DeJesus at Christ turns into a big career change a year ago

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Had Steve Metsch been able to cover David DeJesus’ appearance at Advocate Children’s Hospital last year, I likely would not be writing this column.
DeJesus, a member of the Chicago Cubs last year, visited children at the hospital, a part of Christ Medical Center, in late August. The night before, I received an email from a SouthtownStar editor (I was freelancing there at the time) asking me to fill in for Metsch.
I accepted the assignment and, while waiting in the hospital lobby for DeJesus to arrive, bumped into Jeff Vorva, the new editor of the Reporter. Vorva had covered the Cubs for the Southtown longer than DeJesus played for the team.
But the most recent stop on his journalistic journey was at the Reporter. Not long after covering the DeJesus appearance, Vorva sent me an email asking if I was interested in working for the paper.
I enjoyed freelancing for the Southtown and had done it for a long time, but a fulltime position at the Reporter sounded appealing. I interviewed for the job and was hired a few days later.
Thanks, Steve. Had you covered the DeJesus assignment, who knows what I’d be doing today.
I see Steve quite a bit in the towns we both cover, especially Oak Lawn. He’s a solid, veteran reporter with whom I enjoy competing.
Of course, that’s a big part of what I enjoy about working at the Reporter. I’m covering many of the same towns that I wrote about while at the Southtown. I know Oak Lawn, Chicago Ridge, and Evergreen Park—the communities, the issues and their leaders.
The transition was simple. I merely told mayors, trustees and school district officials that I was still around, just working for a different paper. And covering the same towns means there’s no learning curve, no period of adjustment.
At first, I passed on an offer to write a weekly column. But when my closest elementary school friend died, I had to say something—commemorate him in some way.
And so the B-Side was born.
Unfortunately, I had to use the column space again to recall my relationship with a close high school friend who passed away. I’ll be just fine if I don’t have to write such a column a third time.
We struggled with a name for the column at first. But Vorva knows music, and I once said his musical knowledge was so deep that he knew the names of all the B-sides—the other side of a 45 record for all of you under 45.
Without hesitation, Val Draus, our sales rep, looked up from her desk and said, “The B-Side. That’s it.”
Writing the B-Side is one my favorite parts of the job each week, and I enjoy the feedback I’ve received. People are reading the column—my serious and not-so-serious musings about my family, the community, the old days and so forth. Thanks to everyone who takes the time.
The B-Side and ImPRESSions, Vorva’s weekly column, are two highlights of the Reporter that he and I work hard to produce each week. But the columns are just part what make us proud of the paper.
Jeff’s got a great eye for page design and creative flair, especially when it comes to headline writing. I possess neither skill. When I arrived, we struck up an agreement of sorts. He’d lay out the paper, write the headlines and edit copy while I kept a close eye on the six towns the Reporter covers—writing news, crime and feature stores and staying in touch with my sources.
It’s been a pretty good strategy, and readers have reacted positively to the look and content of the paper.
I’ve worked on some memorable stories during my first year. I cover Oak Lawn, the good, the bad and the ugly, as well as towns where the political tension isn’t so evident, such as Evergreen Park, Worth and Chicago Ridge.
I’ve written about the comeback of James Sexton, the Evergreen Park mayor who fought and beat West Niles Virus. I’ve known Jim a long time and truly admire what he went through during his return.

