DeKalb County Life for Feb. 8, 2016: Editorial about us; Columns by Doug Oleson, Jessi Haish LaRue and Steve Bigolin; Party line from Barry Schrader; Will skip Feb. 15 issue

A DeKalb County Life Online Welcome Editorial

The legendary journalist A. J. Liebling once proclaimed: “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”
That may have been true prior to the Digital Age, but now everyone with a laptop connected to the World-Wide Web can become a publisher of sorts.
DeKalb County Life was originally the name I chose for a local column that appeared off and on for seven years in the Daily Chronicle. But then I realized it could become more than just one person’s take on life in this county, but a collection of several people’s writings, views, photos and features that may not be found in mainstream media.
So just before the end of 2015, DeKalb County Life was borne from the innards of a computer and fingers of an old scribe. I am pleased to have others join me, together having more than a hundred years of writing, reporting, photography and editing experience. Those to date are former MidWeek writer/columnist Doug Oleson, former Chronicle staff reporter Jessi Haish LaRue, historian Steve Bigolin, and photographer/reporter Curtis Clegg. We hope to have more columnists/writers come onboard by next month.
By NO means do we expect to compete with the dominant news source for over a century around here—The Daily Chronicle, or the two local radio stations B95 and WLBK, or even The Northern Star at NIU. They will continue to serve a broader audience around the county, but we can fill a niche with additional news, entertainment and opinions on a variety of topics and causes. We join two other online journalists Mac McIntyre with his DeKalb County Online and Lynn Fazekas with her Barb City Blog, so residents with access to a computer can choose from a smorgasbord of local news,  features, exposes, opinions, and fun stuff.
We are pleased to become a member of the Northern Illinois Newspapers Association (NINA) which enables us to display their logo and enter into competitions for best columns, reporting, editorials, photography/videography and design.
As editor of this news outlet, I intend to offer space to others who wish to reach an audience online, cover some events and meetings sometimes not reported in the mainstream media, and offer opinions on local matters. That may not always please the local power structure, but is sorely needed. You might call this an “alternative newspaper” which is often mislabelled the “underground press” by critics who find such media sensational, biased, subjective instead of objective, and to the left or right of the mainstream.
We will remain free of advertisers who might want to influence us one way or another, but do accept donations, displaying their business cards shown on the website on a revolving basis. Our journalists get no pay, but the technicians who load the editorial material, edit the occasional internet radio programs (podcasts) and provide professional support for the website have to be reimbursed. So I am bearing the cost of production and technical assistance.
If you wish to support this digital effort, give me a call at 815-758-5424 or email You may use the same contact information for comments, ideas or submissions for possible inclusion in future online postings. To be a regular subscriber, at no cost, go to, then click on Barry’s Blog and enter your email address in the box provided in the right hand column. That way each issue will automatically appear in your email.
To revamp (R&R) and refresh, we will not publish next week, but return to your computer screens on Washington’s birthday, Feb. 22. Please peruse and enjoy the columns and photo submissions on this online publication already posted for this week.
Barry Schrader, editor/founder


From the Doug-out

By Doug Oleson (


This is the tale of two women. They may be small in stature physically, but both played a big role in my life.

I first met Ging Smith (shown in photo above) in the late summer of 1974. I was a sophomore at Kishwaukee College at the time. Like a lot of teenagers that age, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. Well, that’s not entirely true. I wanted to be a novelist, but since most publishing companies don’t pay unpublished writers to write a novel, I had to find something a little more practical to pursue. I had tried factory work and gas stations, but neither held much appeal. The year before I had dabbled on the school newspaper, something I had worked on briefly in high school, and thought maybe I’d give that more of a try.

There was a new teacher that year named Mrs. Smith, who I knew absolutely nothing about. Figuring to get a head start, I waited for her outside the school journalism office the first day of school. In those days, the journalism office was located in one of four narrow brown buildings at the north end of the school parking lot. None of them are there anymore.

I was standing just inside the door, checking out the bulletin board in the hallway, when this little lady walked in, who didn’t look much older than I did. At first I thought she must be a fellow student. She certainly couldn’t be the teacher. With a name like Smith, I was expecting someone who looked more German or English, definitely not someone from the Philippines.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve been wrong about anything, especially women.

Not only was she the teacher, she was a very good one at that. (On a humorous note, it was sometimes interesting when she gave us verbal spelling tests and she had trouble pronouncing some English words.)

Mrs. Smith was also the journalism adviser and, even though I had no experience, she appointed me the editor of the school newspaper for the second semester. As I found out, it was exactly what I needed at that time in my life. Not only could I do the work, I enjoyed it.

To be fair, the newspapers we turned out back then can’t compare to those of today. Back then, we went to school to learn how to do certain things; today, I think the kids go merely to refine their skills and get a degree confirming to others that they can do it. Plus, there’s a huge difference in technology. Back then, we developed our own film, laid out the paper by hand and wrote all our stories on typewriters; today, everything is done on computers.

