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

CharlieWheeler3By JEFF ROGERS

Director, Illinois Press Foundation

jrogers@illinoispress.org

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

 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 17, 2024

Contact Information:
Joe Bella
(574) 276-1547 
joe@bellco-llc.com

J-Ad Graphics Newspaper Publishing sold to JAMS Media, LLC. and its View Newspaper Group of Lapeer, Michigan

 

The Jacobs Family has sold its J-Ad Graphics publishing business to JAMS Media, LLC and its View Newspaper Group of Lapeer, Michigan, according to Joe Bella, independent broker with BVC LLC. Joe Bella represented the Jacobs family in the transaction.

Legal details of the transaction were finalized on May 10. Financial specifics have not been made public.  

Weekly production of the Hastings Banner, The Reminder, and J-Ad’s newspapers in Battle Creek, Marshall, and Lowell will continue under the View Newspaper Group name. Based in Lapeer, Michigan, the View Newspaper Group operates primarily on the east side of the state with 14 free circulation and paid subscription community newspapers covering 10 Michigan counties. It prints more than 250,000 copies on both a weekly and daily basis.

According to J-Ad Graphics CEO Fred Jacobs, most employees will be retained though changes are likely in production and delivery operations.

“I realized keeping the business going was becoming more difficult due to rising costs, machine maintenance, and declining advertising dollars,” says Jacobs. “I felt an obligation to do what was necessary to keep our papers going even if it meant selling them to an outside firm."

The purchase of J-Ad Graphics fits the template of the View Newspaper Group, whose exponential growth began in 2003 with the launch of the Lapeer Area View by company President and founder Rick Burrough.

“The Jacobs family has been great stewards of the J-Ad group of newspapers,” states Burrough. “When the family decided it was time for them to sell their papers, they sought us out knowing of our success in the community newspaper business and our reputation for treating stakeholders – readers, advertisers, vendors, and employees – with fairness and respect.”

The Jacobs family was represented by Joe Bella, an affiliate of Business Valuation Consulting LLC. Contact Joe@bellco-llc.com, 1-574-276-1547.


 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 16, 2024

Contact Information:
Rocco D. Biscaglio
(708) 935-8218
rbiscaglio@leydentownship.com
leydentownship.com
 

Leyden Township Health Fair delivers needed health and wellness services to the community
 

LEYDEN TOWNSHIP, COOK COUNTY, Illinois - On Saturday, May 18, Leyden Township welcomes all residents to Leyden Township’s second Community Health Fair; making this an annual event after a successful first year. This health fair is designed to integrate health and wellness into the community by connecting residents to all services necessary for optimal health and well-being.

Components of health that will be represented during the fair will be by community partners who offer primary health care and mental health services. Also included are job opportunities, healthy food and clean water options, physical fitness, and safety skills and training. The event is structured to foster connection and awareness between residents and providers of health and wellness service providers in the community.

The Leyden Township Community Health Fair will be held at the Bradley A. Stephens Community Center, 2620 North Mannheim Road, Franklin Park, Illinois, on Saturday, May 18, from 1 to 4 p.m. This will be a free event that is open to the public. The Secretary of State will also be onsite during the health fair, offering Mobile DMV Services to residents with an appointment. Residents can secure reservations ahead of time by calling (847) 455-8616.  

Some of what The Leyden Township Community Health Fair will offer: 

  • Redetermination Information (maintaining health benefits)
  • Vehicle Registration and Driver's License Renewal
  • Various health screenings 
  • HIV testing
  • Healthy Snack options
  • Financial health literacy 
  • Nutrition counseling and access to emergency meals and more!


“My vision as township supervisor is to create a thriving community for all township residents. I found it prudent to prioritize our community’s health and wellness needs and to find community partners with a shared vision and proven track record of delivering positive health outcomes,” said Rocco D. Biscaglio, Leyden Township supervisor.

ABOUT LEYDEN TOWNSHIP
Founded in 1850, approximately 15 miles from downtown Chicago, Leyden Township is now home to a population of over 90,000 residents. Leyden Township includes the Villages of Elmwood Park, River Grove, Franklin Park, Schiller Park, portions of the Villages of Bensenville, Rosemont, Melrose Park, Norridge, and the Cities of Northlake and Park Ridge. Also included in Leyden Township is a large unincorporated area. The unincorporated area utilizes the Melrose Park Postal Service and uses the Northlake zip code of 60164. The Leyden Fire Protection District and the Cook County Sheriff's Police protect the unincorporated area.
 

