A career where suprise springs from the unknown

As a reporter, I wake up each morning with a sense of the unknown that awaits.

Even if I am assigned to cover a scheduled, routine event, I know that something new or interesting or unusual can create a good story.

Tuesday brings Circuit Court, where anything can — and often does — happen.  A scheduled trial for Schedule II drug distribution and other charges may end with a plea bargain.  That’s what often happens but, again, there could be some surprises.

The schedule also includes bond hearings, which provides twists and turns as residents with criminal records try and come up with novel excuses on why they should not remain in jail until their hearings or trials.  Judge Marc Long has heard many such excuses during his time on the bench and as an attorney before becoming a judge.  It’s hard to surprise him.

A joint meeting Tuesday evening of the Board of Supervisors, Town Council and the on-again, off-again Parks and Recreation Authority should bring a surprise or two.

In 1967, I was a 19-year-old reporter for The Roanoke Times when a girl I was dating told me about a 16-year-old friend who had received an abortion, illegal at the time.  She wanted to tell her story.  I wrote about what she went through to contact the abortionist and the butcher job that left her unable to have children in the future.

Strong reader reaction followed with many criticizing her for having the abortion and some even saying she “deserved” losing the right to have children in the future, calling it a “just punishment from God.”  That taught me a lot about the cruelty of such people who would use religion as a crutch to support their own brutality.

In the 1970s, I reported for The Telegraph in Alton, IL.  I covered activities of Southern Illinois University, which had a new and growing campus in the county seat town of Edwardsville and also the actions of the state board to oversee higher education, with met in Springfield or Chicago each month.

On one trip to Chicago in October of 1970, to cover the higher ed board meeting, John Rendleman, chancellor of the Edwardsville campus of SIU, was on the same flight and invited me to join him at dinner at the Union League Club.  It turned out to be an evening of too many scotches and surprises as Rendlemen laid out how he found more than $800.000 in cash stuffed into shoeboxes and other containers, mostly in a closet of the St. Nicholas Hotel in Springfield. He was securing the room as executor of the estate of Secretary of State Paul Powell, who died a few days earlier in Rochester, Minn, where he had gone for hospital treatment of a heart ailment.  Powell lived at the hotel.

That story rippled through state and national news for a while and provided a lot of twists and turns.  My story made page one of The Telegraph the next day.  It wasn’t the first.  The Southern Illinoisian in Carbondale, IL, published the initial report of the cash hoard but Rendlemen laid out many of the facts that had not been reported before.  I don’t remember what happened at the higher education board I covered the next morning.  Not much, as I recall.

Another day as a news reporter.  Another routine assignment at what looked like a routine meeting.  But the real story came then the night before at dinner.  As that story developed in the days, weeks and months that followed, the big question was the origin of that cash.  Most assumed it was bribes paid to Powell, or it may have been cash campaign contributions, but we never learned the truth.  Powell was known to accept bribes.

It remains a mystery

It also remains one of the pleasant memories of the surprises that have made my profession of choice so gratifying.

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