SINCE I wrote a couple of columns about my technology-possessed newest car a few months ago, I’m still being asked by readers how I’m getting along with “Christine II” these days. As you may recall, I named the car “Christine II” after the movie “Christine”, the demonic, automotive star of that scary movie. From the day I bought “Christine II”, she has been nagging me to do things, interrupting radio programs, sending me messages and even restarting herself without my permission...or so it seems.
I THINK the last time I wrote about “Christine II” I indicated that I fully expected her to drive off on her own and leave me stranded somewhere. I was joking, of course. My brother-in-law in Texas read my column and sent me some information about driverless cars. I read this morning about the Cadillac that’s coming out in a few years which will do the driving and the car’s operator can sit back and enjoy the ride. We’ve always had that option. It’s called being a “passenger” instead of the driver of a car. So...big deal.
THE OTHER day, I needed something from Farm & Fleet so I parked “Christine II” far away from the entrance in a section of the lot where the doors wouldn’t get nicked up. I figured not anything bad could happen if the car was isolated in a wide, open area of the lot. So, I walked the distance to the store’s entrance, found the item I needed, paid for it and walked out of Farm & Fleet headed for my car.
THEN, something really strange happened. “Christine II” was gone! I kid you not. She had vanished! I continued to scan the lot for a few seconds and all I saw was some guy who had the trunk lid up on his car. He looked as if he was getting ready to get something out of it. His car was the same color as my car. Wait a minute! His car was my car! I STARTED walking briskly towards my car and, when he saw me coming, he started walking away and left my car’s trunk lid open. I knew he hadn’t taken anything because there wasn’t anything in the trunk to take and he wasn’t carrying anything away with him.
WHAT IN the world was my car, “Christine II” doing with her trunk lid open and some stranger checking it out? Apparently, when I walked away and hit the remote button to lock the car, I must have hit the trunk lock instead and popped it open...at least I guess that’s what happened. The trunk lid must have been up all the time I was in Farm & Fleet. The stranger, seeing the trunk lid open with nobody near the car, was apparently curious enough to check it out -- and that’s when I showed up!
IF YOU are the man who was looking into the open trunk of a car parked in a deserted part of the parking lot at Farm & Fleet recently -- you don’t know how fortunate you are. Had I returned to “Christine II” a little later I might have seen the trunk lid partially closed with your two legs dangling outside -- like the jaws of a crocodile clamped down on you!
WHEN I was a kid in school we would sing: “Never smile at a crocodile. No, you can't get friendly with a crocodile. Don't be taken in by his welcome grin. He's imagining how well you'd fit within his skin.” That pretty much describes “Christine II”, so stay away from my car. Don’t be “taken in” by her open trunk lid. You have been warned. You know, some days, I think I’m editor of “Car & Driver” magazine, instead of the Decatur Tribune.
* * * *
Sometimes, Irritations Are Blessings In Disguise
ONE recent Saturday I jumped in the newspaper’s cargo van and headed for a service station to fill up the gas tank before one of our employees would use it to haul Tribunes on Wednesday. I had a lot to do that day and the interruption to take the time to fill up the newspaper cargo van was going to make the day even busier. So, I drove the van up to the only pump available, which was behind another car. After the driver of the other car finished filling the tank, he drove away, Within a very short time, before I could drive out, a car was driven into the vacated lane in front of me, facing me. I was going to have to back up to get out of the lane -- which is not that easy to do with a 3/4 ton cargo van.
I FINISHED paying for the gasoline and climbed into my van and started to carefully back up so I could work my way out of the station. After I had slowly backed up to where I could get free, I stepped on the brake pedal and it went all the way to the floor! I had no brakes! Since I was moving only a few miles per hour in backing up, I was able to pump enough braking out of the pedal to get the van stopped -- and then the brakes were completely gone!
WHEN I climbed out of the van and looked underneath, brake fluid was flowing out all over the place. A station employee came out, looked at the van and indicated something had happened to the brake line. He said he could fix it, but it would be Monday before he could look at it, since the repair department was closing for the day. So, he towed the van to the back of the station and I was going to call someone to pick me up, but -- for the first time since I started using a cellphone many years ago, I had left it at the office. I borrowed the worker’s phone to make the call, find someone to pick me up and wait as my day disintegrated.
MONDAY, the employee at the station called and said repairing the van was going to require more expertise than they had and asked if I had a preference to where it should be towed. So, I had him tow it to the auto repair business of a man who has done so much work on that van that he is on a first name basis with it. There’s a lot more I could write about this incident, that started with just putting some gas in the van and continued with one of my frequent excursions into the Twilight Zone -- but I’ll stop. IT WAS all pretty irritating, but then I started thinking about everything and realized what a blessing it was that it happened the way that it did. Let me explain. If the driver who had pulled into the station and parked his car in the opposite direction had not done so, I probably would have driven out of the station with no brakes and wouldn’t have gone very far without hitting, or being hit, by another car the first time I tried to stop. Someone, including myself, could have suffered serious injuries -- or worse.
WHAT if an employee of the Tribune had been delivering newspapers in the van when the brakes gave out? He could have been injured or could have injured someone else. What if it had happened on a Wednesday instead of a Saturday -- creating all sorts of problems in getting the newspapers delivered? If it was going to happen, could it have happened at any better place than where it did -- where a tow truck was within 30 feet of the brakeless van? I had received some real “breaks” on the “brakes”.
AFTER I thought about all of those possibilities, why in the world should I complain or feel any irritation? Sometimes, when irritating things happen to us, they can be blessings in disguise and may prevent something much worse from happening. That’s why, the next time someone causes me an inconvenience, I will smile and say “Thank You” -- at least that’s my plan for now.
Reprinted from Sept. 3 edition of the Decatur Tribune.
* * * *
How We Got From Larry Lujack To City’s Noise Ordinance
I’VE been hearing some “noise” about the City of Decatur’s Noise Ordinance lately and it is of special interest to me. Back in 2003, I had only been mayor for a few months when we passed the noise ordinance. It was in response to the pleas of many in some of our neighborhoods that the loud music, coming at all hours from cars in the area, made it impossible for children and other residents to sleep. People were pleading for relief.
THE RESIDENTS who lobbied us (Mayor McElroy was a councilman at that time, along with present councilman Pat Laegeler) weren’t talking about ordinary noise. They were talking about music so loud that it rattled the windows and filled the neighborhoods with very loud music that could be heard inside homes even if all of the windows and doors were closed. As a council, we listened, we acted, and passed the noise ordinance. After the ordinance was passed, for several weeks, I was often stopped on the street and thanked by people who had been enduring the loud music. One woman told me that she was able to get a good night’s sleep for the first time in a long time.
ELEVEN YEARS later, complaints are being heard about the severity of the fines and I think there is some justification in the criticism. If music can be heard from 75 feet or more away from a vehicle, violators can be fined: $250.00 each for the owner and driver of the car, or a $500 fine if the owner and driver are the same person. The vehicle is also confiscated until the fine is paid and violators must pay the towing fee which can accumulate for every day the vehicle is not picked up.
RECENTLY, some citizens ap-peared before the city council and complained that the noise ordinance violation fines are working hardships on some people because they don’t have the money to pay the fine and get their car which they need to drive to work. Of course, a logical response would be: “Turn down your music’s volume and you won’t be in violation.” However, even though I still believe in the noise ordinance we passed eleven years ago, I also feel the council should take another look at the fines. I believe a modest fine is appropriate for a first time violator, with the warning that the next time it happens, there will be serious consequences. That will be enough for some violators to control the “noise”. Save the higher fine for the repeat offender who disregards the warning.
THERE has also been some criticism about the police and “racial profiling” because of the high number of African-Americans who are arrested under the law. I don’t believe that accusation is valid because Police Chief Todd Walker would not allow such a practice in his department. As I recall back at the time we passed the ordinance in 2003, most of the people who asked me to do something about the noise in their neighborhoods were African-American citizens (including one pastor). I never viewed our actions as a black/white issue. The ordinance was passed to apply to everyone equally although the noise complaints I received were coming from predominately black neighborhoods.
I’M old enough to remember that I liked to listen to WLS with Dick Biondi and Larry Lujack decades ago and I played the music on my car’s AM radio fairly loud when I was cruisin’ down Eldorado or parked in Steak ‘n Shake. Back then, carhops served food orders on metal trays that clipped to the car’s window. Even though we often played our AM radios louder than we should have, the “noise” was tame when compared to the amplification of music in some of today’s cars. If the deafening level of music generated by today’s systems would have been in existence 50 years ago, it would have shaken the Steak ‘n Shake metal trays right off the windows of our cars! That’s why we passed a noise ordinance in the City of Decatur.
Some Musings From The Editor's Overworked Mind
• Several times a year, for many years, I received an anonymous card from someone who belittled something I had written. I suspected a person I had known for many years of being the writer, but he moved away from Decatur and I hadn’t seen him for a long time. I thought it wasn’t worth the effort to find out if he was the one even though the cards continued (with various postmarks) after he moved. In fact, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and felt he wouldn’t be sneaky enough to send such nasty anonymous cards for years. The man died two years ago -- and I haven’t received a card from the anonymous writer since the day that he died. I think my suspicion was accurate -- unless, of course, I receive another card. (I haven’t for two years.)