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 15, 2024

Contact Information:
Alison Maley, government & public relations director
(217) 525-1383
alison@ilprincipals.org
 

Ready to lead: Illinois School Leader Pipeline participants gear up for hiring season
 

Springfield, IL – The Illinois Principals Association (IPA) is pleased to announce the first cohort of the Illinois School Leader Pipeline Program (ISLPP). This program aims to identify, develop, support, and sustain diverse aspiring school leaders in preparation for leadership roles. Managed by IPA, the Illinois Council of Professors of Educational Administration (ICPEA), and the Black Educational Advocacy Coalition (BEAC), ISLPP is supported by a grant from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).
 
ISLPP partnered with principal preparation programs known for producing high-quality school leaders to target eligible candidates to build a diverse and skilled pool of future principals. Participants receive tuition support, mentorship from experienced leaders, and financial assistance for substitutes and professional development. Participants also have access to IPA membership, connecting them to Illinois' largest network of school leaders.
 
Martha Fuentes, ISLPP participant attending Roosevelt University, shared, “I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to go back to school with the aim of becoming an administrator. I am a firm believer that our students, especially students of color, need to see themselves in those that serve them. Having the support from the IPA has been instrumental in my leadership journey. Having a mentor has been such an inspiration, listening to those who were once in my shoes and who have become successful leaders is one of the highlights of the program. I have met so many leaders from all over Illinois who are willing to support me when the time comes for me to become a leader. None of this would have been possible without the SLPP program. Thank you for believing in me and the other 99 aspiring leaders!”
 
Shaunwell Posely, ISLPP participant attending Governors State University, shared, “My experience with IPA has been truly remarkable. The program has provided me with immense help and support throughout my journey. From the moment I joined, I have been impressed by the commitment and dedication of the IPA team. They have gone above and beyond to ensure that I have the resources and guidance necessary to succeed in my pursuit of becoming a school principal. The program has equipped me with valuable skills, knowledge, and networks that will undoubtedly shape my future career. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the program, and I highly recommend it to anyone aspiring to make a difference in education leadership.”
 
Kerri Young, ISLPP participant attending McKendree University, shared, “I have always wanted to pursue a degree in school leadership, but the timing was never right, and the additional funds were never available in my budget. This program took the funding issue away, and it was the perfect opportunity to seek an additional degree. The program is one of the best ways to address the current shortages of school leaders our state is facing. By removing the financial barriers and adding additional support to the students in the program, you are making the goal attainable for many teachers.”  
 
Many participants of the School Leader Pipeline Program have graduated from their programs, or will be graduating soon, and are now seeking administrative positions. To view details about these candidates, including the level of administrative position they are seeking, visit https://www.ilprincipals.org/recruitment_candidates/.
 
 
Illinois School Leader Pipeline Program participants include:
Laura Arias, University of St. Francis
Justin Barrington, McKendree University
Leslie Bell, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Damon Belt, Eastern Illinois University
Charlise Berkel, Northeastern Illinois University
Andre Bouey, North Central College
Justin Bozarth, Eastern Illinois University
Tomas Brandt, Governors State University
Summer Butler, Roosevelt University
Lawrence Bynum, DePaul University
Starr Caldwell, North Park University Chicago
Breana Calloway, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Sarah Castaneda, Governors State University
Rosalba (Rosie) Conde, Aurora University
Heather Crain, McKendree University
Maribel Diaz, Concordia University
Kayla Elam, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Brock Friese, Eastern Illinois University
Martha Fuentes, Roosevelt University
Ernesto Garza, North Park University
Lisa Green, Governors State University
Tami Harwood, Eastern Illinois University
Samantha Helland, Lewis University
Beth Horn, McKendree University
Jamie Howard Breeden, Governors State University
Robin Hughes, McKendree University
Janet Hurtado, Aurora University
Oraia Jaramillo, Governors State University
Catherine Johnson, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Carla Jones, Loyola University
Sarah Jordan, Governors State University
Timothy Kolaczkowski, North Central College
Colleen Kunz, McKendree University
David Lerch, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Lyndsey Littlejohn, Eastern Illinois University
Yvonne Luckey, Condordia University
Brenlin Maple, Governors State University
Dionicia Martinez, Governors State University
Laura-Elizabeth McCabe, Condordia University
Ginny McClure, Governors State University
Amber Medina, Governors State University
Heather Miller, McKendree University
Missy Montgomery, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Maritza Mota, Governors State University
Dustin Murray, Western Illinois University
Joseph Oberts, Northeastern Illinois University
Jasmine Ogunleye, Concordia University
Erica Parks, Concordia University
Megan Perschbacher, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Tessa Pietrantoni, McKendree University
Shaunwell Posely, Governors State University
Katie Prather, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Saddaf Raheel, Northeastern Illinois University
Luz Rangel Raymond, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Katelyn Richert, McKendree University
Silvia Rios, Northeastern Illinois University
Stephanie Roberson, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
KimIona Robinson, National Lewis University
Tarah Rottmann, McKendree University
Keva Rush, Rockford University
Sara Schneeberg, Loyola University
MiKala Thompkins, National Louis University
Amie Thompson, Concordia University
Ewa Torres, National Lewis University
Nicole Trovillion, McKendree University
Sharon Turner-Wingba, Governors State University
Esmeralda Velasco, Chicago State University
Sonia Villarreal-Orson, Concordia University
Benay Walker, McKendree University
Janna Walson, Northeastern Illinois University
Alex Washam, McKendree University
Casey Welscher, University of Illinois at Springfield
Ericka Weston, McKendree University
Christine Wolinski, Lewis University
Hui-Chun Wu-Szillage, National Lewis University
Rachel Yaw, McKendree University
Kerri Young, McKendree University
Shannon Zarobsky, University of St. Francis
 
