My Brush With Mental Illness

By Barry Schrader

I am upbeat, gregarious, opinionated, and always see my glass half full, right?
Well what you see in public isn’t always what goes on deep down inside. I could also be depressed, filled with dread about cancer, and worried about how long I have to live, based on the genetics of the male side of my family.
But first, let’s go back to my early adulthood when I was just beginning my journalistic career. At the tender young age of 24 my new bride Kay and I were handed the opportunity of a lifetime—ownership of my hometown weekly The Genoa Republican. I jumped at the chance with $2,500 down and a loan from the paper’s owners of $46,500 to be paid off over a number of years. I went into overdrive, working day and night, soon acquiring the nearby DeKalb County Journal in Kirkland, then joining with an investor group from DeKalb to form DeKalb County Press. Three months later we started the Sycamore Sun, a weekly in the county seat to compete with the decaying True Republican and Sycamore Tribune. Then in a few more months we were successful in buying out the Dean family and taking over the two century-old weeklies.
But then I had a “falling out” with the investors in control so found myself bought out suddenly, with no job at the tender age of 26. Remembering some advice in a journalism book, given by Horace Greeley, who said famously “Go west young man, go west,” I hopped a plane and found a copy editor’s job in three days on a large Southern California daily, the San Bernardino Sun.
Shortly thereafter, I moved my wife Kay, seven months pregnant with our second child, and infant son to San Bernardino and we started over. A year later fortune shined on me again, and I was hired as managing editor of a suburban daily paper in the San Francisco Bay Area—the Tri-Valley Herald. So I never had a reason to be depressed because I was a workaholic and never had time to look back at my earlier naivete.
But others around me did have to deal with Depression and so I became acquainted with “mental illness” as society calls it, and plunged into the world of psychotherapy, psychiatric care and mental health facilities. Having been a psychology minor at NIU I understood some of the terminology that the medical profession tossed out.  (As an aside, I was influenced to add that minor by a Professor Duke Bischof.) And because of my journalistic training I began to look into mental health issues and the  pitiful condition of public mental health treatment.
Subsequently I was invited to join a committee of the Alameda County Health Care Services which included many citizen advocates for better mental health care. Just last month, while cleaning out our basement, I came across a yellowed 1977 letter from the Director of Mental Health Services for Alameda County, which was a nice thank you for my role as chairman of the Valley District Mental Health Subcommittee and my work on a needs assessment for the Alameda County Coordinating Council.
It was a vivid reminder of how long I have been involved as a “patient advocate” in the mental health arena, something I still am proud to be doing today. Even further back, I had witnessed how one man can make a difference when Ben Gordon organized the first mental health consumer group in DeKalb which eventually resulted in the Ben Gordon Center.
But lets move ahead 40 years and talk about my eventual bout with Depression. It was about four years ago when I had a confluence of my prostate cancer and bladder cancer, being treated for both at the same time by doctors at the DeKalb Clinic and at the University of Wisconsin Cancer Center in Madison. I was lucky to have a fine urologist Dr. Bernard Johnson who connected me with the UW cancer center. But the prospects of more treatments and uncertain outcome, after the death of a close friend Don Merwyn who had the same disease, gave me pause to think about dying and this drove me into Depression for the first time in my life  at the age of 72.
I just wanted to stay home, pull the covers up over my head, and remain isolated from my friends and my writing. I even quit my newspaper column, took a leave from Rotary Club, stopped going to church and had very little appetite for three months. It was one way to lose weight, but not very good for my overall health.
But then I finally did what every person with the same malady should do—go to our family physician, Dr. Shakeel Ahmad and seek advice and treatment. Luckily I ended up in the skilled hands of Dr. Tom Dennison at KishHealth System and Dr. Alan Singer at DeKalb Clinic, and with their good care and a 25 milligram daily dose of anti-depressant, pulled out of my “slump” and am back at writing, enjoying life and being my old gregarious self again.
I must also mention my spiritual guide through all this, Pastor Harlene Harden, who came to our house, held my hand and prayed with me. So that is why you will find she is my first choice for a personality profile interview in the next issue of “DeKalb County Life Online.”
Now you know why I speak out for improving mental health care so vehemently and am infuriated with the callous, money-driven decision by KishHealth “gurus” to shut down inpatient mental health care for this entire county, something desperately needed by scores of local residents. (See this letter below written to the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board about the impending acquisition of KishHealth by Northwestern Medicine.)
Writing is such great therapy; I can recommend it to anyone who needs a way to lift your spirits or get something off your chest. And with the invention of the internet, everyone can be a published columnist, poet, scribe or prognosticator.
If you have the urge to put something down on paper, send it to me and maybe it will help you feel better by publishing your thoughts for others to see on this new 21st Century media creation called The Blog.
So, until next time Mil….
(Barry Schrader at:





From the Doug-out…

By Doug Oleson, prize-winning columnist

(NOTE: Doug has agreed to be a contributing writer on this blog and has 36 years of newspaper experience under his belt. Up until a year ago he was The MidWeek’s star reporter and columnist. Now “retired” he is willing to share his thoughts with us in this online newsletter.)

In a way, it’s sort of like the forgotten holiday – Thanksgiving. Sandwiched between Halloween and Christmas, Thanksgiving comes in one of the dreariest – or at least one of the most uninspiring – months of the year. Lacking the fantasy of Halloween and the glamour of Christmas, Thanksgiving is like the middle child of holidays, very easy to overlook.

It probably wouldn’t hurt if Thanksgiving had a catchy song or maybe a feel good movie about it. Most of the Thanksgiving movies or TV shows I’ve ever seen are usually depressing forays into dysfunctional families, none of which ring true to me.

On a serious note, it took me a long time to fully appreciate what Thanksgiving means. Not to sound like a tired old cliche, but there’s more to Thanksgiving than football or get togethers or gouging on too much turkey. It is truly a time to be thankful.

Granted, there’s a lot to be unthankful for right now, including terrorism, the shocking rise in health care costs, a seriously divided political country, the Cubs once again failing to make the World Series. But there’s even more to be thankful for. The fact that I am still alive pretty much tops my list.

Sadly, I know a fair amount of people who can’t say the same thing.

A few weeks ago I was talking to my next door neighbor, a nice guy who occasionally helped with my father when he was still alive. The next day my neighbor was killed in an automobile accident between Malta and Creston. He leaves behind a wife, a 14-year old boy and a seven year old girl, who all adored him. One day he was here, talking about his lawn, and the next he was gone.

While I am still here I am going to be as thankful for everything as I can be, even those things I don’t like or can’t control. Because once you’re gone, you’re gone, and it won’t matter if some guy cut you off in traffic or you got short changed at a local grocery store or the Barbs didn’t make it to state this year.

Be thankful while you can.