• I see young men on the street walking around using one hand to hold up their “low riding” pants. When they get much older, and the middle age spread hits them, many of them will be using two hands to keep up their pants because their belly will be pushing them down. It’s good they’re practicing now for what they will have to do later in life.
• I think some of the people who are overweight today were skinny when they attended high school. Today, there’s probably a third of their body weight that wasn’t there when they graduated from high school, which means one-third of their body does not have a formal education.
• I still call the parking garage on the southeast corner of Main and Franklin streets “the one south of Sears” even though it’s been a decade since the Decatur Public Library moved into the former Sears building.
• Why do people who disagree with you always have “a lot of friends” who all agree with them on any issue? What’s wrong with simply saying, “This is my opinion”?
• My cost for basic cable service was once $29.95 per month and now, with all of the cost saving packages offered to me over the years my cost for cable is nearly $150 per month! If cable saves me any more money, I won’t be able to afford it!
• I did an experiment the other night. When the television program I was watching had a commercial break, I switched to another channel to see how many times a commercial break was on that channel at the same time. I tried switching to a different channel each time a commercial break came on and ended up with commercials on the channel I switched to... 17 out of 20 times! This information is of no value to anyone but it was research that I could do with a remote control and without moving off of the couch.
• When I go into a local restaurant and place my order at the counter, the cashier (usually new on the job) asks for a name for to write on the receipt so she (or he) can call my name when the order is ready. You should have seen the momentary look of shock on her face when she asked for a name to write on the ticket and I replied “Brad Pitt”. (She didn’t specify she wanted my name.) Another time when she asked “Can I have your name?” I replied “What would I do for a name if I gave mine to you?” (I’m just trying to spread cheer as I go through life.) • I’m spelling TRIBNE this way so those who are always checking this newspaper for mistakes won’t have to spend a lot more time looking. It’s another service of your friendly edditor and publeshure.
* * * *
My Newest Car Has A Mind Of Its Own
I BOUGHT my first car when I was in high school. The old (even then) 1951 used black Chevy had an AM radio, a clock that didn’t work, a straight shift transmission, an accelerator, brake and clutch pedals, lights, a few other basics and no air conditioning. It was simple and easy to drive, like all cars manufactured in the 1950s. I really liked driving that car through the Steak ‘n Shakes on Eldorado and North Main Street. I have a lot of fond memories of that time and having the freedom that a car brought to my young life. FAST FORWARD to 2014 and the car I bought a few months ago. It has so much technology built into it that I feel it is driving itself and I’m just along for the ride. I have a few other cars (including the 1979 Classic Corvette) but I bought this car to drive back and forth to the office. I opened the door to the car when it was dark and, with all of the illumination, buttons and lights on the dash, I thought I was climbing into the cockpit of a jet. It lights up like a Christmas tree.
THE CAR is always sending me messages -- and sometimes it talks to me. (Honest, it really does.) I’ve received quite a few FINAL NOTICE emails and letters from OnStar informing me that my car’s trial subscription to the service will expire soon unless I renew. I don’t need or want OnStar. I drive back and forth to the office and it takes about 5 to 10 minutes on heavily-traveled roads. It’s true that I could get in an accident someday and not be able to call for help, and OnStar could do it for me, but that’s not happened in all of the decades I’ve been driving, starting with that used 1951 Chevy. Besides, that’s another $300 a year.
THE CAR is always beeping to warn me about something. Nag. Nag. Nag. Once I was messaged (while I was still on my first tank of gas) that it was time to have my car serviced -- I hadn’t even driven it a hundred miles! One early morning I was driving to work on South Side Drive, listening to WSOY, and just at the moment something was being said that I really wanted to hear -- the radio went dead! A few seconds later, OnStar comes through my radio and gives me the “Final Notice” speech! I hit the radio’s off button but the voice kept talking. I couldn’t shut it up! My car is possessed!
A FEW DAYS ago, I shut off my car after arriving at the office. For some reason, a few minutes later, I walked back to the car and the engine was still running. Had I not gone back, the car would have been running all day -- or until it ran out of gas. I’m going to check the service manual to see if “exorcism” is included in the warranty. I HAVE no problem with modern technology and use it extensively in the production of this newspaper. I would hate to go back to the old way we published the Tribune decades ago. But, it seems to me that dealing with a lot of today’s technology, does not relieve stress but creates a lot more. Honest, I really like my car but I come from a generation where the car responded to me, instead of me responding to the car.
IT’S GOING to take some adjustment on my part, but I have to admit, I doubt if I do anything beyond learning the basics of how to drive from my home to the office. I have an eerie feeling that, if I’m ever in an accident, the voice will come over the radio to tell me “you could have killed us all!” or “you should have let me do the driving!”. Or, if a police officer pulls me over for speeding, the car will tell the officer “I told him he was driving too fast, but he doesn’t listen to me!” SO, IN this age of technological advancements, one of the greatest “improvements” (if you want to call it that) in automotive history is that we’ve taken the nagging “back seat driver” and put “it” in the front seat. All of this reminds me of the movie “Christine”, which was the name of the car that had a twisted mind of her own. Guess what? Christine has a daughter, Christine II, and she parks herself at home in my garage! I’m writing this, instead of speaking it, because I’m afraid my car will hear me and I’ll be walking home tonight. Looks like I’ll be driving my ‘79 Corvette a lot more this summer -- but please keep that just between us. Christine II may be listening.
* * * *
* * * *
The Sound Of The 1974 Explosion Is Still With Me
I WAS sound asleep in my home on Decatur’s north side on that early July 19, 1974, morning when I was suddenly awakened by a huge blast and vibration! I didn’t know it then, but I had heard, and felt, the horrific explosion at the N&W Railway Yard. I jumped out of bed and looked out the window to see if there was a bad storm, with loud thunder, underway. It was clear outside. That’s when I knew it couldn’t be anything but an explosion, probably at one of Decatur’s industries and I needed to get the story for the Decatur Tribune.
OBVIOUSLY, there were no cellphones, home computers or any form of “instant communication” available back then to immediately pin point what had happened. I made a couple of quick calls and didn’t learn much except there had been an explosion somewhere in the northeast side of Decatur. I jumped into my car and decided to head for the area where the explosion most likely took place. I saw a lot of people standing in their yards and looking towards the east and I headed towards where they were looking.
I DROVE onto Garfield and headed east and, when I got closer to the area of Brush College Road, I saw several police cars with their lights flashing. When I prepared to turn right on Brush College, a policeman signalled for me to turn around and get out of there. I pointed to the “PRESS” sticker in the front window of my car, but it didn’t mean much to him, so I knew something really bad had happened. I turned my car around and, a few blocks away, took a left on a side street to see if I could find out what had happened. I didn’t realize that I was driving right into one of the neighborhoods that had been impacted by the explosion!
SUDDENLY, I saw homes that appeared to have been hit by a tornado with some of the houses destroyed. No police or emergency vehicles were in the area. It was like I was the first to be there and, since the police were not blocking the streets to the neighborhood, I wondered if they were aware of what had happened there -- or were simply undermanned to deal with all areas impacted by the explosion. I started to look for victims to help but found none. One especially eerie sight was a home where the walls and roof had been blown off, but breakfast was on the table in the kitchen, like people were getting ready to eat and just disappeared!
ABOUT the same time I saw that sight and started looking for anyone who needed help, Larry Limbach, who was a broadcaster on WDZ showed up and, as we were looking at the kitchen and the table set for breakfast, the phone rang in what was left of the house! Larry went over and answered it but the line was dead. That was weird. Larry told me the explosion had been in the railyard and the police were keeping everybody away from there. I shot some photos of the damage for the Tribune, got into my car and drove to where I could find a telephone. I called the GE Cablevision station at North Water and Grand Avenue, where I did a nightly “Decatur Diary” broadcast, and told them to get the mobile production truck to where I was so we could shoot some footage of the damage caused by the blast.
THE TECHNOLOGY back then was far different than it is now. They loaded a big studio camera into a huge truck and headed to where I was. By this time, all of the area was under police and sheriff’s control and roadblocks were set up to prevent us from getting back into the neighborhood I had been in earlier. The television truck was about as big as a tank, so there was no way to get into the area and shoot some video. The police weren’t letting anyone close to the explosion site. One newspaper reporter, when he insisted he had a right to be inside the scene, was promptly placed against a car hood and handcuffed! I had the photos I had shot earlier for the Tribune when I managed to get inside the area initially, so that night, I stuck all of the prints on the storyboard in the news studio and my live television show focused on the still photos to show the damage while I described what I saw. That was highly unusual for live TV -- but that was all we had.
THE N&W explosion made the national television news programs that evening and, as I recall, the footage they had was shot from a helicopter. When the official report on the explosion was issued from the National Transportation Safety Board it reported 7 fatalities, 33 serious injuries, 316 other injured persons, and $18 million in property damage. As a result of the explosion the industry adopted new safety standards to prevent such accidents from happening again. While the explosion was bad, we knew it could have been a lot worse. If the explosion had happened at a time of day and year when Lakeview High School was in session, there could have been a high number of students and teachers seriously injured or killed. The school sustained so much damage that students had to attend Stephen Decatur High School with the SDHS students that fall -- with the students from each school attending a half day.