The Illinois Principals Association is a leadership organization serving educational leaders throughout Illinois whose mission is to develop, support, and advocate for innovative educational leaders. For more information about the IPA, please visit www.ilprincipals.org.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 25, 2024

Contact Information:
Andrew Keith
(312) 248-3208
info@221bpartners.com
 

'Morgenthau' author Andrew Meier to speak at Union League event April 25
 

CHICAGO — 221B Partners is proud to announce an evening with journalist and author Andrew Meier, to be held April 25, 2024, at the Union League. 

The evening, moderated by Bethany McLean, will include a discussion with Meier on current events in the U.S. and Russia as well as his most recent work, "Morgenthau: Power, Privilege and the Rise of an American Dynasty" (Random House, 2022), a portrait of a German-Jewish immigrant family whose members played key diplomatic and legal roles that helped shape 20th Century America. Henry Morgenthau Sr. made his mark as a real estate mogul who served as U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during World War I. His son, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., served as FDR’s secretary of the Treasury during the New Deal. And his son, Robert Morgenthau, was the longest-serving district attorney in New York City’s history, overseeing many of the city’s best-known cases. 

Meier’s previous works include the award-winning "Black Earth: A Journey Through Russia After the Fall" and "The Lost Spy: An American in Stalin’s Secret Service." He previously served as a correspondent for Time magazine based in Moscow and also has contributed to New York Times Magazine. His work has been recognized with fellowships from the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library and the Leon Levy Center for Biography, as well as from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

McLean is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and co-author of "The Smartest Guys in the Room," about the rise and fall of Enron.  

The evening begins with a reception at 5:30 p.m., followed by a conversation with Meier at 6 p.m.; it will be held at the Union League, 65 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago, Illinois. This event is invite-only. For inquiries about attending, contact 221B Partners at info@221bpartners.com.

About 221B Partners
221B Partners, founded in 2020, is a boutique private investigations firm headquartered in Chicago’s North Side. The firm’s team of experienced professionals assists clients nationwide in a wide variety of case types, including pre-transaction due diligence, litigation support, threat management, internal and external fraud, and background checks. 221B Partners can be reached at 312-806-6257, or at info@221bpartners.com.



 


 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 12, 2024

Contact Information:
Jann Ingmire
(312) 520-9802
communications@isms.org
 

Lake County physician sworn in as president of Illinois State Medical Society
 

CHICAGO – Piyush I. Vyas, M.D., was sworn in as president of the Illinois State Medical Society (ISMS) during its recent annual meeting. He was previously elected president-elect in 2023.

Dr. Vyas received his medical degree from MS University of Baroda in Baroda, India, and completed his radiology residency at Cook County Hospital. 

Dr. Vyas is board-certified in diagnostic radiology. Since 2004, he has been an attending physician at Lovell Federal Health Care Center, where he served as chief of radiology and nuclear medicine until 2018. Since 2018, he has been the associate director, Clinical Support Services. He was also assistant professor of radiology with Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine & Science from 2005 to 2016 and served as vice chairman of radiology from 2012 to 2016. Currently he is an associate professor of radiology at Rosalind Franklin and actively involved in teaching medical students. He is also a valued member of the admissions committee at the university. 

He has been an ISMS member for 40 years and has served for many years as an ISMS alternate delegate and delegate to the AMA, as well as a past trustee and chair of the ISMS Governmental Affairs Council. Dr. Vyas served as president of the Lake County Medical Society for two separate terms and served on multiple committees, at the county and state level. He is also a past president of the Indian American Medical Association.

Dr. Vyas’ term as ISMS president will run through April 2025. 
 

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Founded in 1840, ISMS is a professional membership association representing Illinois physicians in all medical specialties, and their patients, statewide.  



 

 

 

 

 

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