DeKalb County Life for May 2, 2016: DeKalb reporter takes flight; Doug Oleson gets political; Steve Bigolin sees NIU changes over time; Jessi writes on what age to marry; Sheriff concludes history series

DeKalb reporter asked to try flying


By Barry Schrader, DeKalb County Life Online

A young DeKalb Daily Chronicle reporter got a surprise assignment from then editor Eddie Raymond soon after she started her new job with the newspaper in 1949.
Raymond had just hired her as a society writer for $58 a week, which totals $3,000 a year. (Probably not bad for a beginning reporter back then.) He explained that she could take lessons at the paper’s expense toward the goal of getting her pilot’s license and had Darrel Caris of Caris Aviation all lined up to instruct her. Of course the deal also included writing a series of articles, her personal account of the experience, successful or not.
Young Merle Weiherman was still in her 20s and had only accepted the job if the newspaper would match the starting pay of a teacher, which she hoped to be someday. She had graduated a few years before from Northern with a fine arts degree but still needed a few courses to get her teaching credential.
Another interesting fact about her: She had been working in Chicago as a secretary at a research and testing facility at the University of Chicago where something called the “Manhattan Project” was underway. A scientist named Enrico Fermi and his team were building an experimental reactor under the bleachers at Stagg Field. They were trying to create the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. Merle said she didn’t know what was going on at the time but she and everyone else in Chicagoland could have been blown to smithereens  if the device “went critical” resulting in an atomic explosion.
Getting back to the story about her flying, I found it ironic she used the subhead in her first column: ”Atomic Bomb carried no more punch than the possibility of flying” since she had been a small part of the dawn of the nuclear age. But by the time she wrote those words in March 1949 the A-bomb had been tested, dropped over Japan and the war had ended.
She asked her editor if she could just take a ride in the Cessna parked on a grassy field somewhere out North First Street near DeKalb and was assured she could. “During the next few days I had mixed feelings of exhilarating enthusiasm inspiring me to dash off into the wild blue yonder, alternating with qualms of fear urging me to crawl under my bed…” she wrote in her first column.
Over the next three months she wrote weekly about her lessons and ultimate goal of earning a pilot’s license. Headlines on her series proclaimed: Trial Flight Great Stuff, Flying and Skirts Mix, Merle’s Head Above the Clouds, Merle Feels Like Popeye (figure that one out), Merle Flies Cross Country (all the way to Compton), and Merle Takes a Solo Trip.
Then finally in May of that year she had completed the necessary requirements, including the number of hours needed to obtain a license and she got that piece of paper saying she was a pilot.But she said there wasn’t much to tell after that because she only went up a couple more times, once to give her brother-in-law an aerial tour of the countryside.
Then in December that year she married a local man named Harrison Sawyer, next earning her teaching credential, getting a position at Cortland Elementary School teaching second, and later, fourth graders.
The Sawyers raised three children—a girl named Candy and two sons Mark and Craig.
I couldn’t end this story without explaining the Popeye comment she made in her column. She had survived coming out of a stall in midair, then some tight little circles called 720s. After that she wrote: “I felt just like the cartoon character Popeye. I don’t suppose an onlooker could see any visible change but in my imagination I visioned myself stretched out as Popeye frequently is when the villain is swinging him around his head. My skeleton, being of a firm nature, remained its full length but my flesh and skin was being drawn downward…my cheeks felt as it they were hanging down around my knees….”
I can imagine the first pilot to reach Mach 1 in a test flight many years later would have described his experience in the somewhat the same way.
This fascinating story came from a conversation Merle and I had one evening at dinner at the Oak Crest Retirement Center when she casually mentioned she had once worked for the Chronicle and would I like to see a folder of her clippings. It just goes to show what I have found so many times—nearly everyone has interesting stories to tell about their life.


Young Merle Weiherman’s graduation photo.


From the Doug-out


By Doug Oleson (

Am I missing something? Seriously, am I?

When the Republicans held their first presidential caucus in Iowa many moons ago, Marco Rubio finished a clear and distant third behind Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop the first term Florida Senator from declaring victory.

I was wondering at the time, but I didn’t say anything. It was still early in the game and maybe he knew something the rest of us didn’t.

Apparently, he didn’t since he dropped out not long after Trump proved he has bigger hands than him.

And now this happened.

Just recently, Donald Trump swept five Eastern states in one dramatic day. If it didn’t officially seal the Republican presidential nomination for him, it pretty much left little doubt who is going to win it.

The very next day, after this rather crushing defeat, Ted Cruz announced he had a major statement to make. Expecting to hear him say he was dropping out of the race, I turned on CNN. To my utter amazement, the junior senator from Texas wanted to inform the world he had chosen Carly Fiorina as his vice presidential running mate.

U-u-h, what?

I’ve heard of being blindly optimistic, but u-u–u-u-h w-h-a-t?

And why does Cruz keep running political ads here in Illinois? Has anyone told him our primary is over and we don’t vote again until the General Election in November?

The whole thing doesn’t make any sense.

He does realize he’s losing, right? At the time I write this, Trump had received close to 11 million votes compared to about eight million for Cruz. Fiorina was so popular with voters she concluded her campaign after the second primary, so exactly how many voters does Cruz think she is going to draw?

