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posted: 5/6/2012 5:00 AM

Staff members share their most vivid memories

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Asked what they found most poignant or memorable about their jobs, here's what some members of the Daily Herald reporting and editing staff had to say:

"I always thought it was pretty cathartic to be able to invite the Speaker of the House (Denny Hastert) into our conference room to pepper him with questions about why this or that was happening and what he was going to do about it." -- Jim Baumann, Fox Valley editor and manager

"You get paid to change lives. A stroke victim went to my acupuncturist after my story and is able to start talking and walking again. That's cool!" -- Teresa Schmedding, assistant managing editor for online content

"I have met celebrities, like Michael Jordan when he opened a golf store at Woodfield Mall. That's always exciting.

"But we are the local newspaper and being part of community journalism is just as exciting. To see the face of a young child when I help to put a Little League picture in the paper of the team that won the championship is awesome. To be recognized in the newspaper for a season of hard work is exciting for a young athlete. The team pictures are cut out, sent to Grandpa and tucked away in a scrapbook to enjoy for years to come." -- Kim Mikus, business writer

"Covering a media event prior to the PGA Championship in Long Grove, they had those yellow ropes to cordon off the crowd from a pathway leading to the media center. I was walking in behind Michael Jordan and, as you can imagine, the crowd was going nuts. I was in the interview room for awhile and could hear some security guards talking about how the crowd was growing and growing outside the center, and when Jordan left, they better bring in more security guards and a vehicle to transport him to the parking lot. While Jordan was still addressing the media, I walked outside to get a feel for how the throng had grown, and some dad who was with his kid had a basketball in his hand. As I was walking back into the media center, the dad asked me to take the basketball and get Jordan's autograph for the dad's son." -- Mike Smith, Tri-Cities editor

"I've always enjoyed watching people's reaction when I tell them I work for a newspaper. Most of the time they're impressed, and often they start asking questions. Despite the rancor against the media in general, I've never had a tomato thrown at me. A couple interesting things I've done:

"When I was writing a community column for Rolling Meadows, I sat for a few minutes with a police officer whose job it was to review red-light camera videos for hours each week. He explained his thinking behind each video and whether he would issue a ticket. These behind-the-scenes views of government are enlightening.

"I got to ride the Daily Herald float in the Arlington Heights July 4 parade. And I was judge for the Daily Herald cookie baking contest. How many people get to do that???" -- Colleen Thomas, opinion page editor

"Like a number of Daily Herald reporters, I had the opportunity to ride in a hot-air balloon as part of our preview coverage of Lisle's Eyes to the Skies festival. I have a slight fear of heights and a much greater fear of falling from heights, so I was apprehensive to say the least and probably part of me hoped the weather wouldn't cooperate and the ride would be canceled. But the weather was perfect and I climbed in the basket with the pilot and a couple of other guests and we were off. It was nothing like I expected and so much cooler. Being in the air was calm and peaceful, truly like floating. And people on the ground are so excited to see you going by. They wave and shout. And the neat thing is, you can yell back and have a conversation. Definitely a cool experience.

"On the other end of the spectrum, I've cried with more than one family who's lost a child in an accident. Once I was writing about an accident in which two Waubonsie Valley students were driving to school, stopped in traffic on Ogden Avenue and hit by a train where the tracks cross the road at grade. I worked my way around the neighborhood that backed up to the tracks and met a woman who had heard the accident, called for help and rushed out to be with the boys until help arrived. She was holding the hand of one of the boys when he died. Later, his family asked to meet with me. I immediately assumed the worst, that they were angry that we'd written about the accident or that I had made an error. But they wanted to thank me for the story, for honoring their son's life, for highlighting the danger at the crossing and, especially, for connecting them to the woman who comforted their son in his last moments. Emotional and humbling." -- Christie Willhite, assistant city editor

"Sometimes we have the opportunity to make a difference in big or little ways. Journalism is known for exposing corruption and wrongdoing, of course, but we also can make people aware of needs.

"I recently wrote a story on students at College of DuPage who helped collect books for a Catholic elementary school in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago that had no library. Led by their art professor, they also painted portraits representative of students who had attended the school through the years and helped the Humboldt Park students do fingerprints up and down the stairwells to brighten the school's walls.

