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January Spring


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Always teaching, always learning: Wheeler set for last semester leading acclaimed PAR program

CharlieWheeler3By JEFF ROGERS

Director, Illinois Press Foundation


A textbook come to life.

That’s how one of his former students describes Charlie Wheeler, who has been director of the Public Affairs Reporting program at University of Illinois Springfield since 1993.

Lisa Ryan, who graduated from the program in 2015 and now works for a public radio and television news organization in northeast Ohio, described the Wheeler “textbook.”

“Filled with reporting advice, history lessons, and an amazing memory for the smallest detail,” she said.

Ryan is among more than 700 graduates of the program, which has had only three directors in its 47 years.

But when the program’s Class of 2019-2020 assembles in the fall, there will be a new director. Wheeler is retiring in August, having decided that 50 is a nice, even number of years spent in and around journalism. He started his first full-time job in 1969 as a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times.

“I feel fortunate. I feel blessed,” Wheeler said. “Not many people get the opportunity to make a career out of doing something they like.”

Family legacy

Wheeler is quick to point out his connection with journalism began long before 1969, long before he was alive.

His grandfather, Charles N. Wheeler, was a newspaper reporter, first for Joliet newspapers and eventually for the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Daily News. He covered World War I and the Irish rebellion.

His father, Charles N. Wheeler Jr., was a reporter, copy editor, features editor and assistant city editor for three decades with the Chicago Times and then the Chicago Sun-Times.

Charles N. Wheeler III also seemed destined for a journalism career, writing about the sports teams of his high school, Joliet Catholic, as a part-timer for the Joliet Herald-News. He also wrote for the paper’s year-end “progress edition.”

But when Wheeler headed to St. Mary’s College in Winona, Minnesota, he planned to major in chemistry. The U.S.-Soviet space race sparked an interest in science. Still, he wrote about the St. Mary’s sports teams for the college, and for the Winona newspaper. He ended up getting a degree in English.

“I thought, Do I really want to spend my life in a lab?” Wheeler said.

So, he went to graduate school at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, never having taken an actual journalism course.

But even after getting his master’s degree in journalism there, he delayed the start of his career to serve as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in the Republic of Panama, which he did from 1965 until returning home in 1969 when his father was diagnosed with cancer.

Reporting years

Wheeler was hired as a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times in April 1969. One of his first assignments was to cover a rally of the Black Panther Party, a group Wheeler said he knew little of at the time.

“I always felt like I didn’t know enough about what I was going to write about,” Wheeler said. It was a concern he would later turn into a pillar of the PAR program.

Wheeler found his niche at the Sun-Times covering the campaign for delegates to the Constitutional Convention – or “Con-Con” – and the ratification of the state’s fourth Constitution in 1970. It’s difficult to talk to Wheeler at any length about state government without “Con-Con” entering the conversation.

“I made that my beat, if you will,” Wheeler said.

That “beat” became more official when, in 1971, Wheeler began covering state government in Springfield while the Legislature was in session.

“I was the only guy in the newsroom who had been in Springfield before and wanted to go back,” Wheeler said with a smile.

“The beauty in covering the Statehouse is that what you learn today is the foundation for what happens tomorrow. But what happens tomorrow has enough twists that you can never get bored. It’s always exciting. … You wind up learning the darndest things.”

That wealth of knowledge accrued is something Wheeler’s students marvel.

“I’m convinced the only person who knows more about Illinois state government than him is literally Michael Madigan, and he wrote the state Constitution,” said Seth Richardson, who is a 2015 graduate of the PAR program and is now chief political reporter at cleveland.com.

The Sun-Times moved Wheeler to Springfield full-time in 1974, though he’d still work from the Chicago area during primary and general election seasons for statewide and federal offices. He became the Sun-Times’ Statehouse bureau chief in 1987.

Marcel Pacatte, a journalist in residence and assistant professor at Boise State University who was a member of Wheeler’s first PAR class in 1993-94, recalls a story he’d tell his students.

“One of my favorite stories he told is when his editor called from Chicago to tell him that he needed to write a story to answer one the Tribune had, and Charlie was able to say, ‘But I broke that story last week!’”

Being an ‘editor’

Wheeler said he still considers himself to be a reporter, even though he’s been a teacher for 26 years.

He said his role as director of the Public Affairs Reporting program is more like being an editor, with the students being reporters.

But there’s another role Wheeler plays in the program that is apparent in the way past students still speak of him, with reverence and affection.

“Charlie was like a father to all of us, providing gentle guidance,” said Dana Perino, a 1995 PAR graduate who now is an anchor and co-host on the Fox News Channel. “I’ve appreciated how he’s kept in touch with us all these years.”

