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Bill Linneman

December 13 2014

Small Town Illini
For those Normalite readers who live beyond the purlieus of Central Illinois, The Pantagraph printed a letter of mine recently. It cited the 100 Years Ago column from 1914 telling about the University of Illinois football team winning the Big nine Championship. The column said that all the “Illini regulars were from Illinois.”
This story inspired me to discover how many home grown players this year’s Illini team had. Examining the program from the Iowa game, I counted four Illinois starters on the offensive team, or just as many as Ohio. On defense, Illinois produced only two.
So, of the 22 starters only six came from Illinois. Out of its eighty-five scholarship players, just twenty-nine were native sons. Iowa did almost as well by persuading twenty Illinoisans to become Hawkeyes. Incidentally, the score of this year’s game was Iowa 30, Illinois 14.
My letter appeared on Thursday, December 4. Friday’s Pantagraph had a sports story about coach Beckman returning from a recruiting trip to California. It mentioned that offensive coach Cubit has been recruiting in Florida where “he has a lot of friends.” The implication  seems to be that Illinois boys can’t play football.
My favorite Illinois team of all time was 1951. Coach Ray Eliot bled orange and blue. As an eighteen year old, he had hitch-hiked from Connecticut to be an Illini. He served Bob Zuppke as assistant for several years. He was a powerful speaker, crossing the state preaching “Pride of Illini.”
The ’51 Illini were undefeated, although Ohio State tied them zero to zero. Illinois was Big Nine champs and ranked number three in the nation. Forty-four players and eleven coaches and trainers boarded the train for California and Rose Bowl where they clobbered Stanford forty to seven.
In going over the roster of the ’51 Fighting Illini, one cannot help but be struck by the number coming from small towns. Of course, many were from Chicago and suburbs. Like star halfback Johnny Karras,  quarterback Tommy O’Connell, and All-American safety Al Brosky.
But the other two defensive backs came from small towns. Herb Neathery from Hoopeston and Stan Wallace from Hillsboro.
Place kicker Sammy Rebecca and punter Kenny Miller were from the cities of Rockford and Bloomington. But fullback Bill Tate, who ran for 150 yards, a Rose Bowl record at that time, came from Mattoon.
Chuck Boreo, consensus All-American linebacker, called the tiny coal mining hamlet of Kincaid his home. Cliff Waldbeser from Morton, then a village of 2000, proved to be a great defensive end. And pass catching Rocky Ryan at the other end had played six man football at small Tolono High.
Starting guard Don Gnidovic came from LaSalle. All-Midwest guard and captain of the team Chuck Studley was from Pontiac as was Jim Baughman, a tackle. John Bauer, the team’s biggest player at 229 who opened holes for Karras and protected O’Connell, grew up in Benton. Incidentally, only four Illini weighed over 200. West Coast writers attributed Illinois’ victory to its team speed.
  I’m not saying that Illinois coaches should necessarily recruit from El Paso, Lexington or  Leroy,  but they could do worse. And often have.