FORTY years have passed since that terrible explosion and loss of life, but even today, when there is a clap of thunder so loud that it awakens me, my first thought is about “an explosion” somewhere in Decatur. I think there’s a lot of people reading this newspaper today who are often reminded of July 19, 1974, when they read of an explosion somewhere or hear a loud “blast” early in the morning. There’s just some sounds in our lives that remain as fresh decades later as when we first hear them -- and the explosion of July 19, 1974, was one of those sounds that will remain with me for as long as I live.
* * * *
It Was The Door Of Opportunity Fifty Years Ago
A FEW WEEKS ago, I mentioned in this column that I started the business that prints this newspaper 50 years ago on July 15, 1964. Since I referred to it then in references about the Hall of Fame induction, I thought I would ignore anything about it when the actual date came around. After all, a lot of people start their own businesses each year -- and many work hard and find success. I thought I would just let it pass.
HOWEVER, I have to admit, when Tuesday morning (July 15) arrived I decided to walk from my office to the fifth floor of our building and pause before the door of Suite 538. I stood there for a few minutes, at the very time when, 50 years earlier, I had opened the door to my first office. Back then, the old door on Suite 538
had frosted glass and “Osborne Publications” had just been painted in black letters on the pane. Our building was called the Standard Office Building 50 years ago and the manager of the building had given me the first half month’s rent free to help me get started, probably suspecting I didn’t have the money for a full month. (He was right.)
WE HAD a three month old son when I left my job working for an alumni relations firm at the University of Illinois campus. I hadn’t worked there very long, but I missed Decatur and decided to start my own publishing business. I had exactly $50 in my bank account on that first day. Looking back, everything about this venture was a check list on “How To Start A Business And Fail”, but I never thought about failing. Maybe, that was because I was so young and, as the saying goes, “I didn’t know what I didn’t know” about the business world.
WHAT I lacked in knowledge, capital, or any kind of a business plan, I made up with enthusiasm and a lot of hard work -- the kind of enthusiasm you have and the work you can do, when you are young and think you can whip the world! July 15, 1964, came and went in Suite 538 and there wasn’t a single phone call or customer. I learned a valuable lesson that first day: if I wanted business -- I had to go after it and not wait for it to come to me.
I HIT the downtown sidewalks the next day and played the numbers game. I figured the more businesses I called on the better my odds were of success. One business owner on East Main Street literally threw me out of his store! I think he had a “thing” against all salesmen, so it wasn’t anything personal. (He later became a customer.) I could fill a book (as can most entrepreneurs) of all the bad experiences and rejection, but some downtown businessmen were willing to give “the kid” a chance -- and I’ll never forget their confidence in me. I made very little money that first year and barely survived -- but I learned an awful lot (mostly the hard way) and made a lot of friends.
WITHIN five years the growth was substantial enough that we were able to start adding other graphic arts and publishing businesses -- and over time newspapers, radio and television programming and broadcast studio, including the daily “Newsline” program were purchased or created. The Decatur Tribune became my favorite part of the business and, obviously, it is still dear to my heart. Our offices moved four times to larger quarters downtown and we added a number of employees. AS I walked back to my present office Tuesday I couldn’t help but think about where I would be living, or what I would be doing today, had I not opened that office door for the first time July 15, 1964. But, I didn’t think about it very long because I have the great blessing of being able to do exactly what I love doing in this newspaper and in Decatur. THANKS to God -- my family members, friends, employees, bankers, readers and so many others, who contributed in countless ways to bring this business to its 50th anniversary. Believe me, it hasn’t been easy, but it sure has been exciting and rewarding. When we downsized the operation several years ago and focused on the Tribune, we moved our offices back to the building where it all started, but in larger offices. It was like coming home -- and I am only steps away from where it began.
ON JULY 15, 1964, when I stood before the door of Suite 538, I wasn’t standing in front of a two-room office. I was standing in front of “the door of opportunity” and, thank God, I opened it and walked inside. My life was never the same and it’s been a great journey so far -- and, God willing, I still have miles left to travel. It’s the start of the second 50 years and, hopefully, I can avoid being thrown out of any stores this time -- but I’m not making any promises.
* * *
We Live In An ‘Awesome’ World These Days
I OVERHEARD a conversation recently that provided the stimulus for this week’s column. Two twenty-something women were talking fairly loud in a restaurant where I was seated in the booth next to them. One of them, during the course of the conversation that I couldn’t help but hear, said: “This beef sandwich is awesome!”
“AWESOME?” Really? The woman had a sandwich that left her in “awe”? The meaning of the word “awe” is: “A mixed feeling of reverence, fear and wonder.” I guess she meant that eating that beef sandwich was somewhat of a deep meaningful experience filled with “fear and wonder”. Her “awesome” statement seemed to be on the level of the reaction of the shepherds who were told of the birth of Jesus! I was expecting her to fall on her knees and look to the heavens with “fear and wonder” after eating a beef sandwich that was so “awesome”!
AS MOST of you know, the meaning of “awesome” has been somewhat diluted in recent years to the point that it is one of the most used words to describe something good, or great, that we have today and that apparently includes a beef sandwich. Popular words come and go and for those of us who remember a time when such words as “awesome” were used for something that really was “awesome”, it still takes a little adjustment to hear it used so much today. To us, “awesome”, as it is used today, means something different from when we heard or used it sparingly years ago.
I RECEIVED a letter the other day which had the word “URGENT” (in all caps) which I interpreted as a letter with a notification of something like I had won a lottery that I had never entered, or that my home was located over a sink hole and I would have to move immediately, or the federal government had reinstated the draft and I was being called to active service. So, I immediately tore into the envelope only to discover I was being notified that the deadline for buying something meaningless was about to arrive. It was just another advertisement that I threw in the waste basket -- with great urgency! Like “Awesome”, “Urgent” does not mean today what it meant a few decades ago.
“EMERGENCY” is another word that is often used today that depicts something far different than it once did. For many people today, an “emergency” is having their cellphone battery go dead in the middle of a conversation, or making a late night “emergency” run to the supermarket because they ran out of cigarettes and are about to have a nicotine fit.
I THINK every generation adopts its own words (or changes the meaning of old words) to use in making a point or promoting something they like -- or dislike. There’s no doubt the internet has caused serious changes in the use of words -- and even in their spelling. What hasn’t changed are the curse words that continue to be used by some members of every generation -- and the meaning of those words has never changed. What I find most interesting with the “curse words” that some people use, is they are always the same words. There are no new curse words. The same ones have been around forever. I guess that shows a lack of creativity on the part of those who swear. RECENTLY, one of my granddaughters posted on her Facebook page that I was an “awesome” grandpa. Of course, I was very flattered and feel the same way about her and all of our grandchildren. However, I try not to let such a compliment go to my head. All I have to do is remember, that for some people, like the woman in the restaurant at the beginning of this column, “awesome” merely puts me on a level with a good beef sandwich! That’s “awesome” to think about!
* * * *
Double Honor To Be Inducted Into Decatur Hall Of Fame
With Bill Eichenauer
WHEN Mayor Mike McElroy came to my office a few weeks ago and told me that I was going to be inducted, along with the late Bill Eichenauer, into Decatur’s Hall of Fame, I was almost speechless -- and you know that’s unusual for me. Plaques of the members of the Hall of Fame are on the brick wall to the left as you enter the civic center. No one has been named to the Hall of Fame for nearly 20 years. It’s the mayor’s intention via a nominating process to honor citizens who have made a difference in the community. I know many in our community who have worked to make Decatur a better place -- and that’s why I am very humbled to have been chosen.
IT’S NOT only an honor to be selected, but a double honor to be inducted with the late William “Bill” Eichenauer. Bill was not only my friend, but a giant booster of this community. He had a built-in enthusiasm for Decatur that could not be stifled. That big smile you see in the photo at the top right, that I shot of him in my office a few years before he died, captures that outgoing personality that touched virtually everyone he met.
OVER THE YEARS he stopped by my office many times full of enthusiasm with an idea he had for Decatur. Sometimes he had just thought of it while driving around Central Park and couldn’t wait to share it with me! There are many people reading this column who experienced the same relationship with Bill, whether the idea was for the West End, Richland Community College, Millikin University or other projects in Decatur. I was mayor when the Greater Decatur Chamber of Commerce started the “Citizen of the Year” award in 2007. It was an award presented to someone who had done a lot for the community.
AS MAYOR, it was my choice to choose the man or woman and the first person I thought of was Bill and presented the award to him during the program at the Lincoln Theatre. Anyone who was there that night remembers how Bill was overcome with emotion in being honored. Seven months later, in 2008, he passed away at the age of 78. I still miss Bill and his enthusiasm, not only as a friend, but as a man who had a great perspective on Decatur -- and our future.
ON JULY 15, 1964, I started my business in downtown Decatur. It was in a two-room office on the other side of the building where our business offices are now located. I thank God that my business is still going strong after 50 years. From the beginning, there was something in this community that made me want to give back to the people here -- and after all of these years, my feeling about our city and residents, and what we have here, has not changed.
DECATUR gave me the opportunity to be what I wanted to be -- to work towards achieving my American Dream. Decatur also gave me the opportunity to give back, although this community has given far more to me and my family, than I could ever give back. It’s also given me the opportunity to work with and become friends with a lot of great people over the last half century who unselfishly give so much to make Decatur a better place. THE official Hall of Fame induction ceremony was held at the civic center last Thursday and I appreciate the efforts of Mayor McElroy and others -- and the family members and good friends who were there to make it a special occasion for Bill and me. I’m honored to be a citizen of this community and to have been your mayor for several years. I love being a Decaturite and I will always do whatever I can to move the city forward. I know those words would also come from Bill Eichenauer if he was here in person to say them.