Or is this some kind of new political math I don’t understand?

The fact is, I haven’t understood this entire election since it began.

You have a billionaire businessman who has never held office running away with the Republican nomination, even though the top officials of his party are doing everything they can to stop him. And if they should stop him, aren’t they concerned they are going to turn off all the people who have already voted for him? Do they think these voters are automatically going to line up for another Republican candidate, especially someone they could have voted for in the first place but chose not to?

Then there’s this deal with Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

How many times does he have to tell the Republican Party he is not interested in running for President before they take him seriously? Are the Republicans that desperate they have to draft someone who isn’t even interested in the job? And are they so arrogant to think they’re going to win, whoever is on the ticket? When he ran as vice-president with Mitt Romney four years ago, the Republicans didn’t even carry Wisconsin, Ryan’s home state. What do they think has changed since then?

Now, I’m not a Republican or a Democrat. And, trust me, I don’t like Hillary any more than most Republicans; in fact, I think her campaign slogan should be: “Hey, I’m no more dishonest than any other professional politician.”

But still, the Republicans are making her look better and better all the time. Then again, she’s still her. In fact, every time I start thinking she might not be too bad, she opens her mouth or else does something equally Clinton-like — and then I change my mind.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I keep asking myself: Deep down, of all the major candidates, is there one I really want to see running this country?

The great David Halberson once wrote a  book, “The Best and The Brightest,” which was primarily about the brilliant minds that permeated Washington under the Kennedy Administration.

I’d hate to think what he’d call such a book today: “Dumb and Dumber?”

Finally, if Trump should eventually win the Republican nomination, I wonder who his running mate will be? My guess is someone from the Shark Tank.

But then, hey, I’m not doing much of anything these days. Of course I know I don’t measure up to political standards: I have too much common sense.


Steve Bigolin writes about…

Changes at NIU since 1967


  In the last column we looked at changes around DeKalb itself; now it’s NIU’s turn to shine.

Back in 1967, Northern encompassed 48 buildings on its 417 acre campus.  In 2016 however there are 64 major buildings on 756 acres.  This does not include off-campus locations such as Loredo Taft Field Campus or the Rockford, Hoffman Estates and Naperville campuses.
Altgeld Hall sported metal windows with hideous red panels in them.  Huskie Stadium was less than two years old, and the old football field-Glidden Field survived where the Art and Music buildings are now to be found.  Immediately north of Lincoln Highway off Castle Drive, fronting the Lagoon was a small parking lot.  Today’s MLK Commons was a parking lot.  A row of small private houses was on the east side of Normal Road in the 400 Block, leading up to Newman Center.  Similarly there were homes on Lucinda between Garden and Normal Roads.  Carroll Avenue connected Lincoln Highway with Lucinda, and vice versa.
The Montgomery Arboretum was where Montgomery Hall and the Psychology-Computer Science Buildings now stand.  The Field House was the basketball arena, and its later namesake – George G, “Chick” Evans – was Men’s Athletic Director. Stevenson North was NIU’s newest dorm.  Each year an Undergraduate Catalog was published which contained all course offerings, faculty lists, tuition and fee, graduation requirements, etc.  I still have mine from 1967-1968, much the worse for wear.  The Holmes Student Center was DeKalb’s tallest building until the Taylor Street High-rise was erected.  The Convocation Center was still on NIU’s wish list for another 39+ years.  Swen Parson Hall was the library, and not handicapped accessible.
Northern had five Presidents prior to 1976.  There have been seven more since then.  Then former Roberts Elementary School became the School of Nursing.  Northern joined the Mid America Conference(MAC), long a dream of “Chick” Evans.  The Huskie football team  started playing BIG 10 rivals.  The Huskie Bus Line began as a winter service only, and just on campus.  Who would ever have thought that NIU would one day own the former DeKalb Ag headquarters building on Sycamore Road.  Long overdue attention to conditions in Altgeld Hall led to a $25 million state funding renovation/restoration.
I think it’s time to stop.  I’m sure you get my drift.  As the old songs say – “Time waits for no one, it passed you by,” or “And the times they are a changing.”


What’s the right age to marry?


By Jessi Haish-LaRue (

My husband Chris and I just reached six months of marriage.

We honestly love being married. We like that we’ve really become a team, and our love is stronger than ever.

There’s some obvious perks too: Older people seem to take us more seriously. People are asking us about our goals for the first time in a long time. There was a noticeable difference at tax time. I think we were able to get our recent car loan because of our marital status.

And as nice as these perks are, I wish there was one thing I could change: the stigma that we were too young to get married.

We got married at 24 years old, which is light years after when our older family members tied the knot. And yet, it’s way too early for our generation? When did that change?

I get that people are delaying marriage for particular reasons, like education. We did that. But that doesn’t mean that any other way is “wrong,” and I’m tired of people being judged for dating a variety of people, being on Tinder, committing or not committing to a relationship. Everyone wants different things, and not everyone is at the same “stage” in their lives. Let people live!

