Editor’s note: Beginning with this issue, Illinois State will include a column that helps alumni reconnect with retired faculty and staff. Each column will include contact information, as the individuals featured are eager to hear from graduates. Is there a former mentor you would like to find? Send the name to Susan Blystone at email@example.com, call (309) 438-2667, or mail to 1101 N. Main Street, Normal, IL 61790.
Harry Thiel recalls 20 years leading the Vidette
From the first day on the ISU campus, I was amazed at the support I received to guide and advise the student newspaper. It started with a visit to the president, Gene Budig, and the two members of the newly established publications board: Francis Belshe, vice president of business; and Wenmouth Williams, communications professor. This support continued through the presidencies of Lloyd Watkins, Thomas Wallace, and David Strand. And for years, it was spearheaded by communications professor Michael Shelly, a Vidette editor of the early 1960s.
In 1976 the Vidette had a strong core of good students who bought into the idea of doing things right. The newspaper had begun publishing five days a week that fall, and in 1977 it added Daily to its nameplate.
Gradually it expanded its circulation beyond the downtown Normal business community into restaurants, convenience stores, malls, and other stores along Main Street, College Avenue, and Veterans Parkway. As the community grew, so did the advertising base. With each passing year the ISU and Bloomington-Normal communities seemed to accept the Daily Vidette as a positive enterprise.
In 1979-1980 the newspaper acquired its first in-house typesetting terminals and typesetter. It all was packed into Edwards Annex next to the Heating Plant. A converted World War II classroom for servicemen, the place was cold in winter and hot in summer.
In the spring of 1980 the Daily Vidette hosted the first of three Illinois Conferences of College Journalists featuring prominent journalists from Chicago, St. Louis, and other Illinois newspaper organizations. The idea for these seminars came from two outstanding Daily Vidette editors: Bill Gaspard ’82 and Jeff Kraft ’81. Financial support came from the Gannett Corporation and the Bloomington Pantagraph, among others.
These spring conferences led to the founding in 1982 of the Illinois College Press Association (ICPA). The effort was led by the Daily Vidette advertising chief Jim Munz and myself, working with representatives from the University of Illinois, Eastern Illinois University, and Illinois Wesleyan. After a few years of meeting on the ISU and EIU campuses, the ICPA moved to Chicago. I was the first president, with Jim serving a term later. More than 40 colleges belonged to ICPA.
During the 1980s more and more Daily Vidette grads were getting good jobs in reporting, photography, copy editing, production, advertising sales, promotion, etc. Many moved quickly into leadership roles and won professional awards.
In 1988 the Daily Vidette was one of two dozen college newspapers in the country named to the Associated Collegiate Press (ACP) Hall of Fame charter group for receiving All-American honors for at least 10 consecutive years. Another prestigious award was presented in 1987 by the ACP to Daily Vidette photo editor Jeff Knox ’88, when he was named College Press Photographer of the Year.
In February of 1988 the Daily Vidette celebrated 100 years of existence, with weekend festivities culminating with a banquet and dance in the Bone Student Center. At this event the first Vidette Alumni Association Scholarship was awarded to Phil Skrzekut ’89, an advertising sales representative. Over the years Vidette alumni donated thousands of dollars to this cause. Usually two awards were given.
In 1993 the Daily Vidette learned it had to move out of Edwards Annex. In July of 1994 students and staff moved into a new brick building just northwest of the Bone Student Center. This building was financed 100 percent by student-raised advertising revenue, and it eventually housed state-of-the-art technology.
I am very proud of what the students and staff accomplished during my 20 years at the Daily Vidette. I am proud students were given the opportunity to acquire professional skills in all aspects of journalism and business. They were willing to take on leadership roles that required them to make tough decisions, without interference from faculty or staff.
On a visit to ISU in February of 2007 at the banquet to kick off ISU’s sesquicentennial where I was to introduce the 2007 recipient of the Outstanding Young Alumni Award, I noticed in the program that five of the approximately 40 recipients since 1980 were Daily Vidette grads—John Healy ’81; Bruce Brown ’81; Ricardo Cruz ’89, M.S. ’91; Shadd Maruna ’93; and Todd Heisler ’94. Todd, of the New York Times, had just won his second Pulitzer Prize for a collection of 20 photos showing the caskets of soldiers killed in Iraq coming home to their loved ones.
For all the prize winners—and there were many others—and for all of those who never won an award but labored hard and responsibly, I am so proud.
After retiring on October 1, 1996, my wife, Josephine (Jo) and I moved to Spanish Cove, a semi-retirement community in Alabama across Perdido Bay from Pensacola, Florida, and six miles north of the Gulf of Mexico. We spent nearly 10 years there, made many friends our age, and enjoyed the Gulf Coast atmosphere. We organized a camping/RV club, and traveled extensively throughout the region. When March came we tried to catch as many St. Louis Cardinals games as we could in St. Petersburg and Jupiter, Florida.
We also attended numerous jazz festivals and shows. We belonged to the Jazz Society of Pensacola. I was on the board of directors, and served as site manager for the early April Pensacola Jazz Festival held in the historic Seville Quarter. Jo took care of the hospitality tent for musicians. I was also active in the American Legion and the Optimist Club. The newsletter I edited won second prize in the Optimist International competition one year.
We stayed busy beautifying our little home, but after two minor hurricanes the big one—Ivan—hit in September of 2004. It devastated our community; 80 percent of its majestic pines were destroyed.
Sadly we sold our home and moved back to Illinois in February of 2006, first living in Carlyle, but moving to Highland in May of 2008. Highland is my birthplace, and was home to my mother’s side of the family. These ancestors came from Switzerland and Germany in the middle 1800s.
Our current activities include membership in the First Congregation Church, a friendly, progressive church. Jo and I sponsor a church picnic each August at picturesque Latzer Homestead.
We belong to several historical and genealogical societies. Jo keeps busy adding to the family histories. We also enjoy flea markets, antique and collectible shops, and historic sites. My current collectible addiction is looking for authentic Hawaiian shirts, those made and designed in Hawaii. Jo looks for old cameras, especially Eastman Kodak.
Currently a couple of health issues limit our travel, but we still have our Jayco motor home and plan to take trips when we can. We live in a villa in a nice area of Highland where we can view the glorious sunset from our flower-laden deck. We still miss the Daily Vidette, ISU, Normal, and the many good friends we made there.
Editor’s note: Harry and Jo would love to hear from you. Their contact information is as follows:
80-B Chase Way
Highland, IL 62249
e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org