Even in bad times, listen for the music that is playing for us

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-Color There’s value in experiencing comfort from unlikely sources.
  My youngest daughter, Rhonda-Rene (age 3), is adamant about who she prefers between my husband, Don, and I. Especially when she gets hurt. Don’t let me be the first responder to a tumble if Don is nearby, she’ll contort her body until she’s broken free of me, to get to him. It leaves me left thinking, “Why won’t she let me comfort her?
  I suppose most of us have preferences for whom we’d rather be there for us when we’re hurting. When our preferred source isn’t available, it seems to magnify the pain, making us feel isolated and alone.
  Alone is just how my friend, Carmen felt when her husband of 35 years told her he was leaving. Not just leaving their marriage, but also leaving the country. Prior to this blindsiding blow, Carmen had been happy and upbeat. Her kids were grown and finally out of the house. She said, “This was the opportunity for reconnecting, traveling, and exploring new things together.” Now, she said she questioned her entire future. She was devastated. The only solace she could find in that moment was in God. She fled her house on foot and into an unfamiliar parish not far from her home.
  With no parishioners present, Carmen sat in an empty pew for two hours, crying uncontrollably. With a spinning head and puffy, red, eyes she finally gained enough composure to hear music coming from a distant room. “What’s that?” She asked herself, as she walked toward the harmony delighting her soul.
  It was a full musical band playing worship music. A small crowd of people attentively tuned in as they played. Carmen eased into a seat near the back. Once the musicians came to a close in their performance, one of them bellowed into his microphone, “Let us welcome our new sister.”
  Carmen glanced from side to side looking for who to acknowledge but all eyes gazed back into hers. This group then stood to their feet, greeting her one-by-one with a full embrace. In an instant, the flame to her anguish was snuffed with love from these unlikely sources.
  Carmen’s experience was an inspiration to me.
  Less than a year ago, I was dealt a painful blow myself.
  Little Rhonda-Rene’s diagnosis.
  She has special needs. She’s considered globally delayed with a sensory processing disorder and also has a finger deformity on both hands. The most severe impact of her disability is her speech, she has Apraxia. Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) is a motor speech disorder. Children with CAS have difficultly vocalizing sounds, syllables, and words. The brain insufficiently plans movement of the lips, jaw, or tongue needed for speech. Receptively, the child understands language and knows what they want to say, but his/her brain has trouble coordinating the muscle movements necessary to produce those words.
  For people known to have Apraxia, an intense therapy regimen is likely to bring about improvement. However, the root of Rhonda-Rene’s overall diagnosis comes from a gene mutation called FOXP1. This gene is one of two, dominant for language. According to the Baylor College of Medicine, Rhonda-Rene is one of seven children in the nation to have this specific mutation. The geneticist said, “We don’t know if she’ll ever be able to speak.”
  I tried to nod throughout the remainder of our conversation but I didn’t hear anything else after that. Mentally, I was like Carmen, sitting in an empty, church pew, desperate to understand God’s plan.
  Initially, I was a little like Rhonda-Rene in that, I had a preference for whom I wanted comfort from. I thought the people closest to us would be our soothing balm but it’s been the unlikely sources.
  Once Don and I had the opportunity to collect ourselves. We too began to hear music playing from distant places. Each time our intrigue led us into one door, a melody of voices directed us toward the loving embrace of various community programs, our school district, respite service, team of therapists’ and an awesome social worker.

Whither goeth the Chicago Tribune

  • Written by Charles Richards

 Remember the old saying, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall?” Or, referring to businesses, “The bigger, the dumber.”

  This column contains my personal memories of reading The Chicago Tribune for many years. Back in the 1950s and 60s, the Tribune was the dominant newspaper in Chicagoland. It actually printed every day on the front page “World’s Greatest Newspaper.” You will note that the first letter of each word is WGN, the designation of the Trib’s radio station and later WGN-TV. The Tribune was the darling of the Republicans, the conservatives and the wealthy. A lot of times those three designations applied to the same persons.
  The Chicago Sun-Times was the competing daily paper for the “working man” (i.e. the union member, blue collar worker and Democrat.) The Times was tabloid size, smaller than the “broadsheet” Tribune, also its circulation was markedy less than that of the Tribune.
  My earliest memory of the daily Tribune was the dominating two-inch high headline that ran at the top of page one. Also on page one was a big cartoon usually featuring excellent artwork and an appropriate caption. Inside each issue would be the editorial page, usually with a very clear conservative bias. There were lots of full page ads from stores like Marshall Fields. In short, the Tribune was a huge money-maker.

Our way or go away
  Like so many near-monopoly institutions, the culture of the majority of the employees in my personal experience was one of noticeable arrogance. In a phrase, their polices could be summed up as “Our way or go away.”
  Almost 40 years ago I spoke at a conference of weekly newspaper publishers and I listed the many times I had experiences in dealing with members of the Tribune staff. Then I concluded that someday this treatment of their customers could greatly harm the future success of The Tribune. And so I believe my warning ultimately came true, to some degree.
  Fast forward several decades. There erupted a major conflict between the handful of Tribune stock holders (many relatives of founder Col. Robert McCormick, a war hero and a wealthy man of strong opinions about Chicagoland, Illinois, Washington and the whole world.
  To solve the issue of letting this small number of stockholders cash in their stock holdings, the Tribune chose to “go public” meaning to sell shares on Wall Street. In my opinion this was the Trib’s first major mistake at least in my lifetime. (In fairness, I must confess that I don’t know of a better way to resolve the problem). As a point of local interest the Classified Advertising Manager Gil Paddock lived in Palos Heights, about a block from our family home. Upon retirement, instead of a gold watch, he was given one share of the original Tribune stock. Shortly after the firm went public, that single share was rumored to be worth one million dollars. In my opinion Mr. Paddock deserved that reward because about 60 percent of a daily newspaper’s income and profit comes from classified ads.