Besides encouraging me a lot, Mrs. Smith gave me the confidence I needed to stand up for myself, sometimes in ways she wasn’t expecting.

I remember one time she was testing us on our editorial decisions. The question was: What’s more important in boxing, a fight between two top heavyweight contenders or the lightweight championship of the world?

When I said the contenders, she politely corrected me, giving me a little look that said I should have know better because it was so obvious.

“I disagree,” I quickly responded. “I can name several top heavyweights, but I bet no one in this room knows who the lightweight champion of the world is. For that reason, the fight between the heavyweight contenders is more important.”

She actually gave me that one.

Last month, Mrs. Smith was inducted into the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce Hall of Fame, an honor she richly deserves. Mark Kerman and Tom Matya were also inducted, but since I don’t know either of them I can’t write about them.

However, I can write about Margie Sturgis, who also had a big influence on me.

Among other things, Margie – who bore a striking resemblance to Mrs. Smith – was the first African-American school teacher in Winnebago County. She was also an administrator of some kind at Northern Illinois University. But that’s not why I’m writing about her.

A few years after leaving college, I saw an ad in the Rockford newspaper seeking a general assignment reporter for a community newspaper in Rockford. I had tried a number of jobs by then, none of which worked out, so I figured I’d apply.

During the interview, as she was going through what all the job detailed, Margie kept telling me it was all right that I had applied. In fact, she kept saying it over and over as if she was trying to convince herself of something rather than me. I didn’t say anything, but I couldn’t figure what she was getting at.

It was only after she hired me that it became obvious.

The community the paper covered was African-American community. Apparently, she was hoping to start a “minority” newspaper. When no one else applied, she gave me the job – reluctantly, I’m sure,  since I know I wasn’t exactly what she had in mind.

As it turned out, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

The paper only lasted a couple of years before it folded, but it was an amazing experience. For the first time, I got a chance to refine what I had learned at Kish; better yet, I was getting paid to write. Among other things, I covered a Nazi rally, New American Theatre and local high school sports. One of the more interesting things I covered was John B. Anderson’s run for President. When Anderson, a 20-year member of U.S. Congress, lost to Ronald Reagan in the Republican primary, he ran as an independent.

In looking back, I know I wouldn’t be where I am right now if it wasn’t for these two remarkable ladies, who both gave a chance to a goofy kid who didn’t deserve one.

I can’t thank either one of them enough.

Sadly, Margie passed away a few years ago, so she’ll never get the chance to read this.

I guess it’s true you should always tell someone what they mean to you while you can.


NIU campus paper a great learning experience

By Jessi LaRue (


I learned more in the Northern Star office than I ever did during my classes at Northern Illinois University. That’s not intended to be a jab; it’s simply the truth.

I went back to visit my Northern Star advisers this week, almost two years after I left NIU. Somewhere in the middle of the chit chat and reminiscing, I began to realize how much I had grown as a person while I was at the Northern Star.

During my time at the independent student newspaper, I learned about the art of news reporting and writing; I learned to edit, design, and take photos and video. The office was a judgment-free environment in which I could test my creativity and my talent. Those long days (and nights) in the office also created some of the strongest, truest friendships with some of my generation’s most talented people. I’m lucky.

Although I didn’t take my skills to a journalism job, I learned so much more that still sticks with me today.

I learned how to manage my time; not only was I a top editor at the Northern Star, but I also held down another part-time job and a full class schedule. I learned to prioritize. If I was going to do something, even if it was 10 things at once, I was going to do them right. I learned the importance of a hard day’s work.

I learned how to hold my own in a conversation. Before my time at the Star, I was fairly quiet in social situations. Sometimes I’d dread them. Through interviews with sources, editorial board meetings, and conversations with my reporters, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone. Now I can proudly small talk with the best of them. For some, that may not seem like a feat, but as our society relies more on the screens in their hands, the art of conversation seems to be on the back burner.

While reporting on touchy topics, I learned about ethics. I had difficult conversations. I learned the importance of double checking your work, being kind to people, and returning calls on time. Many of these lessons were small ones that were learned the hard way, but those always seem to be the lessons that stick with you for the long haul.

I use the lessons and skills I learned at the Northern Star every day. I use them at my full-time job, I use them on my personal blog, and on personal projects I’ve decided to take on. Most of all though, I’ve found that my time in that office just made me a better person: a hard worker, a compassionate person, and a tough, but motivating leader.

My time at the Northern Star was priceless, and is something that I will always be grateful for.

Historian Steve Bigolin writes…

What about that historic landmark in Esmond?