* * * *
Posted July 2, 2014
Cruisin’ Decatur In The ‘Mayormobile’
BACK IN 2003, when I was elected to my first term as mayor of Decatur, my brother, Sam, found me a Classic 1979 Corvette in southern Illinois. Sam was a life-long lover of cars, boats, airplanes, motorcycles -- about anything that had an engine in it, and he was a mechanical genius. He got that “gift” from my dad. SAM, who had a Classic Corvette, and I, along with others in the family, met for pizza at Monical’s every Friday night for many years. I had always liked Corvettes, back to my high school days, when every teenage boy dreamed of having either a Corvette or a Ford Thunderbird. Sam was going to find me one.
WHEN he found one and called me about it, I bought it “sight unseen” and he and one of his daughters brought it to my house. I figured if Sam thought it was a good deal, it was a good deal. He wasn’t going to let anyone cheat his little brother. I fell in love with the car as soon as it arrived at home.
WHEN Gary Anderson was mayor he started the tradition of the “DECATUR” license plate being on the mayor’s car, so, when another mayor took office, he inherited the plate. There was no doubt what car the “DECATUR” license plate was going on when the plate came into my possession. It was going to be on the Corvette, because it was a “classic”, like Decatur, and it was a “muscle car” like the strength of our city and its residents.
OVER THE years that I served in the mayor’s office, I would take the time each week to drive the Corvette around the city to look at projects that were underway, check out complaints that were received at City Hall and attend ribbon cuttings and other official duties. The Corvette became the “Mayormobile”. Sometimes, when the stress of the mayor’s office got real intense, I would take the Mayormobile for a ride around the city and would always feel refreshed. I found the number of times I needed to go for a ride in the Mayormobile increased proportionately with the number of years I was in office. (smile) It was always nice to pull up to a stoplight and have the person in the car next to me, compliment me on the job I was doing, or give me a thumbs up. There were a few instances when a finger instead of a thumb was used, but, I figured the driver got confused, or maybe his thumb didn’t work. Driving the “Mayormobile” around Decatur was something I really enjoyed.
DURING the winter, I always stored the car, and I still do today. Obviously, after I left office, the next mayor received the plates, and I think they ended up on a city councilman’s car where they remain today. I didn’t drive the Corvette much after I left office and it was in storage most of the time. Over three years ago, Sam passed away, and I think I only drove the car once during the following summer. The past two years, I haven’t driven it all.
I WENT to the storage facility the other day to see the Corvette. The dust on the car was thick enough to write on it with my finger. I tried to start it, but the battery was dead. It was kind of sad. It was like I had left an old friend alone for too long. As you know, I’m pretty sentimental about such things. I probably should sell it but it is hard to let go since my brother found it for me and because I really had a lot of good times driving it.
THE Mayormobile is going to need some work done on it to get the engine back to where it was when I drove it down Eldorado with the top off and the wind blowing through my hair. It’s difficult for me to decide whether I want to spend the money to get the Corvette back in good running condition or sell it to someone who can work on it and enjoy it like I did for many years. I know that now is the time to do something with it, with warm weather finally hitting, but it’s hard to say goodbye to an “old friend”. Besides, in its “heyday” it was the Mayormobile so it deserves a little respect for those good years and fond memories of when we cruised Decatur together.
Posted June 5, 2014
* * * *
Spending A Long Day With A Pink Bear
I RECEIVED a lot of comments in response to my May 14th column about when, as a teenager, I drove part of the way to the Macon County Fair with a sheep in the back seat of my car and a girl I was dating for the first (and last) time in the front seat. If you didn’t read that “Viewpoint” it’s too much to again explain how that happened, but I did admit that it wasn’t one of my finer moments -- although it seemed okay at the time.
ALTHOUGH I received a number of “expected” reactions, a few readers seemed more fascinated with my ability to win a big teddy bear at the Macon County Fair for the girl (not the sheep) through participation in the basketball shooting contest -- you know, the booth where the rim seems smaller than the ball. Actually, I won a lot of teddy bears at various county fairs back in those days, but it all came to an end on a high school trip to the Illinois State Fair. MEMBERS of my Future Farmers of America chapter took a school bus to spend the day at the state fair. We were going to be there from the time the fair opened until it closed. It was also going to be a long day -- especially since we couldn’t return to the bus until late in the evening for the trip home. That was because the driver was also going to enjoy the fair and the bus was going to be locked up.
I’M NOT sure what I was thinking, (that happened a lot back then) but shortly after arriving at the fair, and as soon as the game booths opened, I decided to try my “fabled” luck at shooting basketballs. I won the biggest pink teddy bear they had hanging on the side of the booth -- even though the guy running the concession made it as tough as he could on me to win the prize. THE EXCITEMENT of winning that huge pink bear was soon lost in the realization that I had to carry that bear the rest of the day! I couldn’t take it back to the bus and I sure wasn’t going to leave it where I won it and return later to pick it up. So, for about 12 hours I lugged that bear around like it was a big kid, making sure that I didn’t put it down and get it dirty. I got so tired that I laid down on one of the benches and put the bear on top of me to keep it clean. It looked like the pink bear was attacking me and a few people who passed by asked if I was okay.
A FEW of my classmates from school and I were going to spend the day going everywhere and seeing everything at the fair. That became problematic because of my “bear friend” that I was trying to keep clean. When they headed for the livestock exhibition area, there was no way I was going inside with a huge pink bear! I had a few guys who wanted to buy the bear and several girls who asked if they could have it because they had never owned a pink bear. One girl even indicated that it wasn’t “manly” to be carrying around a pink bear at the fair. Despite the offers and insults, I kept the pink bear with me.
ALTHOUGH the bear wasn’t eating anything at the concession stands, the longer I carried it around, the heavier it got. It must have weighed 100 pounds (at least it felt like it) by the time I climbed on the school bus that night for the ride home. I was so relieved to be leaving that I laid down on one of the seats because I was exhausted. I kept the bear in a “bear hug” because I wasn’t about to let it fall to the floor after keeping it clean all day long. Of course, there were plenty of jokes made by several of my classmates about me spending entirely too much time at the fair with a pink teddy bear. I NEVER played the basketball shooting game at any fair again. As for the bear, the next day I gave it to a girl at school I liked and she promptly told me thanks, but she would have preferred a black bear and accidentally (I think) dropped the pink bear on the floor! There I stood, one day after suffering through the longest day of my life, filled with sacrifices, being insulted and joked about, plus keeping the pink bear clean, only to learn the girl didn’t like the color pink -- and she dropped my bear on the floor! Frankly, the whole experience was almost more than I could “bear”.
Memorial Day Is About Honoring Our Fallen Heroes
WHEN I was a kid, May 30th was a somber day. It was called “Decoration Day” back then. Our family, including uncles and aunts, would get together for dinner and enjoy the family gathering, but everyone knew there would be a time when the day would take on a more somber tone. During the afternoon there would be a visit to the cemetery where many of those who had given their lives for this nation were buried and there would be quiet reflection and spoken words about their sacrifices.
BACK AT that time the sacrifices of World War II were fresh and they hit close to home. There were those that had sons, brothers, dads and friends who were killed in the war -- and many of those who did return had serious injuries and would never be whole again. We always decorated the graves and, even as a kid, I was always impressed with what happened in our home, and the homes of our neighbors, on May 30th each year. No stores were open on May 30th and about all service stations were closed for the day in honor of those who had given their lives for our country.
I REMEMBER the conversations at home would often center on how parents found out their son had been killed and their reaction to the news, or how a mother almost grieved herself to death over the loss of her son. When someone’s name was mentioned on that day, the conversation quickly turned to the last time a member of our family had seen him before he left for war, never to return alive. All of my uncles, except one, served in the army in World War II and I know the deep, deep concern for their safety that was written on the faces and in the voices of my mother and grandmother. One of our neighbors, when she received the news that her only son had been killed, her screams of anquish could be heard throughout the neighborhood -- and everyone knew why she was screaming, and praying they would not receive the same news about their sons. Those childhood impressions are still with me and will be in my heart for as long as I live.
“DECORATION DAY” is now Memorial Day, and instead of being held on May 30, through an act of Congress in 1971, it is now observed on the last Monday in May, which means this year it will be observed on Monday, May 26th. I’ve always attended one or more of the Memorial Day services each year, and have spoken at several of them, both as editor and during the years that I was mayor. Monday, it will be my honor to speak at the Korean War Veterans Association’s annual Memorial Day Service in Graceland Cemetery. Several times when I spoke at Memorial Day services, our son, Craig, was serving in the army in dangerous places like Iraq and Afghanistan. I knew that, at the very time I was making a speech to honor the sacrifices of our military personnel, our own son might be wounded or killed in action.
IT IS BEYOND my comprehension to fully understand how parents feel when they receive the terrible news their loved one has been killed. Thank God, Craig, came back from all of the battles without injury and is now a colonel in the army. Many others did not make it back, or came back with severe physical and mental injuries -- and loved ones continue to hurt over their loss. We must never forget those sacrifices -- including those who are left behind waiting, and praying, at home. OVER the years that I have participated in the memorial services, I’ve noticed that people attending are older, and have personal connections to those being honored. There is also a sprinkling of younger families who want to be a part of honoring and remembering our heroes. I’m pleased to see the younger members of the audience because that’s where I learned to remember and honor our fallen heroes and their families. Parents must instill that respect in their children today so they will remember.
