Shortly before the pandemic had us cowering in the condo, Loren was picking through an early dinner — probably country fried steak and corn muffins — at the local Cracker Barrel.
Tom Brucker, an upholsterer from Sibley, approached the table to compliment Tate on his years of columns and broadcasting. It was a short, but typical, exchange between two strangers. And it was totally about sports.
Shocking, I know.
This is a guy who’s been in the local public eye for a half-century of newspapering, TV and radio. He’s met, probably, thousands of men and women via his career and life in Champaign since 1966. But most of them know little or nothing about him except what they’ve read, heard or seen superficially. Let’s fix that by lifting the veil a bit on Loren Burton Tate and take a peek.
Here are 10 observations about the personal Tate that a polite run-in would not reveal.
➜ 1. You can take the boy out of the country, blah-blah. His mother would weep when “My Old Kentucky Home” played before the Derby. But Loren’s country roots are less emotive and more real. He likes simple country-style food, especially ham and beans, and he likes country and western music, especially the old stuff. He can yodel. He fidgeted and foamed when I forced him into a tuxedo for Lincoln Academy and UI Foundation fancy dos my old job required.
➜ 2. He’s old-fashioned. He still irons his pants and dress slacks, going back to the time when he wore jackets and ties and pressed pants to work every day. He polishes his shoes. He patches holes, he darns socks and he dries his clothes on a rack so they don’t wear out as fast, he says.
➜ 3. His four kids — three daughters with his late high school sweetheart Ilene Gadbury Tate Gasser and a son three decades later — are the center of his universe. Even with two jobs and a crazy schedule for most of the daughters’ upbringing, Tate made it to school and sports events, musicals, concerts, recitals and speed skating meets.
Lori Tate Simon recalls her dad showing up at the 1973 Central High School prom she was singing at so he could dance with her. She was 17 and took a break from the band for one dance with Loren. Today, he eats lunch and plays with Lori’s two toddler grandsons at Lori and Steve’s house most Thursdays. Four kids, seven grands, four greats. More on the way.
He also is generous to his children. Kathy Tate Meyer recalls struggling financially in grad school at Illinois State University even as she wanted to assert her independence. She saved letters from that time, 1983-84, as examples of his consistent “love, support and encouragement.”
Wrote Tate to Kathy: “Just a note to remind you not to worry, that you have my support in every way, no matter what. Kath, I am consistently amazed at your perseverance in your studies, and really believe there is no greater personal trait. Don’t let up. If you don’t make it today, you will tomorrow. Never doubt it. Love, Dad.”
➜ 4. Tate’s musical. He’s played guitar since his military service days that followed graduation from the University of Illinois where he earned a C in Reporting 1 as a journalism major.
Melinda Tate Burden, the oldest of the Tate Girls, said her love of music started when Loren hosted friends for “hootenannies” at the Tate household in Munster, Ind. Loren was a reporter and then sports editor at The Hammond Times.
She said he didn’t shoo her away and she learned to harmonize with him and his friends. He later taught her three chords on the guitar, 1-4-5, “and away I went.” She started piano lessons at 8 and found her gift. Melinda earned two music degrees from the UI and one of her and Joe’s three daughters plays cello in the Montreal Symphony and the other two sing.
Tate also, annually since the 1980s, sings a raucous rendition of “Cocaine” and yodels throughout “Lovesick Blues” at Prairie Jam, an end-of-summer music fest fathered by Mike Howie, an old News-Gazette hand. (This is no longer a secret since someone posted it on YouTube. Worldwide embarrassment.)
➜ 5. Tate is musical, Part II. He spent countless Saturday nights at The Rose Bowl on Race Street after he had written a game story and a column for the paper, done a Saturday morning talk show and pregame radio segments or color commentary. He drank beer and listened to Sunny Norman and The Drifting Playboys. Sunny and wife Ruth invited him to their camper at Lake Shelbyville a couple of summers. He made a trip to the Grand Old Opry and viewed the stage from backstage. Now, he occasionally heads to Tolono with a folding chair and a friend to hear Marvin Lee sing to an audience of old timers. But C&W makes way for the Eagles, bluegrass queen Alison Krauss and Peter, Paul and Mary. Not so big on classical music. Fan-follows Lori who sings with PBS (Patton, Brighton, Simon) at local venues.
➜ 6. Tate yells at the TV just like millions of other sports fans. He also likes courtroom dramas (vintage and new), westerns (ancient and vintage), English mysteries such as Inspector Lewis and, on occasion, a Masterpiece Theater bodice ripper like Poldark. And he often watches two screens at once. Say when the Cards or Bears are playing or golf runs late and “Shane” is airing for the 50th time. Or a Big Ten basketball game conflicts with a movie or a news gab-a-thon. We know 162 Cardinal games m-u-s-t be watched or the earth surely will tip off its axis.
➜ 7. Tate and Pavlov’s dog are a matched pair. A ping, ding or ring of the iPhone demands an answer whether at the dinner table, an outdoor concert or a movie. This fits into his belief that he must know everything the instant it occurs, even though the ubiquity and speed of information is dizzying. And the value of the information is, well, marginal. At least until the dust settles.
He has embraced — after first grumbling — every change in technology in his business, moving from bulky Royal typewriters and hot type makeup, which he oversaw as an editor, to laptops and satellite transfer of digital pages. So when cells phones took hold, he jumped on. Now Alexa has taken up residence on an end table.
➜ 8. He is disciplined in many ways. He’s up at the same time every day. He reads his phone immediately to see what he missed overnight. He pays bills the day they arrive. With checks put into envelopes with a stamp and taken to a U.S postal box. He works out routinely, even though he doesn’t like it. He eats at the same time. He drinks little and stopped bumming cigarettes decades ago. He writes at a desk or table and keeps at it until he’s finished. He works surrounded by piles of seemingly random notes, media guides, clippings, an occasional book. It’s a messy process.
➜ 9. He misses the days when sources and reporters spent time together. He always understood the dangers of being too close because, inevitably, the coach gets fired, the assistant gets caught, the news is bad and must be reported fairly and fully. But taking a measure of a person … how that person thinks and behaves brings insight to reporting.
He was close to many, but especially to Lou Henson.
Travis Tate was born when Loren was 52. His early memories were “just observing him as an already locally famous father nearing retirement.” Trav was 11 when Loren “retired” in 1995.
“I guess I always remember that he was a good listener, which certainly aided his journalism career, but helped in just maintaining relationships as well,” Travis wrote.
But his “best early memories” were being on the job with Loren who frequently met Lou after practice at Snaks Fifth Avenue on South Neil Street where they would “swap insider information” and Lou would draw plays on cocktail napkins; or going to Chicago or Lincoln in a carful of sports junkies and coaches to see prospects; or to a Cardinals game. Once Loren grabbed Travis out of Centennial High School for the Illinois-Duke game in Chicago. Later, they tag-teamed for an NCAA game in Portland, Ore., when the kid was working for the NBA’s Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City.
➜ 10. Tate has won a lot of reporting awards over the years, all for non-game stories or series. Financial scandals. Cheating. A murderer. The machinations of the NCAA and Big Ten. Plagiarism. Nasty stuff. He wrote two books. For 10 years he had an honorary street near the red granite News-Gazette building downtown, owns a key to the city, an Illinois House resolution and enough plaques to pull down the wallboard.
And now he’s in the U.S. Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame in pretty fast company. It’s a lifetime award for a guy who still works hard as he approaches 90 years on this good earth.
If you see him on the street or in the grocery store, shake his hand, wish him well but don’t expect him to remember your name. Just introduce yourself.