Wheeler recently completed and sent to all grads and others the annual “Green Sheet.” The holiday-season newsletter shares greetings from a number of PAR grads and as much contact information as possible about each alum.

His connection to PAR reaches back to 1973, when the Sun-Times had its first intern from the program’s first class. Wheeler got familiar with how the program worked, what it taught, by working with interns every spring in the Sun-Times’ Statehouse bureau.

“I enjoyed working with the students, so when the position opened up” it was a natural step to take, Wheeler said.

“It wasn’t all that different because, in a sense, I was doing the same stuff that I had been doing as a reporter – taking complicated stuff and explaining it for readers.”

The PAR program was founded in 1972 by former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, who was lieutenant governor at the time and had just lost the Democratic primary for governor. Simon had been a newspaper editor and publisher in his earlier years, and decided to bring both his journalistic and political knowledge into creating a program that trained young reporters to cover state government. It was a novel idea at the time, Wheeler said, and the more “avant-garde” Sangamon State University (now UIS) was a perfect birthing place for the program.

Bill Miller, an award-winning radio reporter, took over as director in 1974. The program became prominent in both legislative and journalistic circles during Miller’s tenure.

“When my fellow Statehouse reporters learned I had been chosen to succeed Bill, they asked me how it felt to be taking a job where all I could do was mess it up, so high was the regard in which Bill and PAR were held,” Wheeler wrote in this year’s “Green Sheet.”

Wheeler did anything but mess up the program. It’s thrived, and continued to help place former students in prominent journalism jobs throughout the country. The first semester is sort of a “boot camp” for budding Statehouse reporters, where students are drilled on the important but often mundane issues central to state government. Think property taxes and school funding.

Wheeler wants to be sure his students aren’t like he was when he was a young reporter, feeling like he didn’t know enough about the subjects he was assigned to write about.

“Charlie not only teaches students, he’s a student of government,” said Sean Crawford, the news director at the college’s WUIS and a member of the PAR Class of 1997. “He understands why things happen and why they don’t. … He is as well researched as anyone I know.”

In the spring, students get to apply that knowledge as interns with newspapers, TV stations and wire services covering the Statehouse. They work as full-time reporters from January until they graduate.

“I feel the courses are geared toward preparing students for their internships, but also for their careers later,” Wheeler said.

“If you can cover the Legislature in Illinois, you can cover just about anything else. Maybe not the White House these days. …”

Said Kate Clements Gary, a 1998 PAR graduate who now is a director of communications and marketing at the University of Notre Dame College of Arts and Letters: “Charlie’s retirement is the end of an era. He taught a generation of reporters not just how to be better interviewers, writers and investigative reporters, but why our role as watchdogs was so essential to democracy.”

What’s next?

That role of being a watchdog is one that Wheeler worries is slipping away from news organizations that have been cutting into reporting resources.

The top challenge to the PAR program, he said, is something that’s out of its control.

“The attrition in the Statehouse in terms of full-time bureaus is a challenge,” Wheeler said. “It’s not just in Illinois, it’s across the country.

“There’s a new generation of ownerships that have less of an understanding that the newspaper is a community resource.”

That news bureaus have mostly disappeared from the Statehouse has impacted the PAR program as well as news consumers. This year’s class has only seven students – four in print and three in broadcast – in great part because there was only that number of internships available.

“It’s a challenge for the program, but in a broader sense it’s a challenge for the industry, for our nation,” Wheeler said. “If you don’t have newspapers there chronicling what’s going on … people can’t be engaged citizens.”

That Wheeler reporting legacy? It will have to wait at least another generation. Wheeler’s children work in unrelated fields.

As for the PAR program, Wheeler said the university is committed to its continuing, and is actively working to hire his successor. And he vows to stay involved, whether it’s as an adviser to the next director, continuing to show up at the Capitol a few days a week as he does now, or working in his role as a board member for the Illinois Press Foundation and helping it grow its new state government news service.

“Despite its downsizing, the program still provides aspiring journalists a unique opportunity to gain professional experience in a very demanding reporting environment, all the while earning a graduate degree,” Wheeler said. “Now someone else will have the honor of bearing the PAR standard. … May he or she have as wonderful and rewarding a tenure as I!”

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Press Releases


Renee' Blissett
(773) 968-5777 | Mobile 
The Lighthouse Church of All Nations
4501 W. 127th Street
Alsip, IL 60803

Pastoral transition in Chicago's largest
multicultural church

**Press invited Sunday, March 26, 2023, at 6 p.m. CST for a
special celebration service**

Having just celebrated 45 years of serving the Chicagoland area, The Lighthouse Church of All Nations is embarking on a new journey. Founded by the Rev. Dr. Dan Willis in 1977, the church grew from 16 people to 6,000 members and is well-respected throughout the world for its integrity, love and commitment to helping others. This nondenominational ministry is home to 72 different nationalities and ministers to more than 700 children and youth every weekend.

