Barry Rozner always knew he wanted to go into journalism. But when he started at Northern Illinois University, he was convinced he wouldn't be able to survive in the newspaper industry.
His professors in DeKalb changed that.
"The journalism professors were incredible," Rozner said. "Just terrific people who really cared about the business, who argued in favor of the business. Even back then, when people were saying you can't make a living in journalism, they were the people who absolutely argued in favor of journalism."
After changing his major several times, Rozner graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism in 1984 and went on to join the Daily Herald sports department.
Thursday, NIU announced that Rozner will be honored with a Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, along with several other honorees.
"I'm humbled," Rozner said. "I'm proud of NIU. It's a great school filled with great professors and great people, and it's really humbling to be honored by a place that I think so much of."
Rozner was nominated by Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity brother Eric Wasowicz, who said he was impressed with Rozner's ability to achieve goals he set early in his career.
"His dream job was always to be a beat writer for the Cubs, and he came out of school and became a beat writer for the Cubs," Wasowicz said. "He did exactly what he wanted to do."
Wasowicz recalls Rozner love for Chicago sports. When their fraternity would meet on Sunday evenings, Rozner would bring a transistor radio and listen to the Blackhawks broadcasts in one ear. When they scored, Wasowicz said, Rozner would often cheer in the middle of the quiet room.
During his time at NIU, Rozner worked at the Northern Star student newspaper until NIU athletic administrator Jerry Ippoliti asked him to start a magazine focused on NIU sports. He said working on the magazine, the Huskie Herald, was a "tremendous opportunity" that taught him a lot about the business.
Rozner has been with the Daily Herald for 28 years, 15 of those as a sports columnist. After the 2008 shooting at NIU left five dead, he used his column to express his emotions.
The title of his column "Forward, Together Forward," published three days after the shooting, became a rallying cry for the NIU community as it moved past the tragedy.
"The reaction to that column from a lot of people was that I was able to voice for them what they'd been feeling," Rozner said. "That's one terrific advantage to being a columnist, is you have the opportunity to voice not just what you feel, but often times what a lot of people feel."
Wasowicz was one such alum who shared Rozner's pain. He admired Rozner for giving fresh perspective to the unfortunate event.
"It was such a horrible day, and I think Barry kind of brought out what the good things were there," Wasowicz said. "It was very easy to jump on a bandwagon on how this could be really bad, and he brought out the positive stuff. There's really good people that went to this school. The police force did a great job."
Rozner was inducted into the Northern Star Hall of Fame in 2011, and in his career at the Daily Herald his work has been honored multiple times by the Associated Press and Peter Lisagor awards, and twice he has been named Top Sports Columnist by the Illinois Associated Press Editors Association.
"I've had great support at the Daily Herald," Rozner said. "We have a great sports desk, which I think is as good as any in the country."
Rozner also co-hosts a baseball talk show on WSCR 670-AM. He has written several books, including "Second to Home," which he co-authored with Ryne Sandberg, and a memoir of Harry Caray that he wrote with Steve Stone.
"Barry has always been very versatile, and our readers enjoy his easy and comfortable style of writing," Daily Herald Sports Editor Tom Quinlan said. "They identify with the emotion he brings to his work, and its great to see that NIU sees that as well."
Rozner will be honored at a ceremony in DeKalb on Oct. 12. Other recipients of the 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award are:
• Rita Reagan Athas, president of World Business Chicago and former chief of staff for Mayor Richard Daley;
• Howard Blietz of Des Plaines, a co-founder of Greenbrier & Russel Inc., an IT services company, and now founder and CEO of Motus Digital.
• John Brandon, director of International Programs and associate director of the Washington, D.C. office of the Asia Foundation;
• Anne Barrett Swanson, cancer researcher, professor, and department chair at Edgewood College in Wisconsin; and
• Mary Wirth, chemistry professor at Purdue University.