MEMORIAL DAY is no longer May 30th each year, but all the reasons we observe it are the same as they were when I experienced it as a kid so many years ago -- and the sacrifices made then are just as relevant today as they were then. Americans are still making those sacrifices and they must be assured they will be remembered for their unselfish service to our nation. They will always be remembered as my heroes and as long as I live I will remember them for their sacrifice and that of their loved ones. God bless all veterans, living and dead, their families and the United States of America. All deserve our respect and honor.
* * * *
Posted May 23, 2014
A ‘Sheepish’ Time At The Macon County Fair
THERE will not be a Macon County Fair this year. The Macon County Fair was one of my favorite events of the year when I was a teenager and that continued into adulthood. Long before there was a Decatur Celebration, or the multitude of theme parks, the county fair was an annual entertainment mecca for those of us who lived in Decatur and Central Illinois.
AS I mentioned in this column a few weeks ago, I was a member of the Future Farmers of America when I was in high school, so I had a strong interest in seeing the livestock judging, exhibits and about everything else at the fair. Back then, the Macon County Fair was a place to go on a date and enjoy walking around and seeing other kids we knew. It seemed like there was always a lot to do and see at the fair back then.
I CANNOT think of the Macon County Fair without remembering one particular time when, as a teenager, I was going to take a girl to the fair, but I didn’t have any money. So I sold one of my sheep to a farmer to get $20 to attend. The farmer couldn’t pick up the sheep that day, and since I needed the money immediately, I told him I would deliver the ewe (female sheep). The buyer’s farm was on the way to the fair. The only problem was I didn’t have anything but a car to deliver the animal.
SOOOO, I took the back seat out of my Chevy, put the sheep in the back and stopped on the way to the farmer’s house to pick up my date for the fair. It seemed like a good idea at the time. When the ewe and I showed up at her house, she refused to get in my car! I don’t think she liked farm animals -- at least riding in a car with her! After five or ten minutes of discussion, I finally convinced her that it might be fun to have the ewe with us part of way to the fairgrounds. After all, I explained, people have big dogs, even sheep dogs, riding with them in cars all the time, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. She still looked apprehensive (the girl not the ewe) but got into the car and away we went -- her, me and the ewe made three!
AFTER I delivered the ewe to the farmer, and left him with a strange look on his face like he had never seen a ewe get out of the back of a car, he paid me the $20 and I drove off minus one passenger. I was always pretty good at winning prizes at the game booth that had participants shoot basketballs through a hoop that always seemed smaller in circumference than the ball. After I won a big teddy bear and gave it to my date, she seemed to forget about her earlier experience of riding with the ewe and we enjoyed the fair.
OFTEN, first date stories that have bad beginnings evolve into life-long relationships -- even marriage where the couple lives happily ever after, re-telling the story about their strange first date. That wasn’t exactly how this first date turned out. When I called her a few days later to ask for a second date, she said her mother wouldn’t let her go out with me again. She had told her mother about the sheep in the back seat of the car and, apparently, her mother kept asking her over and over, “you went on a date with sheep in the back seat of the car?” I DON’T know why the mother was so upset. After all, it was a ewe, not a gun, and I did let her daughter sit in the front seat with me instead of the ewe! (I thought that was the gentlemanly thing to do.) I can understand that a mother would not want her daughter going on a date if the guy had alcohol in his car, but I had a ewe -- an innocent sheep who also didn’t drink. I guess the mother didn’t want some teenage boy “pulling the wool” over her daughter’s eyes.
OF COURSE, most of us can look back on some of the stupid things we did as teenagers and only shake our heads in disbelief. The “sheep passenger” incident is one of many on my list of ways not to impress a date. Last week’s mention of the Macon County Fair reminded me that I probably owed an apology to the girl, the mother and to the ewe for my actions. But, if I had tried to apologize, I probably would have done so with a sheepish grin on my face. If I had it to do over, I would have handled it differently -- I would have let the sheep sit in the front seat. I know... that would have been a baaaaaaaaaaad idea.
Thoughts Of Mom On Mother’s Day 2014
SUNDAY is Mother’s Day and there will be a lot of attention focused on our mothers -- both living and dead. My mom passed away in 1991 and, as the years pass, I find myself thinking more and more about her influence in my life. Betty Osborne’s example, and the faith she instilled in me at a very early age, are with me today. Many of the lessons I learned in childhood formed who I am as an adult.
I WAS a kid in an era when most moms were homemakers and did not have a job outside of the home. The traditional family roles meant dad was the “breadwinner” and mom was the “homemaker”. Mom always believed in my brother and myself and made us feel that we could do anything we set our minds to do. She also taught us, by example, about helping the poor and disadvantaged at a time when she and my dad didn’t have much of their own. As a child I saw her fill the family car with people who had little or nothing and drive them to downtown Decatur to shop -- and then she shared what little money she had with them so they could buy something for themselves and enjoy the day.
MOM was never honored publicly for the unselfish work she did for others, because hardly anyone knew what she was doing -- except me. I was observing it all as a kid and her actions molded a lot of the perspective of my life. There isn’t any honor that I have received over the years, either as a newspaper editor, private citizen or mayor, that would have happened without mom’s positive influence on my life in my early, impressionable years. A mom’s influence is powerful. MOM had a manner of looking at life’s struggles in a positive way and would never outwardly show that she was disappointed in what life would sometimes throw at us. When some people would tear down others, she would defend them and not tolerate gossip about someone. It wasn’t allowed in our home. She always tried to see the other person’s point of view and the reason they acted in a way that was hard to understand.
MOM WAS never too busy to sit down and listen to me. Sometimes, when I was a kid, I would move the chest of drawers out from the wall in my bedroom and stand behind it on a box to practice public speaking to the one audience member who sat before me -- mom. Of course, she always thought the speeches were great! She never acted like she got tired of listening or told me to go out and play and leave her alone. I’ve given plenty of speeches in my life to a lot of groups, large and small, but the best audience I ever had, was the “audience of mom” when I was a kid.
IF SOMEONE would come into our home and compliment mom on a curtain or a throw rug that she had purchased, she would ask them “do you want it?” They would sometimes leave with a curtain, rug or some other item because she gave it to them. She was happy because it made them happy. Mom was like that. She often told me that God put us here to help others -- and I still believe that should be a guiding principle in what we do today.
FORGIVING people was a way of life for her. She often said, “If no one ever did anything wrong to us, we’d never have a reason to forgive them,” as if the person who wronged us gave us an “opportunity” to do the right thing. Over the years, both as a newspaper editor and serving in public office, there have been a lot of hurtful things said and done to me but “getting even” has never been an option -- thanks to mom’s example. Thanks to mom, I don’t think I could ever hold a grudge against someone -- even if I tried. Mom would always tell me to ask myself what Jesus did to those who hurt him and that’s what I should do when someone hurt me -- forgive them. NO ONE gets through life without the help of many people along the way and I’m no exception. Mom taught, that in the darkest hours when it seems that no one cares, to always remember that God cares. The longer I live the more I appreciate the great parents I had and the special influence of my mom. This Mother’s Day remember mom for all she means to you. For those of us whose moms have passed on, we can honor them every day by remembering the positive lessons they taught us by their lives. We can show those lessons we learned in the contact we have with others. Happy Mother’s Day to mom. She is no longer here in body but there’s no doubt she is here in spirit.
‘Why Do You Want To Do That?’
Years ago, when I told Mike Wilson, my barber, that I was seriously considering running for Mayor of Decatur, he asked: “Why do you want to do that? Everybody likes you now.” We laugh about it now, and I mention his response from time to time when I am writing about people who decide to run for public office. Mike's response to my running for public office was understandable. A man or woman who runs for public office is going to face a lot of “dislike” along the way. Some people who “like” you may not like you so much when they know you’re seeking public office -- especially if it is against someone they support. The higher the office, the more criticism and scrutiny a candidate has to endure.
I WAS thinking about the emotional cost of running for an office, after reading comments made against U. S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville) and his challenger, former chief judge Ann Callis (D-Edwardsville). They are opponents who are running to represent our 13th Congressional District. This race is already getting nasty from national party organizations and some supporters of each candidate. I campaigned for the office of mayor (despite my barber’s advice) for nearly a year and experienced a sizeable dose of negative comments and actions from those who did not want me to win. As the decades-long editor of this newspaper, I’ve witnessed, and written about a lot of nastiness in many campaigns for city council, other local boards and especially state and national level candidates. Based on what I experienced at the local level, I have a sensitivity to how hurtful such actions and comments can be for those running for public office.
CANDIDATES have families and friends who love them and a lot of letters to the editor, comments on social media, personal attack ads, take their toll on everyone. That’s why a lot of well-qualified people don’t run for office these days. I know all of the candidates in our area who are running for Congress, state representative and state senate seats. Some I’ve known for many years -- some I’ve just met. Whether I agree or disagree with their positions, I like them as people and understand more than most citizens the price, both small and great, they pay to run for public office.