The Rev. Dr. Dan Willis, affectionately known as, “Pastor Dan”, has led as senior pastor for these past 45 years and is excited to announce his elevation to bishop. The new senior pastor of The Lighthouse Church of All Nations is the Rev. Garland Mays, Jr. Pastor Garland and his wife, Pastor Farida, have been members and ministers for many years, leading as youth pastors for nearly 15 years. Parents of three sons, they realize the importance of strong families and the role communities of faith play. 

This change does not mean “retirement” for Bishop Dan though! His new role allows him to mentor and oversee The Lighthouse while also elevating his opportunities for television ministry, writing, speaking and teaching. 

This transition will be celebrated at 6 p.m. Sunday, March 26,in the Main Sanctuary of The Lighthouse Church, 4501 W. 127th Street in Alsip. Free and open to the public, we encourage everyone to join us for this special night.  




Media Contact:
Katy Brumm Pederson
(217) 710-8152

Project Runway Winner, TV Celebrity and Internationally renowned designer, Jonathan Kayne will be in Litchfield this weekend raising funds for St Jude’s Children’s Hospital and styling prom at My Formals 


About Johnathan Kayne: As a successful fashion designer and business owner, Kayne was selected to compete on Project Runway. This experience, his charming personality, and eye for glamorous style propelled Kayne to his own celebrity status. Kayne starred on the TLC special Gown Crazy, and also appeared on E!, ABC, NBC, Bravo, and The Style Network.

In addition to his dress line, Johnathan serves as a fashion expert for Country Weekly, Zuus Country, and NStyle Country. Dubbed as a “genius designer” by Heidi Klum and “a designer who knows how to make clothes and fit a woman’s body” by Michael Kors, his designs have appeared on the world’s biggest stars and most prestigious red carpets. A few of his celebrity clients include Jennifer Lopez, Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire, Elle King, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, Kelly Pickler, Tanya Tucker, Britney Spears, Lee Brice, and Rascal Flatts.

Event News:
Meet Johnathan Kayne at MyFormals this Saturday and Sunday. A donation will be made to St Jude’s for every Johnathan Kayne dress sold.  

Johnathan Kayne will be giving fashion tips, showing special pieces from the 2023 Prom & Pageant line and helping girls choose the perfect prom dress for them. Let a design expert help you get the right prom dress for you to make memories.

When: March 4th & 5th
Where: My Formals
1200 N Old Rte 66, Litchfield, IL 62056

(217) 324-4513





Media Contact:
Christopher Weishaar
Digital Public Relations Specialist
(515) 273-7140

Ten $1,000 scholarships now open to Midwest high school seniors 

High school seniors from Illinois and five other Midwest states have a chance to earn the scholarships

WEST DES MOINES, IOWA — High school seniors from Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin now have a chance to receive one of 10 college scholarships worth $1,000. Registration is open now through April 28, 2023. Parents are also now able to register their student.

High school seniors or their parents may register for the ISL Midwest Senior Scholarship at www.IowaStudentLoan.org/Midwest. ISL Education Lending will award $1,000 scholarships to 10 students whose names are randomly drawn after the registration period. There are no financial need, grade point average or class rank requirements. The ISL Midwest Senior Scholarship can be used at any eligible institution in the United States.

Registered participants also receive emails highlighting financial literacy tips, such as the importance of early career and college planning and ways to reduce student loan indebtedness.

“Student loan debt is a huge concern for new college students,” said Steve McCullough, president and CEO of ISL Education Lending. “As a nonprofit, we provide tools and resources to help high school seniors plan so they can reduce the amount of debt they need to take on while achieving their education goals. Students sign up for a chance at a $1,000 scholarship, and we take that opportunity to share information with them about our free resources.”

The ISL Midwest Senior Scholarship is open to legal U.S. citizens who are seniors at a high school in one of the qualifying states during the 2022–2023 school year and who intend to attend college, either virtually or physically, in fall 2023. It is a no-purchase-required program, and full rules and details are available at www.IowaStudentLoan.org/Midwest.

Additional Resources Available

In addition to offering student loans, ISL Education Lending has other resources for families planning for college and for students who intend to pursue advanced degrees. The Parent Handbook consists of valuable tips to help families of students in sixth through 12th grades prepare for success in college and other postsecondary options. Parents of students in eighth through 12th grades can also sign up to receive twice-monthly emailed tips on academic, college and career planning through the Student Planning Pointers for Parents program. The College Funding Forecaster helps families understand the total cost of four years of college based on a freshman-year financial aid offer. Information about these resources is available at www.IowaStudentLoan.org/SmartBorrowing.