"The art professor told me this week that an 80-year-old woman in Naperville who had attended the school read the story, and she and a neighbor are now donating $200 a month to the school that is in a poor neighborhood with a lot of needs." -- Susan Dibble, community news coordinator

"You get to meet celebrities: My day job is as a staff writer here at the Daily Herald, but my other gig is as a Chicago Bulls fan. I'm kidding, of course, but I love the Bulls. Watching their games is my absolute favorite thing to do with my family. So when I got to interview Scottie Pippen, I had a major 'I love my job' moment. I asked Pippen two questions about a youth basketball camp he was coaching at the Bulls-Sox Academy in Lisle, and I'll be saving the audio recording of my voice followed by his for as long as I can. Talking to Pippen about young athletes might have been just another day at the office for the sports reporters who joined me for a five-minute group interview, but for me, it was the celebrity highlight of my career so far, and a feat that gives me bragging rights among my family and Bulls fan friends."

-- Marie Wilson, staff writer

"Some of my best experiences aren't about high-level pols or celebs. The coolest moments come from encounters with suburban neighbors. During our first go-round with the Hidden Scourge, I had several parents in tears thanking me for our coverage because it helped them realize they and their children were not alone in battling this addiction. Nothing beats that.

"And a cool thing from Thursday night: The group of Fittest Losers presented Eileen Brown, our assistant vice president for strategic marketing and innovation. with a plaque awarding the Daily Herald its own 'Making a Difference' award for helping all of them get healthy. It really was something." -- Madeleine Doubek, executive editor

"Journalism is cool because you open the paper last Sunday and you see a package Assistant City Editor Christie Willhite pulled together on the March of Dimes walks that were taking place throughout the region. And you read the stories from three women telling you why they're participating. And they make you cry.

"It's cool because one day you might write about the biggest tragedy imaginable and the next day you might preview a high school theater production and you realize that in both cases you might make a difference in somebody's life.

"It's cool because you might walk into somebody's office, or maybe a store or a restaurant, and see one of our stories and photographs framed on the wall.

"For me, though, journalism is mostly cool because of the people you get a chance to work with. So many of them are so incredibly dedicated to trying to tell stories that truly reflect the community. There's a huge difference between having to come to work and wanting to come to work. Times change and so does our staff. But in my 20-odd years here (and many of them have been really odd), I've always found that it's the people who make me want to come here, who excite and inspire me. And there is simply nothing cooler than that." -- Bob Smith, DuPage city editor

"I got to interview Magic Johnson when he was at the Elgin Mejier promoting his new shoe line, and I remember he got upset because a reporter's cellphone went off while he was speaking (it wasn't mine!).

"I also got to interview tennis legend Mats Wilander when he was in Wayne giving a tennis clinic at Dunham Woods Riding Club. I'm a huge tennis fan, so this made my career! Wilander is a former number one tennis player and has won all of the grand slams. I was supposed to get 10 minutes, but he gave me 25. I brought along my white clothes in case I got to play with him (the club only lets you play if you wear white clothes), but alas, it was not meant to be because he was getting paid to hit with the club members.

"I also got to interview John Ratzenberger of 'Cheers' fame. He was in Elgin shooting an episode of 'Made in America' at Elgin Street Sweepers and I wasn't allowed to ask him anything about 'Cheers.'" -- Lenore Adkins, staff writer

"Interviewing famous people has to rank as one of the biggest pluses for a journalist. I have found myself on the telephone, chatting with Caroline Kennedy about her family's Christmas traditions; talking with Johnny Mathis on the phone when the FedEx man came to his door -- yes, I have heard Johnny Mathis's doorbell! -- speaking with Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart, Keith Urban and many others. I had a nice discussion about different macaroni and cheese brands with 1970s idol David Cassidy. And Debbie Reynolds burst into tears during my telephone conversation with her -- she was remembering her late father.

"Of course I must say that interviewing my childhood 'love' Donny Osmond (and his sister Marie) both in telephone interviews in recent years must top them all. Somehow, knowing that the telephone is about to ring, and the person on the other end will be the person who covered your bedroom walls (in poster form) is a bit surreal.

"Although, often, it's the people who aren't famous -- the people who live right down the road who can inspire you with a quote, or an act of good will. It could even be Granddad -- the oldest fish at the Shedd Aquarium (and the oldest fish at any aquarium in the world) who inspired me to write a story about him several years ago. Granddad, who has been at the Shedd since the 1930s, just keeps on chugging. And that's something we all need to do!" -- Laura Stewart, Time out! writer

"Being a hockey fan, helping cover the 2009 NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day at Wrigley Field between the Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings was probably the neatest assignment I've done. It combined the spectacle and 'electricity' of a noteworthy event, the history of the stadium itself, a legendary rivalry and captivating personalities.

"A perk was a 'media skate' day the Friday beforehand. On a crisp, sunny day in my dad's hand-me-down 1954 Johnsons I skated on the game rink constructed in the center of Wrigley Field. (As did Daily Herald colleague Joe Aguilar and Blackhawks alums such as Jerry 'King Kong' Korab, wearing a fur hat with earflaps.)