Radio Daze
  Later, in a shocking (to me) development, the top management of the paper was turned over, for the first time ever, to men whose primary experience had been in radio, not newspapers. In my personal opinion only, this marked the beginning of the decline of the once vaulted publication.
  Fast forward to more recent times. The Tribune converted from the old-fashioned “hot metal” production method to “offset lithography,” much as we did at my newspaper. This system was faster, cheaper, and produced a better appearance especially regarding photos. Newspapers had, for a number of year, been exempted from paying Illinois sales tax when buying presses. Unfortunately for the Tribune the exemption was not in place the year they bought the multi million dollar press line. I’m talking about a really huge amount of tax money. Over the years the Trib had accumulated a very large amount of debt which was not unusual for large, growing companies in all industries.

Debt is Evil
  I remember my Dad telling me that debt is evil, though sometimes a short-term necessary evil. His generation considered any bank loan rate above 3 percent was “usury” and that should be avoided at all times. He advised me to save up our income until we could buy printing machines with 100 percent down and NO monthly payments. I followed his advice and my company has been free of all forms of debt for almost 19 years.
  Most newspapers of all sizes and frequencies experienced “boom times” financially in the late 1990s through 9/11/2001. Changes in the business followed in short order. And these changed were not for the better!
  As the well-known philosopher on “Saturday Night Live” Roseanne Rosannadanna repeatedly stated, “Things will always go wrong. If its ain’t one thing, it’s something else.” How true her point proved to be when the internet burst on the U.S. main stage. Big daily newspaper were hurt the worst. Overnight they lost most of their classified ads and the accompanying revenue. Then the display auto and real estate advertising fled from newspapers to internet sites.

Free Falling
  It got even worse because circulation numbers began a free-fall as citizens got their news electronically at no direct cost to the viewer.
  Small local weekly mail-delivered papers suffered the least. But they did suffer. Why was that? Neighborhood newspapers cost only about $40 a year for a mail subscription or a dollar a week on the newsstands. Weeklies had a much more diverse adverting base and much less income came from classified ads, as little as 10 percent.
  But, most important, people truly wanted the very local news that they couldn’t find on the internet. Also local reporters knew their territories in depth. As cameras became instant and cheap, each reporter could double as a photographer, often using their cell phone. Furthermore color pictures became easier and cheaper to reproduce. The one thing parents like better than seeing their child’s name in a newspaper, is viewing their offspring in a color photo printed for all the town to see.

Hell under Zell
  Now back to the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune company was sold at the beginning of 2008. Investor Sam Zell was the buyer. About a year after Mr. Zell bought the Tribune, the entire company declared formal bankruptcy claiming $7.6 billion in assets and $13 billion in debt. Over 4,000 employees lost their jobs since the Zell purchase. Zell’s past experience had been in real estate, with none in newspapers. The Trib’s purchase of the Los Angeles Times proved to create more problems than solutions in my journalistic opinion.
  The Tribune Company emerged from bankruptcy after close to five years. In my opinion, today’s Tribune is a mere shadow of its former self. Most of my friends have cancelled their subscriptions, some moving to the Sun-Times, others to the Southtown Star, fewer to the many Internet sites. I am reminded of the TV show of my earlier mention, Saturday Night Live... still on, but barely worth watching.

Strange Approaches
  The Tribune, in recent years, tried some really strange approaches. One was printing two version’s each day, one tabloid and another broadsheet with identical content. Another project they put out was a really thin weekly stand-alone tabloid product called TribLocal which is free. It contains almost no local advertising and only a few local stories. Working in the newspaper business for over 40 years, I have absolutely no idea what prompted that publication.
  I sincerely believe everything in this column is true but I must admit that the happenings at the Trib may not be in perfect chronological order because all came only from my memory.
  I was recently asked on a local cable TV show, “Mr. Richards, how can your newspaper remain profitable when so many others are falling by the wayside?”

  I froze for a moment, fearing that my answer might be considered too egotistical. I finally responded with what I thought was a terrible answer. I said, “I guess it is simply because we (my staff and myself) know what we are doing.”
  Later my wife who is much smarter than me said “ there is nothing wrong with what you said because you spoke the truth.
  I told you she was smart!