# # #

About ISL Education Lending

Established in 1979 as Iowa Student Loan Liquidity Corporation, a private, nonprofit organization, ISL Education Lending helps students and families obtain the resources necessary to succeed in postsecondary education. ISL has helped nearly 400,000 students pay for college, offering student loans and other products under the name ISL Education Lending. The organization, based in West Des Moines, Iowa, also provides an array of borrower benefits, financial literacy tools and community reinvestment programs, including support for free college planning services for students and their families. For more information, visit www.IowaStudentLoan.org.





Contact:  Stephanie Benson, program chair, at irc@illinoisreadingcouncil.org
Illinois Reading Council

http://illinoisreads.org and www.illinoisreadingcouncil.org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IllinoisReads
Twitter: https://twitter.com/IllinoisReads  #Illinoisreads


Illinois Reading Council's 
2023 Illinois Reads Book Selection 
featured at the
IRC Conference on March 9-10, 2023 


The Illinois Reading Council (IRC) has just released the list of ILLINOIS READS books for 2023. ILLINOIS READS is a statewide program that promotes reading for all Illinois citizens. The program promotes six books in six different age categories by authors and illustrators who have ties to Illinois. The books range from read-to books for infants to books for adult readers. Bookmarks and posters highlighting the ILLINOIS READS books will be available in early 2023. Order early as supplies are limited!

The 2023 ILLINOIS READS Program will also be featured at the annual IRC Conference in Springfield on March 9-10, 2023. Conference registration is now open for educators, librarians, and others interested in promoting literacy. More information is available at the Illinois Reading Council website.

The ILLINOIS READS book selections for 2023 are:
Ages Birth – 4 Years
Would You Come Too? by Liz Garton Scanlon and illustrated by Diana Sudyka
This is Music: Drums by Rekha S. Rajan
Chicago, Baby! by Feather Flores, illustrated by Kelly Leigh Miller
ABC Animals! by Stephen F. Majsak
I’ll Be Your Polar Bear by Justin Roberts
Molly on the Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal

Grades 3-5
Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera
Buzzing with Questions: The Inquisitive Mind of Charles Henry Turner by Janice N. Harrington
Pighearted by Alex Perry
A Rover’s Story by Jasmine Warga
Apple Crush by Lucy Knisley
Three Strike Summer by Skyler Schrempp

Grades 9-12
A Man Called Horse: John Horse and the Black Seminole Underground Railroad by Glennette Tilley Turner
Murder Among Friends: How Leopold and Loeb Tried to Commit the Perfect Crime by Candace Fleming
As Fast As Her: Dream Big, Break Barriers, Achieve Success by Kendall Coyne
Strike the Zither by Joan He
The Wolves Are Watching by Natalie Lund
Darling by K. Ancrum

Grades K-2
The Most Haunted House in America by Jarrett Dapier
Stella Keeps the Sun Up by Clothilde Ewing
Elephant’s Big Solo by Sarah Kurpiel
The Meaning of Pride by Rosiee Thor and illustrated by Sam Kirk
Tortoise and Hare: A Fairy Tale to Help You Find Balance by Susan Verde and illustrated by Jay Fleck
Yetis are the Worst! by Alex Willan

Grades 6-8
Courage by Barbara Binns
The Civil War of Amos Abernathy by Michael Leali 
Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa by Julian Randall Tumble by Celia C. PĂ©rez
ReThink the Internet: How to Make the Digital World a Lot Less Sucky by Trisha Prabhu
Underground Fire: Hope, Sacrifice, and Courage in the Cherry Mine Disaster by Sally M. Walker

The Upstairs House: A Novel by Julia Fine 
Grace: President Obama and Ten Days in the Battle for America by Cody Keenan
Eat, Drink, and Be Murray: A Feast of Family Fun and Favorites by Andy Murray
Remarkably Bright Creatures: A Novel by Shelby Van Pelt
The Two Lives of Sara by Catherine Adel West
Last Summer on State Street: A Novel by Toya Wolfe

ILLINOIS READS is sponsored by the Illinois Reading Council, a nonprofit organization with close to 2,000 members across the State of Illinois. The mission of the Illinois Reading Council is to provide support and leadership to all who promote and teach lifelong literacy. Book lists from 2013 to 2022 may be found on the ILLINOIS READS website. More information is also available at www.IllinoisReads.org and www.IllinoisReadingCouncil.org.




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