Capitol Facts
by Rich Miller

December 18 2014
Illinois will miss Judy Baar Topinka
As you already know, Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka passed away last week.
Topinka had a stroke the morning of December 9th, but that’s not what killed her. In fact, by the afternoon, she announced she was going to walk to the restroom. Her chief of staff Nancy Kimme told her not to try because she was paralyzed on her left side. In mocking defiance, Topinka started kicking her no longer paralyzed leg.
By early evening, medical staff told Topinka that she’d be out of the hospital in a few days and would then need three weeks of rehabilitation. The indestructible Topinka appeared to have won again, just like she did after she fell and broke her hip and badly injured her back after giving a speech in 2012. The accident slowed her down, but it never stopped her, never silenced her, never broke her spirit, never stopped her from running for reelection.
What finally felled Topinka was completely unexpected. Hours after her speedy recovery, Topinka fell asleep. A massive blog clot somehow withstood her blood-thinning medication and got around a clot trap installed beneath her rib cage and entered her lung.
The end came quickly.
In a matter of seconds, we lost not only one of our state’s strongest voices for financial prudence, its most consistently successful female statewide elected official, its most pro-union, pro-gay rights Republican, but also its most human politician.
My brother Doug met Topinka when he was with me at an event. Doug posted this on his Facebook page the day she died: “She was the first statewide elected official I ever met that I thought ‘Hey, she’s just a regular person like the rest of us.’”
Judy only talked down to dunderheads. Everyone else was treated like an old friend, and she just had that way about her that you knew she meant it.
I once had lunch with Judy in her state Senate district. She took me to a local Bohemian place and I barely got to talk to her. She knew, by name, just about everyone at that restaurant. People literally lined up to shake her hand and chat with her the entire time we were there. She’d hug them, ask about their children, their aunts, their cousins, mostly by name. And she never lost that smile, even while she was eating.
She often told stories about when she served in the Illinois House during the height of the Equal Rights Amendment debate. Ultraconservative women, she’d humorously recall, would often grab her arm, fall to their knees and pray for her.
What did you do? I asked. “I let them pray!” the ERA supporter hooted. She then thanked them for their prayers and continued on her merry way.
Topinka was elected to the Illinois Senate in 1984, after first building a House constituent services program unlike almost anywhere else. Her phone number was always public, and she would get calls at her home at all hours, once from a constituent with a cat up her tree during the middle of the night. She served not only her own constituents, but also those who lived in the neighboring district represented by former Democratic Senate President Phil Rock, who was often too busy with the affairs of state to handle mundane constituent requests.
Born to immigrant parents, Topinka graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She went on to write a column for the Berwyn Cicero Life newspaper called “Let’s Talk.” Former Rep. Jack Kubik, who once represented half of Judy’s district, said it was the most-read column in his family’s newspaper. It was all about political stuff that nobody else was writing about. The two of us were a natural fit.
I first encountered Judy not long after I was hired as Hannah Information’s Statehouse columnist in 1990. She was fascinated by the company’s “new wave” technology and my “alternative” form of journalism and her Senate office quickly became my second home.
We were both “nobody what nobody sent” and we reveled in it. Topinka was elected to her first House term over the opposition of the local party bosses. I started writing about Statehouse politics for a little technology startup.
Few would talk to me back then because I wasn’t anybody. But Judy helped teach me how to be successful in this crazy business. She also taught me to treat strangers and acquaintances like old friends, because one day they could be.
I loved that woman.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com

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They Call Me Spence
by Brad Spencer
Award winning journalist

September 25 2014

The power of song 

Words and music, a delicious combination.
I would hear the music, sure, but I always figured it was the words that float down from a song that stayed with me the most. Then I began to ponder this notion and determined it must be a combination of the two, words and music, which make an everlasting impression on our souls. It also has to do with timing.
You have them, soundtracks of the different periods in your life. It’s not about when the songs came out. It’s when you heard them at a particular moment. They were there when you triumphed, when you failed, when you were perfect, when you made mistakes, when you loved, when you hurt, when everything seemed good, when everything seemed bad, and when everything seemed balanced. Certain songs were the markers for moments in your life.
Some of those songs gave you hope. Some inspired you. Some made you feel you weren’t the only one suffering. Some made you dance a little crazy. Some made you dance a little closer. 
It’s usually a flood of nostalgia every time you hear an old song. Could be a tune from a band you never cared for, or the actual song was never particularly one of your favorites, but it has relevance to your life, makes you recall something endearing or, unfortunately, unpleasant.  
Whether it was Elvis, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Bee Gees, The Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson, Bon Jovi, Tom Petty, or U2, everyone can name at least a dozen artists that created songs that touched their lives in one way or another. When drums go “crash, boom, bang,” or guitar notes introduce a sing-along-song well before the chorus does, it’s enough to run chills down your spine.
But back to the words. I may be bias here, being a writer, but the words to a song are the central piece of the formula. The music is the butter, the milk, the eggs, the sugar, the flour. The words are the icing—the scrumptious frosting—on the cake, what makes the cake so delectable in the first place.
Here are random lyrics to seven songs that for some reason stand out in my mind today. If you listen real hard, you can hear the music in the background.
“Spider Murphy played the tenor saxophone/Little Joe was blowin’ on the slide trombone/The drummer boy from Illinois went crash, boom, bang/the whole rhythm section was the Purple Gang/Let’s rock, everybody, let’s rock/Everybody in the whole cell block was dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock.”—Elvis Presley, Jailhouse Rock.
“Down in the shadows of the penitentiary/Out by the gas fires of the refinery/I’m ten years burning down the road/Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go.”—Bruce Springsteen, Born in the USA.
“I want to run/I want to hide/I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside.”—U2, Where The Streets Have No Name.
“Sittin’ in the morning sun/I’ll be sittin’ when the evening comes/Watching the ships roll in/Then I watch them roll away again/I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay.”—Ottis Redding, Sittin’ On The Dock of the Bay.
“Standing in the sunlight laughin/Hiding behind a rainbow’s wall/Slipping and a-sliding/all along the waterfall/with you, my brown-eyed girl.”—Van Morrison, Brown Eyed Girl.
“Well, there’s people and more people/What do they know, know, know/Go to work in some high-rise/and vacation down at the Gulf of Mexico/Ooh, yeah.”—John Mellencamp, Pink Houses.
“Don’t worry about a thing/cause every little thing/gonna be all right.”—Bob Marley, Three Little Birds.
Yep, words and music, a tasty combination.  