An employee at the car dealership remarked that he was surprised to learn that Chris and I were married. He said something along the lines of (in a skeptical tone) “Wow, you guys are really young. I mean, everyone your age is waiting until, like, 30.”

Is that a fact? A good chunk of my peers are engaged or married, including some of my closest friends. Maybe I ran with a certain “type” growing up, people who were mature for their age, people who grew up surrounded by great examples of commitment. Maybe that’s what makes us “different.”

But I don’t think that means anything after 25 is too old. I think the time is right when the time is right, no matter when that comes. I just think people like Chris and I find comfort in a committed relationship. That’s not the lifestyle for everyone, but some people scoff at it, some are wary of it, some try to tear others down for it.

Why can’t we all respect each other’s decisions?

The age at which someone decides to “commit” shouldn’t matter to anyone but the person who is making that choice. Most people do it all “out of order,” these days, anyway.

And that’s OK.

What really matters is being 100 percent secure in your decision, whatever that decision may be. If you know this is the person you want to marry, marry them! If it seems like no one’s good enough for you, maybe that’s true. Maybe there’s something better up ahead. But never, ever judge someone for the path their life is taking. Instead, be there to support and uplift them, or you should expect to be kicked to the curb.

Getting married at 24 years old was the right decision for us, and I couldn’t have asked for a better six months. As I’m typing this, he’s being the “Kenny to my Dolly” as we sing and hum along to “Islands in the Stream.”

It’s a simple life, but it’s our life, and that’s for no one else to judge.


The tradition of Sheriff continues


Last of three parts by DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott

After the Norman conquest of England the responsibilities and power of the English Sheriff continued, however things began to change when in 1215 The Magna Carta was reluctantly signed by King John.  This great document of freedom came about because of the kings and thus the sheriffs’ ever increasing abuse of power over the centuries.  The Magna Carta contained 63 clauses, 27 of which related directly to the responsibilities of the sheriff and those associated with that office.  The English Sheriff’s responsibility and influence began to fade and by the early 1800’s the office was transitioning into a largely ceremonial office as it is today.  The diminishing of the importance of the English Sheriff coincided with the rise of the London Metropolitan Police Department under the brilliant leadership of Sir Robert Peele in 1828.

As the Office of Sheriff faded in importance in England, ironically it became an essential part of the government in other countries because of the expansion of the British Empire.  It was introduced in places such as Canada, Australia, India, and of course the American Colonies.

The first sheriff in America was Captain William Stone appointed in 1634 for the Shire of Northampton in the Virginia colony.  In 1652 the leaders in the Shire of Northampton converted to an elected sheriff, thus beginning the tradition in America of the elected sheriff.  In 1776 Pennsylvania, and New Jersey adopted the Office of Sheriff in their constitution, Ohio called for the election of the county sheriff in 1802, and then state –by-state the democratic election of the sheriff became not only a tradition but in most states a constitutional or statutory requirement.

In today’s United States with over 3000 sheriffs, only three states do not have an elected sheriff.  In addition there are several elected city sheriffs who are primarily involved in the court system of their jurisdictions.

The sheriff’s office in the colonies was much less social, had less judicial influence, and was much more responsive to individuals than the English sheriff.    As the nation expanded westward, the Office of Sheriff grew with that movement.  The early American Sheriff was important to the security of the people, and was granted much power.

 “Along the early frontier Sheriff’s administered punishment, not only conventional as we know it now, but also flogging, banishment, or execution by choking.”

There were many sheriffs in the early west, a few did not live up to the standards of the badge they wore, some were indicted for abuse of power, drunkenness and/or corruption.  The vast majority, however, served with courage and distinction.  There are many famous names that call out to us from the old west who served as sheriff  among them  Pat Garrett of Lincoln County New Mexico, Wild Bill Hickok Ellis County Kansas, Bat Masterson Ford County Kansas, Bill Tilghman  who was perhaps the greatest lawman ever, served as  Sheriff of Lincoln County Oklahoma.  Other notable sheriffs include, Augustin Washington father of George Washington Westmoreland County Virginia,  Arthur Shackelton  the longest serving Sheriff in our nation’s history  who served 51 years as Sheriff of Lunenberg, Virginia, Dwight Radcliff of Pickaway County Ohio who served 47 years as Sheriff, The first woman sheriff in Illinois Helena Dolder of DeKalb County, and of course Illinois legend and longest serving sheriff, Sheriff Elry Faulkner who served with honor and courage as Johnson County Sheriff for 40 years.

Throughout this nation the tradition does continue as thousands of sheriffs and their deputies serve side by side with all of law enforcement with dedication and courage.  They serve in Sheriff’s Offices with only one or two individuals up to offices with thousands of men and women. They share the common bond of the history of the Office of Sheriff, and the understanding of the sheriff’s direct accountability to the constitution and the citizens of their county. ©

(Reprinted with permission from Illinois Sheriff newsletter)

Fav foto of the week


These Sycamore High girls got all dolled up along with other Kiwanis Key Club members to help Oak Crest hold its annual Senior Ball and crowning of the 2016 king and queen. The Key clubbers decorated the hall, served as dance partners for the residents, and provided refreshments for the evening. (Photo by Barry Schrader)

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