Heard on the Party Line…

By DeKalb County Life columnist Barry Schrader

Some of you are old enough to remember the Personals or Society News published in weekly newspapers, and even dailies like the Chronicle, a half century ago. I was part of that era and got a kick out of reading about “chicken dinner” items from the many rural correspondents for the various weeklies. I still enjoy going back to those old papers and seeing how many names from the past I can still recognize.
So in light of the advent of the internet and online “blogging” I will attempt to add some spice to this newsletter by including some social or personal news as I move around the county.
Finding a name for this column was difficult but then I remembered my parents having a party line on the farm and how they were dismayed by the few people who “rubbered in” on their phone conversations when you had six to 10 parties on the same line. So the photo says it all: Shush while you listen in on others’ personal conversations, but pass the gossip on when you meet for coffee at the Lincoln Inn, McDonalds or many other gathering places where they serve up good java…
First item I overheard: Former county supervisor Pat Vary of DeKalb had a birthday dinner recently and explained how she flew back from Paris, France just 30 hours before the terrorist attacks around that beautiful city. Pretty close brush with disaster I would say. But it won’t deter her from traveling again, often with the guidance of Steve Johnson and his travel agency, as she said she enjoys those excursions away from DeKalb. Happy birthday Pat, and don’t forget, I turn 75 two days after Christmas…. (My mailing address is P. O. Box 851 in DeKalb, but no gifts please.)
I should pick up lots of news from others on our street since Sally Stevens lives in the next duplex and soon Nancy Castle (the 1st) will be moving in near Pat.
Thanks to a reminder from our neighbors Bob and Carole Nelson we motored up to Burlington recently for their annual turkey feast with all the trimmings held at the Burlington United Methodist Church. Even though the price has gone up to $12 a meal, it is well worth the trip. This is the very same church where Kay grew up and holds many fond memories for her family. We were greeted at the door by Leroy “Squeezer” Getzelman, whose firm handshake makes me think that is where he got his nickname. He said he heard we were coming and we later found out Fred Hempel had told Nelsons to remind us of the dinner. We had gone in previous years with kay’s childhood friend in 4-H Rita (Benson) Covey, but Rita died of cancer a couple years ago so we had missed the last two years’ dinners. So that is why I took a photo of the church window dedicated to the memory of Con and Milla Benson, parents of Rita and longtime friends of Kay’s parents Wayne and Gladys Wirsing. This time we met another of Kay’s family friends Janice (Erlewine) Askland who used to ride the school bus to Sycamore with Kay.
Also while eating dinner we sat with Jim Weberdal (or maybe it was Weberbal) and he turned out to be a culinary expert. He dines out a lot at various restaurants from Marengo to Elburn and recommended a place I think he called the Railroad Steakhouse south of Marengo for good quality meat. We also found out that the place once used as a hideout for Al Capone is being remodeled and will re-open soon. Now I just have to figure out how to find this restaurant that is tucked away on a back road in Kane county. Can anyone help me find it and remind me of its name? I should also mention we met Pastor Dave Seyller at the church dinner and learned they served 560 meals that night.
The next week I was privileged to escort a World War II Navy WAVE Pat Woods down to Waterman for a service conducted by Pastor Paul Lee recognizing veterans at the Waterman United Methodist Church. Her good friend Erdine Gletty was not up to attending the service so we paid her a visit later that morning. I have known Mrs. Gletty since 1969 when I was at the Chronicle and she was our Waterman society news correspondent. I reminded her she was the longest serving correspondent Waterman ever had, even surpassing the tenure of Sara (Stryker) Mendez who wrote a book on Waterman history (which I have somewhere in our basement). I also learned at church that an old family friend Dea (Eakle) Andress is having  her 90th birthday (actually it was Nov. 20) so everyone was invited to send her cards. Dea’s address is P.O. Box 307, Waterman, IL. 60556. Even though her memory is failing she would still love to open some cards and read your name. Mona Hamilton sent me a photo of Dea’s party by email so I can include it here. A really neat thing happened Friday when the Waterman grade school kids, who are being bussed to Shabbona while their school is being refurbished, got off the bus and stood outside Dea’s house and sang Happy Birthday to her. Not a dry eye in the house!
By the way, Mona reminded me that my old grade school, now the Waterman Middle School, is being demolished next year and all the junior high kids will be sent to Shabbona from then on. I’ve got to get my friend David Miner to take me down there so we can recover some relics from that old schoolhouse, since Dave taught there many years and knows the place well.
Getting back to the Waterman church service, I had a chat with Bob Johnson of the Kishwaukee College board who said they are close to choosing a new president to replace the retiring Tom Choice and we are all invited to meet the finalists out at the college and find out more about them. Great idea!
I must bring this to a close because it is still snowing outside this (Saturday) morning and my computer blogging guru Jeanine (Larson) Holcomb its coming in a few minutes to instruct me how to load this online. In case you want to see more of her talent, just click on the Larson Farms button at the top of this blog and see how skilled she is. If she wasn’t my wife’s great niece she would probably charge me a lot more than I am paying her now.
Until next time, keep on talking over coffee and remember, I may be listening from the next booth….
—-Barry Schrader at:

Dea Bday

Dea Eakle Andress celebrating her 90th birthday in Waterman, IL. (Photo by Mona Hamilton)


History Mystery for November 21, 2015


Where is this house and who lived in it? See answer at bottom of post.


What house is this? See answer at bottom of post.




History Mystery — week 1 revisited



Sarah Bacon Wood was the first “real” daughter of the American Revolution to live and die in Sycamore. She was featured in my October 20 Daily Chronicle column. This photo was found online by Phyllis Johnson and sent to me. They still haven’t found the large portrait of Sarah that used to hang in the Sycamore Library.

Con Benson

This church window memorializing Con & Milla Benson is in the Burlington United Methodist Church. See details in Heard on the Party Line story above.




Answers to this week’s History Mystery photos…


The chimney photo shows the Annie Glidden – Oderkirk house on North Annie Glidden Road next to the Barsema Alumni Center.

The playhouse photo is the Ellwood children’s playhouse when it was being moved from the Oderkirk house to the Ellwood mansion where it remains today.

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