Tom Kacich | I've many fond memories of John Foreman

Tom Kacich | I've many fond memories of John Foreman

Next year we'll mark the centennial of the day that The News-Gazette was created with the merger of The Champaign Daily Gazette and David W. Stevick's Champaign Daily News.

It's sad that my old colleague and boss, John Foreman, won't be here to lead the celebration on Dec. 14, 2019.

Foreman fought to preserve this business, to infuse it with energy and leadership and to uphold its principles of covering the area and its communities like no one else since Dave Stevick. Both loved The News-Gazette and its people, and were remarkably loyal to their employees.

Also, they died too young; Stevick in 1935 at the age of 48, Foreman a little more than a week ago at 65. I don't doubt that the pressures of running a newspaper during challenging economic times didn't help either of them.

Stevick actually lost control of the paper in a sort of coup d'etat in 1933, then regained it less than a year later. Foreman spent much of his early years as a CEO fending off suitors who wanted to roll The News-Gazette into a chain of newspapers, something at odds with Stevick's stated desire for a strong, locally owned newspaper.

And in his later years Foreman had to oversee a retrenchment, cutting costs — although not at the levels experienced at other newspapers in central Illinois. I know it distressed him.

But my best memories of Foreman are of our early years at the paper in the late 1970s, when we each worked 60 to 70 hours a week, running what was called the "state desk," digging up news and feature stories from small towns throughout East Central Illinois. We were our own bosses, covering village board and school board meetings, digging up dirt — Foreman once got sued for libel even though the information he wrote came from court records — and writing about unique people. He, for example, wrote about a man who swore that a large bird swept down from the sky and yanked a small boy off the ground. I had a story about a pair of brothers in Homer who hand-dug all the graves at the GAR Cemetery.

It was the journalism life! We loved finding stories, beating our competitors and, unfortunately, leaving our young wives at home with newborn babies. We soldiered on with bad equipment, starting with ancient typewriters and then working up to unreliable video display terminals, primitive Radio Shack word processors and fax machines that took six minutes to send one page of news copy. Once Foreman moved up to higher positions, we got much better equipment, but that took him a while.

In the meantime, we moved from the state desk to the city desk, he the boss and I the assistant, where we directed all the local reporters and read all their copy before it got into the paper, with varying degrees of success. The failures are best left unmentioned.

I spent many years sitting across a desk from Foreman, listening to his stories about his favorite Illini football player of all time (Veto Santini, who in the late 1960s and early 1970s allegedly beat up hippies on campus), arguing about politics (he pretty much disliked all pols in those days) and trying to fix the Cubs. And because we didn't spend enough time together at work, we also played on a softball team (he was our catcher, and one year was given an ash tray that looped over his belt buckle so he could smoke cigarettes and catch at the same time), had occasional touch football games and might have had some drinks on occasion, like his monumental 30th birthday party.

You only get to be young a short time, and I'm grateful I got to spend many of those years with Foreman, a friend, a colleague and a leader.

I'd like to think that John Foreman and Dave Stevick are swapping stories about The News-Gazette and how Stevick would stage re-enactments of prize fights in a temporary boxing ring on Main Street or would fly daily newspapers to Tuscola, or how Foreman had the paper printed with soybean ink and loved these things called drones that could be used to cover the news in a unique way.

And, guys, we're still here trying to do our best to meet your standards, uphold your principles and have some fun.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette columnist. His column appears on Sundays.

Sections (2):News, Local
Topics (1):People