"My detail was 'flavor,' so the day of the game I roamed the ballpark inside and out (Waveland Avenue rooftop, Murphy's Bleachers, the 'Batter's Eye' below the Wrigley bleachers, etc.) and wrote from under the right-field grandstand in a storage bunker converted into a media room. That's where I enjoyed a casual 20-minute conversation with my hockey hero, Stan Mikita." -- Dave Oberhelman, prep sports writer

"I just recently got a letter from a student at the U of I who I helped last year when he was in high school get journalism credentials to 'cover' the final space launch for us and submit a story we could use at our option in Neighbor. He did a decent job and we ran it (with some editing).

"He tells in detail how he found it 'very intimidating' to approach me with the idea and how he excitedly told people about what he was doing after I gave it the OK. 'Because of you, I became a celebrity of my high school among students, staff, and administrators. I was recognized by people in my community at my job at the library. I was a finalist in several scholarship contests using my story, and I had an incredible fixture in the Daily Herald itself-- of which I purchased 10 copies -- that I can keep and look back on for as long as I live. But most importantly, you allowed me to be a part of history and learn the importance of persistence and hard work.'" -- James Kane, assistant city editor

"I've met a lot of interesting people, but spending one-on-one time with former President George H.W. Bush at the U.S. Women's Open in 2000 at Merit Club in Gurnee was the most memorable.

"We talked about his enjoyment of golf and other things, not politics, for about five minutes near a green. He put an arm around my shoulders and led me to a spot where we were out of the way while we talked. He wasn't in a hurry to go anywhere and we probably could have chatted longer, but I'm the one who wrapped it up because I thought I took enough of his time." -- Bob Susnjara, staff writer

"As an intern for the Daily Herald, I chased then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich through the tunnels beneath the capital building in Springfield with a pack of other rookie journalists looking for a quote to impress our editors. I reported on Barack Obama's U.S. Senate primary and visited the penthouse with other journalists as he and Michelle and the girls were watching the returns come in. Four years later, I reported from Obama's presidential primary victory party and shook hands with Obama as he worked the crowd.

"I've hung out on Brad Paisley's tour bus, covered events with Bo Derek, Colin Powell, Jesse Jackson and more. I've spoken to children at suburban schools about journalism -- children who were fascinated by what we do. I've walked through the burned out shell of a home with its heartbroken owners and won't ever forget the way the water squished in the carpet beneath my feet or how all the walls were painted gray from smoke and soot or the overpowering smell of destroyed memories. I've spent hours talking to relatives of people who had recently died -- people who through their unspeakable grief were able to trust me to tell a touching story about their loved one. Every day is different. Every single day I learn something new." -- Sara Hooker, staff writer

"There have been really cool things about this job, like having an inside joke with Henry Hyde. There have been potentially terrifying things, like talking to employees being evacuated from the Gallagher-Bassett building in Itasca on Sept. 11 when there were still O'Hare-bound planes unaccounted for and realizing HEY, I'M PRACTICALLY AT THE END OF A RUNWAY. But there's one thing that really stands out: Interviewing one of Lombard's Lilac Princesses several years ago. All of them I've talked to have been impressive, but Jordan Ticaric particularly left an impression. She was only 16 or 17, but she was smart, driven and articulate -- inspiring, even. While there surely are several teens who could be described that way, there was something really different about her. Obviously, considering I still remember her name almost a decade-ish later." -- Melynda Findlay, copy editor

"I got to drive a Chevrolet Volt, a Tesla and interview former President George H.W. Bush and state Sen. Barack Obama ... and people send me transportation poems." -- Marni Pyke, transportation writer

"Last week when I was stepping onto the porch of Leeslyee Huerta, a Bolingbrook woman who was paralyzed by a drunken driver, I hesitated for a moment. Instantly the gravity of the situation and my whole profession hit me all over again. I wasn't just going to do my job. I was being welcomed into this woman's home, a woman who had experienced a great tragedy and now was having a moment of joy despite it, as she prepared to attend the prom she missed five years ago. I reminded myself that it was responsibility and my privilege to convey her experience to the world. To do my best to be her voice.

This is the honor people give us -- quite trustingly -- every day. And it's amazing. They allow us to enter their world, to learn something we would have never known, and to bring that knowledge to our readers in the way that respects their experiences.

"Perhaps that's why I like writing 'life stories' after someone has died. It's not because I'm morbid. It is because we are also entrusted to sum up a whole human life in a way that tells our readers: This person mattered. And being allowed to share why our collective human experiences matter is the most wonderful way I can think of to spend a career." -- Elisabeth Mistretta, staff writer

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