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Michigan sky diver dies in Rantoul

RANTOUL – A 59-year-old Michigan man died following a sky-dive Wednesday at the World Free Fall Convention when his parachute malfunctioned.

Champaign County Deputy Coroner Duane Northrup said the man was pronounced dead at 6:09 p.m. near the north end of a runway at the Rantoul airport. The man's name was being withheld pending notification of his family.

'Sesame Street' makes changes to boost learning

URBANA – Cookie Monster, Ernie, Bert and other "Sesame Street" characters this year will step up their low-key campaign to improve youngsters' reading skills.

And that new emphasis will help the 17 teachers and representatives of area agencies who met at WILL's University of Illinois studios Wednesday teach the children, parents and guardians they serve how to work together to prepare students to master skills they need to succeed in school, said Holly Downs, coordinator of WILL's Ready to Learn program.

Urbana woman loses money in scam

URBANA – An elderly Urbana woman was apparently defrauded in another example of a lottery or sweepstakes scam, according to Urbana police.

The 84-year-old woman, who lives at the Clark Lindsey Village, received a phone call Monday from a man who convinced her that she had won second prize in a sweepstakes, according to Urbana police Lt. Michael Metzler.

Army investigating disease striking American forces

URBANA – As a mysterious respiratory illness strikes U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Kuwait, their families are asking the Army to talk openly about the threat.

The Army is sending two teams of medical investigators to the Mideast and to a German medical base this week to check soldiers and tissue samples for a disease they have labeled as pneumonia.

Options to fund sewer work weighed

URBANA – A new fee hike is in store for water users, builders, developers or all three.

The Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District is seeking approval from its board to boost its fees to pay for the extension of sewer mains to open up thousands of acres to new development south and west of Champaign.

Winkel will donate cash from Ryan fund

SPRINGFIELD – State Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Champaign, resisted political pressure during his last campaign to give up the $24,500 in donations he had taken over the years from former Gov. George Ryan's campaign fund.

"I am going to wait and see what the prosecutors and the courts do," he said at the time. "If the George Ryan campaign is found guilty as charged, then my campaign committee will donate a sum to charity equal to the amount that it received."

Governor signs bills easing UI unionization

CHICAGO – Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed two bills Tuesday that will make it easier for faculty at the University of Illinois to gain union representation.

The bills were signed at a meeting of the AFL-CIO Executive Council in Chicago. One bill (SB1360) reverses a 1995 amendment to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act that required faculty at the University of Illinois' three campuses to organize as a single unit. Another (HB3396) provides automatic recognition of a union for public and educational employees if a majority of workers sign cards indicating a desire to be represented by a union, eliminating the need for an election.

Neighbors rule night

Residents of the Dr. Ellis subdivision in northwest Urbana took to the streets again Tuesday night, but it was a celebration of togetherness for their neighborhood.

"This is the 10th year for us," said Shirley Mock, a member of the Neighborhood Watch group participating in the annual National Night Out – a program aimed at getting neighbors together to prevent crime.

Police looking into rash of robberies

Police in Champaign and Urbana are investigating several separate robberies over the past four days.

The latest robbery reported involves a man who was hitchhiking back from the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis to Iowa early Monday, according to Champaign police.

Host of first Farm Progress Show in 1953 remembered

ARMSTRONG – Stephen Bass doesn't remember why his uncle, the late Earl Bass, was chosen to host the first Farm Progress Show back in 1953. But after thinking about it, he said it makes sense that his uncle was selected.

"Earl was a good farm manager," Bass recalled of his father's older brother. "He was kind of an innovator. He was always coming up with inventions to make the farm better."