I WAS BLESSED to win my race for mayor and four years later to be re-elected. If I had known at the start what I know now about what some candidates have to put up with during a campaign, would I have still made the decision to run? In a heartbeat. When I think back over the years I served, the overwhelming majority of my memories are good ones -- and serving as mayor gave me a lot of insight into public service few editors have the opportunity to experience. As far as those people who got a little nasty during the campaign, I hold no hard feelings. After all, their nastiness motivated me to work even harder to win. A FEW YEARS AGO, Mike, my barber, who has always had an interest in making the community better, decided to step up and run for a county board seat. Ironically, he told me what he was going to do as he cut my hair in the same barber chair where I had told him many years earlier that I was running for mayor. My response: “Why do you want to do that? Everybody likes you now.” Actually, I knew why -- from my own experience. It’s just something that you feel compelled to do for your community.
'The Milkman' Was Special Part Of Our Neighborhood
Many of the comments readers send to me are woven around pleasant memories of their childhood in Decatur when the community was much different than it is now. With all of the advances in technology to make our lives easier -- I’m not sure they’ve made the quality of our lives any better.
A recent note came from Christie Smith of Elmhurst, Illinois, who wrote: “One of my memories from my childhood was our milk delivery from Meadow Gold. The milk wagon was pulled by a horse. I think we called him ‘Jonesy’. “We looked forward to having the horse clip clop down our street. The company used the horse long after it was necessary because people loved it. “I grew up in the 40s and 50s in Decatur. I always wondered if anyone had a picture of the milk wagon and horse that went down Riverview Avenue.”
I looked back into my “Scrapbook” archives and found a series that I did on “The Milkman” in 1997. This week, the photos and article are published on pages 4 and 5 of the print edition of the Decatur Tribune and I’ll have more next week. In answer to Christie Smith’s question, I didn’t find a specific horse named “Jonesy” but I did find several other horses which are included in the series. Maybe one of our readers has a photo of that particular horse. AS I looked through those old Scrapbook articles and pictures, I couldn’t help but think of how simple life was back then. Even though the dairies quit using horses in 1957, I remember them pulling the milk wagons when I was a kid. Actually, I have more memories of when the milkman delivered from his milk truck to our home on West Packard when I attended Roosevelt Junior High School. There was a special insulated box on our front porch where he placed the milk very early each morning.
What I found especially interesting at the time I interviewed some of the milkmen in 1997 was how trusting people were back then. I can remember when most people didn’t even lock their doors at night and often the milkman would go into their house early in the morning, before anyone was out of bed, and put the milk in the refrigerator! Today, very few people leave their doors unlocked overnight and many homes have security cameras, night lights, burglar alarms and a couple of locks on each door --just in case someone tries to enter the house. We’re a long way from the milkman days of yesteryear -- not only in time, but in trust of others. Long gone are the days of the milkman making his rounds in the neighborhood and being an important part of our day. Some of the comments made by milkmen on pages 4 and 5 are probably difficult for younger readers to believe. The milkman was like a family member and we trusted him. Today, any non-family member coming into a house at 5:00 in the morning is likely to be greeted with gunfire and a 9-1-1 call!
“The Milkman” not only represented an era when horses and milk wagons made their way down the streets of our neighborhoods, but a time when people trusted each other. I know the progress we’ve made over the years has made our lives easier, but it has also cost us some very important life qualities that we already had but never fully appreciated until they were gone. The “clip clopping” of the milkman’s horse coming down our street has gone silent -- along with many other sights and sounds of our childhood that seem so special to us in 2014.
Workers clean up debris from a home destroyed in the northwest part of Decatur on April 3, 1974.
A Young Man's Anquish Following The Tornado That Ripped Through Decatur 40 Years Ago Today
TODAY, APRIL 3, 2014, is the 40th anniversary of when a tornado ripped through our community and created some life-long impressions for those of us living in Decatur at the time. Chris Barnett has an interesting recollection of the event in his writing about it on page 6 of this week's print edition of the Decatur Tribune. In fact, I had forgotten about the tornado “anniversary” until Chris sent me his article and I decided to publish it.
OBVIOUSLY, I WAS a much younger editor of this newspaper at the time but I remember that day from covering the story. I grabbed my camera and headed for the northwest area of Decatur where the tornado had passed through. I remember seeing a lot of debris and, where there had once been quiet neighborhoods of homes, the tornado had left a scene of destruction.
THE police and firefighters had responded quickly to the emergency and had already taken charge of most of the area where I was standing. They had closed off some of the streets, making it nearly impossible for people to get very close to the destroyed and damaged houses, in case there was a gas line explosion or something else that would endanger their lives. It was not known, at that point, if some of the people in the houses had been killed or seriously injured.
A YOUNG MAN in a pick-up truck was coming down the street and he paid no attention to the roadblock or the command of the police officer to stop his vehicle. He pushed down the accelerator, his tires squealed and he drove right through the roadblock and turned into a drive-way that led to a destroyed house about a half block away! I was shocked by what I saw and wasn’t surprised by the command officer’s statement: “I want that man arrested!’
THE YOUNG MAN got out of his truck and stood in front of the house, called a woman’s name and then buried his face in his hands and began to cry. One of the residents of the area came up to the officer and told him the destroyed house was the man’s home where he lived with his wife and two young children. He didn’t know what had happened to them. It was heart-wrenching to watch that scene and the police, realizing why the man had driven through the roadblock, took a softer, more sympatheic approach to him. He was not arrested.
FROM what I could find out, someone from the area, who still had phone service, had called the man at work and told him his home had been hit by the tornado. No one had cellphones back then. I don’t know if he tried to call his home, and the line was dead, or just jumped in his truck immediately and headed home. I can only imagine the devastating thoughts that ran through the young man’s mind while he was speeding towards home, not knowing whether his family had been killed. Little wonder that, when he saw the rubble that had been his home, that he broke down and cried out in agony.
I LATER learned that his wife and children had not been home at the time the tornado hit. What a reunion that must have been for the young man and his family. He thought they were injured or dead but they were alive and safe. When disasters hit our community, police, fire, sheriff’s deputies and disaster teams are always at the scene not only to help the injured and keep order, but to protect those who might get injured through trying to help their loved ones. That’s not an easy job -- especially when it comes to trying to stop a man from getting to his home and family.
IT’S BEEN 40 years, but I clearly remember that man’s anquish on April 3, 1974 -- and, know I would have not acted any differently than he did, if the tornado had struck my home and I didn’t know if my family was dead or alive. If that was the case, my actions would not be due to a lack of respect for law enforcement, but the overwhelming concern for what had happened to my family
-- which, in all of us, wipes away all thoughts of decorum and restraint.
Telephone Scammers Love Income Tax Season
IT’S no secret that telephone scammers are thicker than flies at a Fourth of July picnic. Not only that, a lot of the telephone scammers have been getting downright rude. Following is one example that was sent to me by Karen Rivera of Decatur.
“ON Thursday, March 6, 2014, I received a voice mail from a man representing himself as an IRS agent. He stated his name as David Jones and indicated that I should not delay in returning his call to 202-506-9112. “He said that either my attorney or I should not ignore the call and that it was time sensitive. “The purpose of the call was to let me know that there was a problem with the filing of my tax forms. In order to avoid legal action, I was instructed to call back immediately.
“WHEN I called the number back and asked for David Jones, the man who answered said that David Jones was his assistant. He did not give his name. He verified my name and asked for the phone number that they had called earlier. “His next statement to me was this: ‘Do you have a criminal attorney?’ I said I did not and asked why I needed one. He said, ‘Then you are not aware of the charges against you?’
“AT THAT point, I became very suspicious. I said, ‘Your voice sounds just like the person on my voice mail. Who is this?’ “He said, ‘Your daddy, bitch’ and hung up. “I called the IRS advocate number; she said I should report this to the treasury inspector general’s office. In addition, I called our local police, but they told me that there were lots of scams going around.
“SINCE I did not give them any critical information, there was no need for a police report unless I felt it was necessary. Most of the phone numbers are throw away phones and fictitious names. “The most irritating part was the fact that the man called me a bitch. In my 44 years of teaching, none of my students have said that to me personally. These scammers are very brazen!”
KAREN’S story is not unique. A few weeks ago, the Internal Revenue Service issued a warning to the public about such scams. “The IRS has seen a recent increase in local phone scams across the country, with callers pretending to be from the IRS in hopes of stealing money or identities from victims. “These phone scams include many variations, ranging from instances from where callers say the victims owe money or are entitled to a huge refund. Some calls can threaten arrest and threaten a driver’s license revocation. Sometimes these calls are paired with follow-up calls from people saying they are from the local police department or the state motor vehicle department.”
"TAXPAYERS should be on the lookout for tax scams using the IRS name,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “These schemes jump every year at tax time. Scams can be sophisticated and take many different forms. We urge people to protect themselves and use caution when viewing e-mails, receiving telephone calls or getting advice on tax issues.”
IF YOU get a call from someone claiming to be with the IRS asking for a payment, here’s what to do: • If you owe federal taxes, or think you might owe taxes, hang up and call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS workers can help you with your payment questions. • If you don’t owe taxes, call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484. • You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov. Add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments in your complaint. IT’S well to remember, that if the IRS has a problem with your tax return you will be notified FIRST by mail, not telephone. Plus, even though it is scary to receive a letter from the IRS, the words in the letter will not be offensive -- unless, of course, you are the president of a tea party or other conservative group seeking non-profit status. Then you might be called the “D-word” as in “dangerous” -- but not over the telephone.