William Henry Ashelford (1866-1944) was the driving force behind the construction of Ashelford Hall.  Besides owning extensive farmlands, he dealt in livestock, established Esmond’s bank, had a building with a grocery store and dance hall in it, and owned and operated a cement block business.  In 1925 he erected this triangular shaped two-story building of gray cement blocks made by his company.  Its original use was a meeting hall for the South Grove Grange. Many different types of local events were held on the second floor of this structure, making it the town’s community center for many years.  On August 4, 1995 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (DCL photo)


Heard on the Party Line

Spring’s unofficial arrival has to be Feb. 24


As everyone around here knows, Spring is in the air, or at least in the minds of those who brave the blustery February temps to be first in line at the 2016 seasonal opening of Ollie’s Frozen Custard, on Oakland Drive across the corner from Hy-Vee.
An institution for custard lovers for decades, the young owners seem determined to declare winter weather over, whipping up their variety of flavors later this month. They have already announced their Feb. 24 specially-featured flavor will be Strawberry, with Dreamscape, Irish Cream Cake and Black Raspberry following the next three days. (According to their announcement only terrible weather will keep them from beginning the 2016 season on time.)
So congrats to owner Valerie Cranden who has run it since March 2000. But the business celebrated its 30th anniversary last summer.
So bundle up and get in line with the rest of us hardy souls…
*  *  *
ONE HUNDRED YEARS AND COUNTING—Dave Juday, retired chairman of the board of Ideal Industries, shared his company’s history  with members of the Sycamore Rotary Club recently. I asked permission of club newsletter editor Brian Adams to run his summary of the talk, from notes he obtained from Juday:

IDEAL Industries is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its founding;  Juday’s grandfather, J. Walter Becker, founded the company in 1916 to build an abrasive stone for maintenance of electric motors…and since then, the company has continued to make innovative technology for the general marketplace.

Juday says IDEAL was chosen as the name because Becker had tried several businesses before founding the company, and believed that having an ideal set of relationships between himself, customers, employees and the community would ensure a successful business.

IDEAL became successful in the community, managing to not only survive the Great Depression but to encourage companies to retool…in anticipation of the Depression’s end.  The company still functioned during World War II, not only helping the war effort but for creating wet cell batteries when dry cells were being sent overseas.

Today, IDEAL is continuing to enlarge and expand its product line; most recently, the company entered into a sponsorship agreement with the Chicago Cubs, which will involve the installation of an innovative remote lighting control system.  Right now IDEAL is constructing a 220,000 square foot addition, hoping to potentially add more product lines.
In talking with the speaker afterwards I explained that Ideal’s J. Walter Becker Park on Baseline Road adjacent to the Kishwaukee River was once my playground. My parents had built a new ranch-style home out there, along with two other families nearby (Wiricks and Snyders), in 1949 and I spent 10 years of my childhood roaming the pastureland and river bank with my faithful little dog Inky. Of course I did go to school as well since my mother taught at Kingston, then Genoa grade schools, and thought I should get an education.
I just don’t know how I survived childhood without a smartphone, tablet and ear buds. Of course we did have electricity way back in the 1950s, so I could watch television, play my 45s plus 33 and a third vinyl records, even  tape recording (reel-to-reel) some country music when my best buds from school—Clint Strouse, Paul Buzzell, Bernice Odom (now Durham), and Dave Guse came over. Clint strummed a mean guitar and Bernice added just the right twang to her singing; however, Buzz could not hold a tune. But I must be quick to admit Buzz was first trumpet in Mr. Hubbell’s G-K High band, so always kept me down in second chair along with Donna Ewald (now Wallin).
How did I ever get off the subject with all this reminiscing, so had better close and get this loaded on that world wide web machine. If anyone back in the Fifties had told me I would be typing and transmitting on one of these gadgets, well I would have bought stock in IBM or Apple (if it had existed back then)! In hindsight, I should have bought my father’s DeKalb Ag stock when he changed jobs and ended up at Leich Electic in Genoa. The stockholders didn’t do too badly either.
By Barry Schrader, “senior” editor of DeKalb County Life Online


David Juday, at right, shows one of his patented wrenches to Rep. Bob Pritchard, following his talk to the Sycamore Rotary.


Benefit concert will help gardens grow


Dan Kenney must have been overwhelmed with gratitude as the Make Our Garden Grow benefit concert for his DeKalb County Community Gardens and Walnut Grove Farm held Feb. 6 attracted nearly a full house in Boutell Memorial Concert Hall on the NIU campus. No less than seven musical groups totaling some 190 performers took part on stage. They included the NIU Concert Choir, University Chorus, Kaneland High School Choir, DeKalb Festival Chorus, Stagecoach Players (promoting Mary Poppins), and Sycamore High School Treble Choir. In photo the conductor of the NIU musical groups, Eric Johnson, is shown in front. (DeKalb County Life photo)


Sheriff1 copy
DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott (at left) recently honored longtime staffers in his office at a DeKalb County Board meeting. Shown here is Alice Pahnke, secretary and civil process coordinator, who was recognized by the sheriff for her 30 years with the department. (DCL photo)

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