CR 2About the author
Charles Richards was born in 1942. He began working weekends as a janitor at the Regional Building at 123rd and Harlem in Palos Heights. He began working summers in the print shop at age 16. He ultimately mastered every process in creating a newspaper. At Blue Island (now Eisenhower) High School he served as sports editor of the student newspaper. In 1960 he enrolled in the well-known Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. In his senior year he took a summer internship at a weekly newspaper near the Lake of the Ozarks. In his final year at Mizzou he served as a reporter, then copy editor for the town daily, The Columbia Missiourian, while working toward his masters degree in business, Richards assisted in teaching copy editing to undergraduate journalism students.
  After graduation he returned to the family owned “Palos Regional” weekly community newspaper. There he spent four years selling display advertising to local businesses. He later managed the conversion of the printing process to offset lithography.
  When his father Carl retired in 1970 Charles bought the company. When The Regional began serving Orland Park, the paper’s name was changed to The Regional News.

  In 1986, Richards bought a neighboring weekly paper called the Worth Palos Reporter. Later the name was shortened to The Reporter Newspaper. The Regional, in the 1990s, was named the “Best Small Weekly in Illinois five times by five different panels of judges from five different states in contests sponsored by the Illinois Press Association.
  The Regional Printing Company specializes in printing high school and college student newspaper and college class schedules. The company employees 25 full time and 15 part-time staff members. The Palos Regional will celebrate its 74th anniversary in October. Its circulation is stable.
  When asked the reason for his successful career, Richards replied, “My grandfather was a newspaper publishers, my father was as well. I had the best possible education as well as on the job training. Failure was never an option he said. If I did fail, I would have no one to blame.” Now, in retirement, he is excited that his daughter Amy had taken the reins as Regional Publisher.


Let’s consider this – some of us are just a couple of bad breaks from being homeless

  • Written by Bob Rakow

I saw a Facebook post the other day complaining about homeless people working various intersections in our communities. It wasn’t an angry rant, but it didn’t exactly make a case for helping these folks either.
The post simply stated that the homeless people shouldn’t be seen at the intersections in our towns. It referenced 95th Street and Ridgeland Avenue, but if you’re out and about on a regular basis, you know that homeless or underprivileged folks—not all of them are homeless, I suspect—work several intersections in many Southland towns.
There’s no question their numbers have increased of late. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see two homeless folks working the same intersection. Harlem Avenue at 143th Street is a good example. Rising unemployment, the lack of homeless shelters and a decrease in mental health facilities are some of the reasons why we see more people who live on life’s fringes seeking our help.
They walk between the rows of cars lined up at busy intersections, often displaying hastily put together cardboard signs that mention that they’re homeless, out of work or willing to work. One man I’ve seen even mentions that he has a cell phone and will take any odd job.
Anything to get by. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Most drivers stare straight ahead and don’t give these people a nickel. Now and then, someone will roll down their window and offer spare change or a dollar.
Many hesitate to contribute because they believe their contributions will be used to purchase drugs or alcohol. Still others hold onto the foolish belief that these folks should simply get a job rather than beg.
I’m sure some people who work the corners do use the money for drugs and alcohol rather than food and shelter. I suppose various addictions and dependencies are what lead to homeless in the first place. It’s a vicious circle.
Others are probably so accustomed to their current circumstances that survival mode is all they know. Clearly they’d need significant help transitioning into everyday society. Maybe they don’t want to rejoin society or become productive. Maybe the idea scares them. I don’t know.
The intersection of 87th Street and Pulaski Road is another popular spot for those shaking a cup. My wife and I see them frequently when we travel through that area. It’s a busy intersection with long lights. I imagine that makes it a good corner for soliciting donations.
My wife tired of offering a dollar here and loose change there to one of the men who routinely works the intersection, so she occasionally bought him food at McDonald’s instead. Judging from the speed at which he ate the food, it was pretty clear he was hungry.
Most of us have never been hungry. We may have missed a meal or two or faced tough times when it was difficult to keep food on the table. But we’ve never stood on a corner, hoping strangers will offer enough money to buy some food and maybe afford a room at a cheap motel.
There’s no shortage of opinions when it comes to people who beg for money. Some, a minority, are happy to help out. In fact, one of the first responders to the Facebook poster noted that some of us are just one or two bad breaks from homelessness. Job loss, serious illness, the death a family’s chief provider. Just a few bad breaks, and many people are facing real trouble.
Not everyone has a safety net when adversity hits. They have little or no savings, no friends or family who can help out in the short term. Next thing they know, they’re on the streets or living in their car—a slightly better option, I suppose.
But the Facebook poster complaining about the presence of homeless people on street corners likely didn’t give that a thought. It’s far easier to grumble about something that’s unpleasant to see, something that reminds us that the less fortunate are members of our community. There was a time when the homeless were only seen downtown. They had regular spots where they hit up passers for money. But they rarely were seen in the neighborhoods we called home.
Times have changed. And I don’t have an answer for this dilemma. I’d like to think we could do better than forcing people to beg for money at busy intersections. I know we can do better than complaining about it.