Brad Spencer can be reached at Brad.E.Spencer@gmail.com

The Spectator
by Jim Bennet

December 18 2014

The Prayer and the Teddy Bear
CHRISTMAS 1950 was one I’ll always remember. But more on that later.
In our house is a modular antique bookcase that belonged to my Grandfather Bennett. It is probably more than 100 years old. That is my estimate based on research into the Globe Wernicke company, which was manufacturing these “elastic barrister” pieces of furniture as far back as 1899.
Each of the five shelves has a retractable glass front, and a custom pedestal on top and bottom. Wikipedia has this to say about the product: “The company is best known for their high end bookcases. The company patented these ‘elastic bookcases,’ also known as a modular bookcase. These were a high quality stacking book shelves in oak, walnut, and mahogany.”
Ours is oak. But it has a special feature that makes it unique: a morning prayer is tucked into the corner of the glass on the top shelf. It is professionally printed on heavy, peach-colored, textured paper whose bulk seems halfway between cardboard and construction paper. It’s about 3 X 6 inches, with some corners torn away.
It reads:
Now I get me up to work,
I pray the Lord I may not shirk.
If I should die before tonight,
I pray the Lord my work’s all right.

GRANDPA was a devout Methodist minister (as was my father) so the placement of the prayer doesn’t really come as a surprise. It might have been inserted in place as long as 100 years ago, because Dad told me Grandpa bought the bookcase when he was “a young minister.” Since Grandpa was born in 1880, it seems plausible he had it as early as 1905-1910.
He was a kind man with a gentle touch who liked to quote poetry to my sister and me. I was very fond of him.
Now about that 1950 Christmas. I am reminded of it each time I pass that bookcase and pause long enough to read the prayer.
Our family visited Grandpa and Grandma Bennett that weekend in their McLeansboro, IL, home. I was 8 years old and told anyone who would listen that I wanted a teddy bear from Santa (although I’m not sure I still believed in him).
My paternal grandparents were very poor. They lived in a small house with plenty of rough edges and drooping gutters and sections of the shingle siding missing. Grandpa had retired about 1945 to take care of Grandma full time. She was severely crippled from years of debilitating rheumatoid arthritis and confined to a wheelchair.
They couldn’t afford a “real” wheelchair, so she had to get by with a simple wooden chair with lawnmower wheels attached.
There was no home health care or Medicare assistance. My grandparents, like most people, were on their own. Grandpa drew a very meager pension from the Southern Illinois Conference of the Methodist Church and may have had some small supplemental income from the Preachers’ Aid Society. Social Security was not part of the picture.
In fact, to scratch out a few extra dollars, Grandpa raised chickens in a small, back yard coop and sold them by the side of the road. It was hardscrabble living but my grandma, who dressed the chickens at the kitchen sink, often said proudly, “We never went on the county.”

WE WENT to a Christmas Eve service at the McLeansboro Methodist Church, and when we got back to the house, there was my shiny new teddy bear on my pillow. My sister got a doll she wanted.
I jumped on the bed and embraced the bear, naming him Smokey on the spot (I know what you’re thinking: could you be any more trite?). He was 18 inches of the softest fur, with a bell in one ear. I didn’t pay much attention to the doll.
My sister and I went to bed knowing there would be more presents in the morning, but with Smokey by my side I fell asleep quickly, as I recall. My sister and I shared a twin bed, as our “bedroom” was simply a wide spot in a narrow hallway. Our parents had to sleep on a living room couch and a faded easy chair.
I don’t remember anything about the gifts on Christmas morning; I had my Smokey Bear and I was content.
I never saw my Grandpa Bennett again. He died the following spring. I wished at the time (and still do occasionally) he could have lived longer. I would have gotten to know him, his fundamental kindness, gentleness, warmth and wisdom, better. I think he could have made me wiser and more grounded.