Some Musings From A Winter Weary Mind
HERE ARE some musings from this editor who has experienced a hard winter, so take that into consideration when you read them.
• WHY IS IT that, when you fall down on the ice, the first thing you do is look to see if anybody saw you fall?
• SOMEONE sent our newspaper an out-of-state obituary the other day and a note with it that stated: “If there is a charge for running this obituary, run it free.” What?
• I SAW A stoplight on a pole stretched out on the ground near an intersection on Southside Drive last week. A driver had apparently hit it with his/her vehicle and knocked it over. I don’t know if anyone was hurt, but the stoplight certainly had no “signal” of life. (tee-hee) • I’VE COME to the conclusion that supermarkets are in cohoots with television weather forecasters. Every time a weatherman warns of a big snow headed our way, people turn up in droves to buy enough groceries to last a month! Maybe it is just Mother Nature’s “stimulus plan” to help the economy.
• LAST WEEKEND’S weather forecast was for up to ten inches of snow for Decatur. Was that prediction in vertical or horizontal inches?
• I THINK some drivers believe, if they act like they don’t see a pedestrian, they won’t be charged if they run over him.
• NO MATTER how many times people see the word “subscription”, some still call or come in to the newspaper office to order a one-year “prescription” to the Tribune. That’s okay. Maybe they think a Decatur Tribune “prescription” is good “medicine” for what ails them.
• I WONDER if pharmacies have people come in to pick up their “subscriptions”? • IF A car owner is going to use the word “JESUS” on his license plate, he should drive like the Lord and not like the devil!
• WHEN people write “Letters to the Editor” about the danger of judging other people and indicate that only hypocrites judge other people -- aren’t they also judging other people when they call them hypocrites?
• HOW CAN I trust the word of someone when they say, in defense of President Obama, “everybody lies”? If that’s true, maybe they are lying about everybody lying. • SOME shoppers think they get a better deal with “1/2 Price” instead of “50% OFF”!
• THE OLDER I get, the more I appreciate seeing people who knew me when I was a kid. That’s because they are getting harder to find.
• IF THE Wounded Warriors television commercials don’t touch your heart, you don’t have a heart. • I WONDER how many people go crazy trying to open “child proof” bottles of medicine -- especially if it is nerve medicine?
• REMEMBER when bread was baked fresh in Decatur and the slices were so soft? When the bread we buy today is called fresh, it feels as hard as the loaves used to feel stale!
• I REALLY like Campbell’s Chunky soup in a bowl. The part I don’t like is getting the flat round metal covering torn off so I can micro-wave it. That’s messy and a little dangerous. I have a cut thumb as evidence. Hmmm. Hmmm. Ouch!
• PEOPLE WHO call this newspaper and angrily start the conversation with, “I’m a good Christian...”, usually don’t act like it.
• HOW do you know when Parmesan cheese goes bad? Does it begin to smell better?
• WITH Spring, sanity returns -- at least that’s what I’ve told myself.
* * * * Heading For Shore On The Other Side
As publisher of this newspaper and a small businessman in Decatur for nearly a half-century, I’ve had the priviledge of having my life touched by so many people, in so many ways. I suppose it is bound to happen as I get older, but it seems that, whenever I look over the obituaries each week, I find familiar names and think about how I came to know them. It seems that has been especially true recently. Life is often referred to as a voyage on the sea of life, ending when our life lands on the “other shore”. The voyage is filled with calm seas, raging storms and plenty of danger. Everyone, who lives for many years, will find life’s sea both beautiful and terrifying and will feel, at times, life is about to be dashed to pieces. I Won't begin to comment on all of the people I know who ended their voyage recently, but each played a role, both small and large, as our ships sailed together on the sea of life. Most of the time, it wasn’t something that they thought much about at the time, but some of what I saw in their lives made me think of them in positive ways -- in some cases decades after they sailed on over the horizon and out of view.
LAST WEEK, B. J. Baum called to tell me that his wife, Jean, had just passed away. I’ve known both of them most of my life and they were best friends with my brother and his wife when they lived in Decatur years ago. Their son, Michael, was killed in Vietnam in 1970 and Michael E. Baum Elementary School in Decatur was named in his honor. Needless to point out the death of one of your children is the worst storm you can encounter in life, yet they remained positive about life. I can’t think of Jean without remembering all of the times she would come up to me before church started and ask how my family and I were doing. She never complained about anything that was happening or had happened to her. It seemed like such a small thing at the time, but we often remember with fondness the “small things” that people say and do to show us they care. COMMUNITY leader Nick Striglos died recently. I was not a close friend of Nick’s, but I remember when he was getting started in business in the little storefront in the 200 block of West Prairie in the early 1960s and I entered his new business to buy my first electric typewriter as part of getting my business started. I used that typewriter for at least 25 years and only quit using it when we switched to computers here at the newspaper. It seems like only yesterday, but my first encounter with him over 50 years ago, and his youthful enthusiasm for his business and Decatur, is what first entered my mind when I heard he had passed away. Our paths crossed countless times over the years through his business interests and city council service. The last time I saw him was in the elevator of our building about a year ago. I couldn’t help but think of all that happened in both of our lives since we met for the first time in that storefront.
WHEN I read of Robert Browning’s death recently, I thought of the time, when I was very young, and he was one of my bosses at Illinois Power Co. Some of the graphic ideas that I use in this newspaper today, I know because Bob took the time to show me. I hadn’t seen Bob since I left IP, which was over a half century ago, but, when I read he had died, I immediately remembered his kindness to me. I could fill many pages of this newspaper with what I immediately remember about people when I read or hear they’ve passed away -- and it usually revolves around their “small acts” of kindness or pleasant interaction. EVEN if contact has been lost over the years I can still honor them by remembering how and why they impacted my life -- and that my life is richer from having known them. I believe, we should mean more than “ships that pass in the night” because all of us are headed for another shore. When I read that a life I know has ended on earth, I feel that person has reached his or her destination. I don’t know when my voyage will end. It may be many years from now or much sooner, but I have great assurance that the Captain I have chosen will get me where I want to go safely regardless of the storms I encounter. That’s why I confidently sail on, like so many before me, heading towards that other shore.
* * * *
We've Gone From 'Cabin Fever' To SAD
This winter has been especially brutal for Central Illinois and most of the nation. We’ve had snow and ice and sub-zero temperatures. Retailers and restaurants have experienced tremendous losses in business because of winter storms. It’s been one of the most difficult winters in publishing and distributing this newspaper in a long time. It seems like every Wednesday has been a headache in getting it from the press to you. A lot of people I’ve talked with during the past few months are grouchy, depressed and fed up in coping with winter’s blast. A few have the same disposition both summer and winter! For those of you who headed to Florida before all of the bad weather hit, it’s probably not the best idea to call family and friends in Decatur and tell them you are heading for the beach in a few minutes under sunny skies and warm temperatures. That’s just a suggestion. It seems like kids have been out of school so much this winter they may have to attend school until the middle of July to make up the days. (Okay, kids, I’m joking.) Meetings have been cancelled, people can’t get out to perform routine tasks and a high percentage of the people I know have fallen on the ice at least once this winter. (Make that twice for me.) It’s little wonder that some people walking and sliding around appear to be stressed, on edge, depressed and ready to maul someone! FOR MOST of my life that condition was called “cabin fever” as in “that’s what happens to people when they are cooped up in the winter” because of snowstorms and freezing temperatures. I never lived in a cabin (honest) but I can see how some people could have experienced “cabin fever” back in the old days since they were trapped inside during the winter along with the rest of the family (which usually had quite-a-few members in those days). People today get depressed being trapped inside their house with all kinds of electronic entertainment and plenty of snacks to eat. For those of us living today, we have the good fortune of having depression and a degree of incoherence being called something other than “cabin fever”. That should cheer us up! It’s no longer called “cabin fever” but Seasonal Affective Disorder, or (SAD). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is considered a mood disorder that occurs at a specific time of the year and then fully remits. (I think the treatment is called “spring”.) SAD was formally described and named in 1984 by Norman E. Rosenthal and colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health, but we’re just hearing more about it this year. Apparently, people who have “normal mental health” throughout most of the year experience SAD symptoms during this time of year. I’m not sure what “normal mental health” status means, especially in 2014. The U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that "some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, have little energy, and may also feel depressed. Though symptoms can be severe, they usually clear up." I’m not a doctor, but that could also be a definition of what happens to most of us during an election year. Abraham Lincoln spent one winter in a cabin (west of Decatur) and that was the “Winter of the Big Snow”. As soon as he could get out, he left the cabin and Macon County and didn’t spend another winter here. True, it was a terrible winter Lincoln experienced, but we’ve experienced a bad winter and a political campaign at the same time this year. As you know, there really isn’t much difference between the winter of the “Big Snow” and the winter of a political campaign with its “Big Snow Job” on the voters. That’s why a shovel is needed for both! Sorry, I know that last sentence was harsh but it must have been SAD that caused me to write it.