A look at nine accidental presidents

  • Written by Don C. White

History-Don-White-logo  We have had a total of nine accidental presidents.
  An accidental president occurs if a sitting president is impeached, dies in office or resigns.
  Two presidents were impeached by the House of Representatives but both were acquitted by the Senate. Eight presidents died in office — four of natural causes and four were assassinated. One president resigned from office in disgrace rather than face impeachment charges.
  All nine accidental presidents knew as sitting vice-presidents they were a heartbeat away from the highest office in the land. None of them were any more qualified to become president than the men they replaced. Training to be president begins minutes after the oath of office is administered.
  The following is a list of the nine accidental presidents with a brief comment of their time in office:

John Tyler
  John Tyler, No. 10 overall, was the first accidental president. He replaced William Henry Harrison who died on April 4, 1841, just 30 days after taking office. President Tyler finished the term and did not run again. One of his last acts was to sign bills admitting Texas and Florida as states.
  President Tyler died on Jan. 18, 1862 in Richmond, Va. before he could take his seat in the Confederate House. Could some consider him a traitor?

Millard Fillmore
  Millard Fillmore, our 13th president, served the remaining term of President Zachary Taylor. As president, Fillmore signed into law the Compromise of 1850 which helped delay the conflict over slavery. He was rejected by the Whig party to run for another term.

Andrew Johnson
  Andrew Johnson, No. 17, was sworn in on April 15, 1865 after President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. President Johnson spent much time fighting Congress over reconstruction. In 1867 the U.S. purchased Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million dollars. In 1868 Johnson was impeached by the House, but was acquitted by one vote in the Senate.

Chester Arthur
  Chester Arthur, No. 21, was sworn in on Sept. 20, 1881 one day after the assassination of James A. Garfield. President Arthur signed into law the Pendleton Civil Service Act, tariff reform legislation and the Edmonds Anti-Polygamy Bill aimed at the Mormons in Utah. He was defeated for the Republican nomination in 1884.

Theodore Roosevelt
  Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president, was sworn in on Sept. 14, 1901 after the assassination of William McKinley. He was elected to a full term in 1904. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for arbitrating the end of the Russo-Japanese War. He did not seek reelection in 1908, but in 1912 he left the GOP and ran on the Progressive (“Bull Moose”) ticket. He lost the election to Woodrow Wilson.

Calvin Coolidge
  John Calvin Coolidge, No. 30, was sworn in on August 3, 1923 after the death of Warren G. Harding. In 1924 Coolidge was elected, but did not run again in 1928. He sent U.S. Marines to Nicaragua in 1925 during that country’s civil war. He vetoed the McNary-Haugen farm bill in 1926 and in 1928 vetoed the relief measure.

Harry Truman
  Harry S. Truman, No. 23, was sworn in on April 12, 1945 following the sudden death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. On May 7, 1945 Germany surrendered and after we dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan surrendered in September, 1945.
  He was elected in the “political upset” of 1948. He sent U.S. troops to Korea in 1950. Then in 1951 he relieved General Douglas MacArthur of his command. In 1952 Truman declined to seek reelection.

Lyndon B. Johnson
  Lyndon B. Johnson, our 36th president, was sworn in on Air Force One on Nov. 22, 1963 after the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. In 1964 he was elected to a full term.
  He signed an $11.5 billion tax reduction bill and a major civil rights bill. He ordered the bombing of targets in North Vietnam in 1965. He started Medicare, the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1965 and in 1966 the Department of Transportation was formed.

Gerald Ford
  Gerald R. Ford, No. 38, was sworn in on Aug. 8, 1974 as Richard M. Nixon winged his way to California in disgrace. On Oct. 10, 1973 vice president Spiro T. Agnew resigned from office and Gerald Ford was appointed to replace him. Among the first things that President Ford did was to appoint Nelson A. Rockefeller vice-president. Then he did something that many of us could not understand — he gave President Nixon a full and absolute pardon. In April 1975 South Vietnam surrendered to the Communists ending the war in Southeast Asia. In 1976 President Ford led the nation in celebrating the country’s 200th birthday. Later in 1976 he was defeated by Jimmy Carter in the presidential election.
  My choice for the top three accidental presidents in alphabetical order are: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.

Don C. White is a historian from Palos Hills.