackie) also had a cat. He helped me get the kitten in the car and deliver her to a coworker’s for cat-sitting until I completed my shift that night.

“Mark was just that kind of guy. He would help out people and animals. He was kind, patient, caring and loving. His death will leave a loss in the community.”

Charlie Nelson, a retired tennis coach and trainer, said Haselden “always would take time to speak to me, even when he was going through treatments. He was always fair to all teams and players. There was never a doubt of his Christian belief. Just know Mark will be missed and never forgotten.”

Former sports writer Denny Seitz started at the Morning News on the same day Haselden did.

“Mark was humble, generous and sincere,” Seitz said. “He always had a smile on his face. He was friends with everyone.”

Haselden wrote in his columns about his disease, starting with his Father’s Day weekend diagnosis in 2014 at age 46 — four years before the recommended age to start screening for colon cancer.

Because of a family history of colon cancer, he was scheduled to have a colonoscopy on July 31, 2014. Instead, he had surgery within hours of his colonoscopy and had a portion of his colon removed and a temporary colostomy put in place.

“I debated whether to even have the treatments at all,” Haselden wrote in an Oct. 25, 2014 column. “My surgeon, Dr. John Sonfield, is 100 percent confident that every bit of cancer was removed from my body. The medical community is divided nearly 50-50 whether patients in my case (removal of a stage two tumor that has not spread to lymph nodes or other organs) even need chemotherapy at all.

“But — and if you’re a cancer patient, you’ll understand this part — when the numbers were run, they told me if I took chemotherapy, the chances of the cancer recurring were five percent less than if I did not take it. Five percent doesn’t seem like much — until you’re staring a killer disease in its ugly face.”

By 2015, he was ready to move on, cancer free.

“And now that my body is rid of cancer, now that my colon functions normally, now that there is no colostomy pouch to make me more self-conscious than I already am, it has jarred my memory,” he wrote in an Aug. 24, 2015 column.

“I feel better today than I have in more than two years, minus the annoying-but-no-longer-painful neuropathy in my feet, a leftover effect of six months of chemotherapy. In recent years, my health has not been all that good. Well before I ever got the official diagnosis, I would have an occasional day where I just couldn’t do much at all, and I had no idea why.

“I’m putting that year-long battle in the past and moving on to the next one, whatever it happens to be. Because of what I’ve been through, I’ll be better prepared for whatever curveball life wants to throw at me next. And rest assured, at some point, it will throw a humdinger. But … one day at a time, one breath at a time.”

By 2017, the cancer had returned, and Haselden’s church, Greenwood Baptist Church, conducted a fundraiser to help defray the cost of his ongoing treatment.

On Sept. 5 of this year, Francis Marion University named the school’s annual athletics sportsmanship award after Haselden.

“It’s a great honor,” Haselden said. “As a sports writer, you don’t think about having your name put on an award. You think about the people who win those awards. Something like this never crossed my mind. Given what the award represents, I can’t think of another one to which I’d rather have my name attached. I’m so grateful to FMU President Dr. Fred Carter, athletics director Murray Hartzler and anyone at FMU who had anything to do with this. I’m truly humbled.”

Haselden continued to work until August, when he went on short-term disability to be able to better focus on his fight.

He leaves behind a wife of many years, Allison George Haselden, who fought at his side throughout, along with a host of friends.

Arrangements will be announced by Carolina Funeral Home in Scranton.

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