America Changed A Lot In The 1960s
This week’s “Scrapbook” (Pages 4, 5 in print edition) is about “The Day The Music Died” -- Feb. 3, 1959. The phrase comes from singer/songwriter Don McLean who recorded and released his “American Pie” album in 1971. The single was a number-one US hit for four weeks in 1972. Although there’s been controversy over the years about the true meaning of the song, it has become clear "The Day The Music Died" (a term taken from the song) is about the 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper (Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr.) and what happened in the decade following. As I mentioned in the “Scrapbook” article I was a teenager in high school “The Day The Music Died” and had 45 r.p.m. records of Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. I remember seeing a newspaper story, along with a photo of the wreckage, about the plane crash and the deaths of the three stars and their pilot. While I was shocked at reading of their deaths, I don’t remember ever thinking about that day as “The Day The Music Died”. Apparently, no one else thought to describe Feb. 3, 1959, as “The Day” until Don McLean coined the phrase a dozen years later in his song. I find it interesting that, exactly five years and six days later, “The Beatles” made their historic appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. A lot of coverage has been given in about all of the media about the 50th anniversary of “Beatlemania” during the past week -- and that is understandable. Sunday night, CBS aired a Beatles special commemorating the 50th anniversary of their appearance on the Sullivan show. CBS called it “The Night That Changed America”. I don’t believe that Feb. 3, 1959 was actually “The Day The Music Died” or that Feb. 9, 1964 was “The Night That Changed America. I do believe that between those two dates America changed a lot, but what caused the ch
change had a lot more to do with our life and times in the late 50s and early 60s and music was its reflection. Those of us in high school in 1959 were small children when World War II ended and were still too young to be a part of the Korean War. Although there was the “Cold War” we enjoyed a war-free time as teenagers. Dwight Eisenhower was the President of the United States and most of what was written about him seemed to be about his golf game, not war.It was a time of tranquility, as far as we were concerned. We had the privilege to grow up in the “Happy Days” era of America.If we wanted to hear the latest hits we played them on our own record players, listened to AM stations like WLS in Chicago, or went to Kintner Gym where the teen music stars would perform as part of packaged tours to sell their records. (That’s what Holly, Vallen and Richardson were doing in Iowa, when their plane crashed taking them to another one-night performance.) Although a few students would drink beer, drug abuse was something that happened in big cities, not Central Illinois. Then came the 1960s with national highs and unthinkable lows. It started with a young, dynamic John F. Kennedy being elected President of the United States, but he would be assassinated in 1963. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy were also assassinated in the 1960s. The 1960s brought the Vietnam War, the battle for civil rights, with its own casualties, rioting and a new level of violence on our streets and in our neighborhoods. Drugs became a serious problem, filtering down to our schools. By the time the Beatles hit the Ed Sullivan Show, I was no longer a teenager. I had finished my education, married and moved on with my life. America had changed and so had the teenagers of 1959. We had moved into young adulthood in that five year period and became a generation that brought out the best -- and the worst of a significant era. Between Feb. 3, 1959, and the Beatles on Ed Sullivan on Feb. 9, 1964, our nation lost its innocence but we also looked deeper into our national soul to what were as Americans -- and what we wanted to be as a nation. For many of us from that era, the work to build a better community and nation continues 50 years later.
* * * *
The ‘Unthinkable’ Can Happen To Any Of Us
Last Wednesday morning, Linda K. Pultz, 70, left her home in Jasper Mobile Home Park a little before 7:00 and started walking to Jasper Street to catch a morning bus. She never dreamed when she closed the door behind her that morning that she wouldn’t be coming home. Suddenly, she was struck and passed over by a garbage truck traveling its routine pickup route! She suffered massive destructive head trauma along with severe extremity injury -- and was pronounced dead. I did not know Linda Pultz, but from all I’ve heard about her, she was a good person and brought sunshine into the lives of others. The tragedy of her death has been on my mind since I received the notification informing this newspaper the accident had happened. Usually, such notifications that I receive, either from Coroner Mike Day’s office or the Decatur Police Department, do not contain a name because family members need to be contacted before members of the news media release the victim’s identity. The name comes a little later. Over the decades I’ve been editor I’ve received a lot of notifications regarding fatal accidents. It’s always somewhat of a relief when I don’t recognize the name -- but I also feel sympathy for the victim and her, or his, family and friends. Maybe, it was because of the circumstances of this woman’s death that I’ve thought more about what happened to her than I usually do when names of people I don’t know are contained in follow-up police or coroner’s reports. I’ve tried to imagine what her thoughts were as she left her home that morning and walked towards Jasper Street to catch a bus. I’m sure the thought never crossed her mind that she was taking her last steps. My thoughts and prayers go out to her family and friends -- and also to the person driving the garbage truck. I cannot imagine how that person feels. I think the older I get the more I’m aware of the uncertainty of life. Our bodies are so durable in many ways -- yet so fragile. We can live for many decades, yet die in the space of a few seconds. I don’t dwell on death because I don’t think that’s healthy, but there are plenty of reminders that death is a reality of life. It can snatch any one of us away from our loved ones, or take any loved one away from us. People have the free will to believe, or not believe, in God and Jesus, and if there is life after death. That’s a choice each person makes in his or her life. For me, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t believe in God. I’ve found great strength and comfort over the years through knowing that God loves me and cares about what happens to me -- and to others. The “unthinkable” can happen to any of us at any time. I could not deal with that without faith in God and His Son Jesus Christ. Many years ago, when our young daughter, Kimberly Kay died, I sat down with our oldest son, Kevin, who was seven at the time, and tried as best I could to explain what had happened. Her sudden death was “unthinkable” and overwhelming but I never blamed God for what happened. I explained to Kevin that Kim had gone to be with Jesus, but we could be thankful that God sent her to us so we could have some time with her. Kevin nodded his head, and replied: “I just wish she could have stayed longer.” I’ve often thought about Kevin’s response when the “unthinkable” happens to family members and friends that we miss so much -- and how we should be thankful for the time we had to spend with them. That’s why the sudden death of someone, whether I know that person or not, is a reminder that when I open the door to leave in the morning, I may not be returning in the evening. I can assure you that, as I step into the unknown that each day brings, it is “unthinkable” for me to do so without God in my life.
Childhood Chicken Pox Virus ‘Shingled’ Me Out
A reader of Dr. Donohue’s column, printed in last week’s edition, asked about shingles, and he didn’t mean the kind a homeowner puts on the roof of his house. “I have gone through 12 weeks of the nastiest, worst illness possible,” wrote the reader and indicated that he wanted more information about the disease. Dr. Donohue wrote (in part): “Shingles is the work of the reawakened chickenpox virus that has been asleep in nerve cells ever since a person was infected, usually in childhood. It’s a safe bet to say you were infected even if you don’t recall it; more than 95 percent of adults were. “The rash of shingles usually disappears in two to four weeks. Pain, however, can stay with you. The pain is now called postherpetic neuralgia. In making the trip to the skin, the virus damaged the nerve roots that it crawled down to reach the skin. Pain is a consequence of the nerve injury.”
I can sympathize with the reader because, last fall, I started experiencing some pain at about belt level and in my lower back. Then, suddenly, I broke out in a rash in those two areas! Maybe I should have paid more attention to those shingles commercials on television where people express the severe pain they experienced when they had a case of the shingles. I wasn’t sure what the rash was, but I headed to the doctor’s office the next day. He took one look at the rash and said, “You have shingles.” I almost responded, “On the roof of my house?” but quickly decided that his diagnosis was no laughing matter.
Fortunately, I had gone to the doctor within 48 hours (that’s the window of treatment opportunity) from the time I discovered the shingles and he was able to prescribe some medicine to treat the problem before the pain and rash escalated. Although shingles is not very contagious, unlike chicken pox which I had when I was a kid, I isolated myself from everybody else until the rash disappeared. Also, members of the office staff had already had chicken pox, so there was very little danger of infecting them since there has to be direct contact with the blistering substance to pass it along. I didn’t miss a day of work (the owner of this newspaper doesn’t allow me to miss work, except in the case of my death) but I did become a hermit in my office so that I wouldn’t have any contact with the public.
I was also fortunate that the shingles broke out where they did, instead of on my face, or in my eyes or other places on my head -- as some shingle sufferers have experienced. (That would have been harder to endure.) My case of shingles was always covered by my shirt so only a few people even knew I had the rash. I think the fact that I went to the doctor so quickly and was able to take a drug for them, caused the rash not to be as severe. Although there was some blistering, that part of having the shingles disappeared after several days.
Even though the early treatment dealt effectively with the rash, the pain was quite severe -- and it continued after all of the rash had disappeared. As Dr. Donahue indicated in his column, “pain is a consequence of the nerve injury,” and some of the pain (although greatly diminished) is still with me four months later. I guess it could be said that shingles can really get on your nerves! I’m not sure what caused the shingles to suddenly break out. Some people believe a case of the shingles is caused by stress. I’m a little skeptical of that belief because, if stress causes shingles, I would have broken out from head to toe during the years that I was mayor and chaired all of those council meetings. Just joking! (See, I haven’t lost my sense of humor.)
I don’t know if I will ever have another case of shingles but I would just as soon pass and mark that experience off the bucket list -- not that it was ever on my list of fun things to do. Maybe I will be okay for the rest of my life when it comes to not having another case of shingles. After all, once they are put down most shingles come with a guarantee to not need replacing for 25 years -- at least that’s what I heard in a commercial for a roofing company.
Editor & Publisher
Columns Are Printed With The Most Recent Displayed First
* * * *
The photo across the top of the page shows the northeast corner of downtown's Lincoln Square and the statue of Abraham Lincoln marks where he gave his first political speech.