IT WAS years later when my dad and I were reminiscing about that Christmas that he told me, “Your Grandfather Bennett bought that bear and your sister’s doll as well.”  He gave me a long and searching look that told me what I’d never thought of: The purchase of the two gifts represented a financial hardship.
Who knew how many coffee cans and Mason jars were scooped or even emptied to find the funds to buy a teddy bear and a doll? It wasn’t exactly the Gift of the Magi, but it was probably close.
Although I was in my teens at the time of this conversation, Smokey the bear, a little worse for wear, was perched on a bookcase in my bedroom. Afterwards, whenever I looked at him, upon reflection, I couldn’t help thinking that at least once in my life I had experienced the true meaning of Christmas.

Helen Leake's Gardeners Tips
by Helen J. Leake

December 18 2014

Taking care of those holiday plants

Just about every store we go into now, we see the pretty, bright red poinsettias. There are also some shades of red and ivory. Once in awhile, you will find a bright blue or another color. Those have had dye injected into their stems below where the colored leaves began. With the bright blue orchids, they choose an all white orchid and inject coloring into the stem. You will notice that the unopened buds will be a lighter blue when they open. Next year when that orchid blooms again, it will be white.
  When you purchase a plant at the store, be sure to cover it completely to protect it from the cold air. Just a few minutes walking from the store to the car in the cold can make the buds or flowers fall off. The shock of the cold air can severely damage the plant. Also do not place it in a cold car or leave it in the car while you finish shopping.
  When I purchased my Amaryllis this year and read the fine print, I noticed it contained the planting medium Coir. The thing that looks like a big cookie and you put it in 2 cups of warm water is ground coconut shell that will become the soil you place around the bulb. It is good for recycling and also can be used a mulch around your plants.
  Don’t forget to water the evergreens before the ground freezes.

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Classic Colcalsure
The Rest is Still Unrwritten
by John Colclasure of Lexington
December 18 2014
The Perfect Gift

Why is it that some husbands wait until a day or two before Christmas to find that perfect gift for his spouse? And there are a few who wait until the last minute and rush into Kohl’s or Target on Christmas Eve to find that perfect gift. And folks let me tell you, I wasn’t the only male in Kohl’s on Christmas Eve.
It is indeed unfortunate that most of us are clueless when it comes to shopping for our wives. Myself included. Personally, I never pondered over the practicality of gift giving. If I thought it made sense and was something that Mrs. C would enjoy, out came the plastic card and the deed was done. Certainly a Red Kitchen Aid 5-quart stand mixer or a Hoover High Performance Upright Vacuum Cleaner or even an Atlas 150 Aluminum Pasta Maker would make the perfect gift. But year after year, without a list, one waits until the last minute and runs into the Walmart and hurriedly finds something that fits the occasion, grabs it off the shelf (not noticing the big dent in the side of the container) and plops the item down onto the conveyer belt at the check-out and off you go to the next shop-n-grab store. Oh and by the way, never ever remembering to get a gift receipt, so that an exchange could be made if needed.
No matter how insensitive our solution to gift giving is, and me in particular, we always here those sweet words of thanksgiving, “Oh, it’s just what I wanted.” Fellows, let me ask you, have you ever wandered around the house and looked into HER personal space? Like maybe the pantry! Try it sometime. Whether it be the upper most shelf or in the corner, still in the box, are those last minute purchases that do little more than gather age and dust. Perhaps one might open HER walk-in closet. You know the one that you last entered when you designed and remodeled. Check it out and you will notice several of those red Dream Angel Tulie & Lace Babydolls and Angel Lace and Mesh Garter Slips guaranteed to warm up any night. Those irresistible lingerie’s that caught your eye while browsing about in Victories Secret. You just knew that she would love those and yet there they are still hanging on their original hangers! Price tag and all.
 Yup, quite the practical gift, given at Christmas time and unwrapped in front of the entire family, grandkids and all. Did any of you ever ask why such scanty sleepwear was never worn? Guess what? There not very warm. The fact of the matter is, as I am told, one could nearly freeze.
Hey guys, here is a thought! And this comes from someone who is approaching his 51st wedding anniversary. Having not only been around the block a time or two, but actually living on that block. Give the gift of yourself. That’s right. There is nothing more important to your spouse than that of your time. Remember those days when we were still teenagers and how moments apart seem like an eternity. Gift-giving should be year around. 365 days of Christmases with simple acts of kindness. A phone call at her place of employment. A note and a candy kiss placed upon her pillow just before bedtime. Stopping by and taking that special someone out for lunch. Little things that say, “I love you.” And if you are still of a mind to go out and purchase something for her to open on Christmas, get something that she may have mentioned and is practical and not a household appliances! If all else fails, GET A LIST AND SHOP EARLY, LIKE IN JULY!
Merry Christmas.

Till next time…john
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