Tribute to longtime Vidette manager Harry Thiel and wife Jo slated April 10
A memorial tribute to the longtime general manager of Illinois State’s student newspaper The Vidette will be at 2 p.m. Friday, April 10, at the Vidette Building, on the corner of Locust and University in Normal.
The Vidette will host the tribute to Harry Thiel and his wife Josephine, and award the first Harry and Jo Thiel “Red Line” Scholarship, established in honor of the Thiels. The public is invited, and those who knew the Thiels are invited to share stories.
Harry was general manager of the newspaper from 1976 to 1996, and was inducted into The Vidette Hall of Fame in 2009. He died last December and Josephine died in November.
“Harry and Jo touched many lives through their years of dedication to The Vidette,” said current Vidette General Manager John Plevka. “While we are saddened by their passing, we are honored to help pay tribute to the Thiels, a name that for many is synonymous with Vidette.”
“People who worked at The Vidette, especially those in the 1980s, could not separate the words The Vidette from the name Harry Thiel,” said Jim Munz of the College of Business, who served as the business advisor for the student newspaper from 1980 to 2000. “He created some tremendous, young journalists. And that newspaper was a classroom for them.”
Munz said Harry was known to come into the office every Sunday so he could go over last week’s newspapers with the students. “He marked them up, but then would go through each item – either with the group or one-on-one. He was a perfectionist, but a great mentor as well.”
In honor of Harry’s proclivity for marking up printed newspapers with a red pen, scholarship founders and Vidette alumni Frank DiLeonardi and Kevin Petschow named it the “Red Line” Scholarship, which will assist a Vidette student.
“He would sit down with the Vidette staff and go over every mistake with us, everything he thought could have been better. I learned so much,” said DiLeonardi, who served as a reporter for The Vidette from 1976-1979, and sports editor in spring of 1979. He added that the lessons Harry offered carried on into his career with a human resources consulting firm. “Harry’s feedback was always direct and honest. That influenced the feedback I gave to writers, even though I didn’t realize it until I retired.”
For DiLeonardi, Theil and his wife Jo were more like family. “Like many people on the newspaper staff, I found myself at their house. They opened their home to us when we were far from our own,” said DiLeonardi.
When staying on campus over a summer, Harry asked DiLeonardi to coach his son’s baseball team with him, and both the Theils attended his wedding. “It’s pretty amazing when mentors open their homes, and their lives, to a bunch of 19- and 20-year-olds.”
Munz agreed that Harry and Jo could be seen as one unit. “Those two were devoted to each other – both honest, outspoken and progressive in thought,” said Munz, who noted their only split in loyalty came through baseball. “Harry was about as red of a St. Louis Cardinals fan as you can get, while Josephine and I – I liked to call her Josephine because no one else did – were both great Cubs fans.”
Petschow learned the hard way not to test Harry’s love of all things St. Louis when he was sports editor of The Vidette. “Harry always talked about his beloved St. Louis Cardinals but never said anything about the NFL St. Louis Cardinals,” said Petschow, who wrote for The Vidette from 1978-1981.
Serving as sports editor in the fall of 1980, Petschow authored a column every Friday known as “Petschow’s Picks,” to choose the weekend’s NFL winners. “Being as competitive as I was, I invited a reader to offer picks in a head-to-head competition with me,” he said. “I invited Harry, thinking that his prowess on the gridiron waned in comparison to the baseball diamond. Man, was I wrong. He smoked me by correctly picking all but one game.” After Petschow conceded victory to his boss, Harry said to him, “‘It ain’t braggin’ if you go out and do it,’ which I later learned was a quote originally said by Dizzy Dean, former St. Louis Cardinals’ Hall of Fame pitcher.”
Petschow and DiLeonardi said the scholarship is a good way to honor the work the Thiels did. “They gave so many of us so much, we’d like to pass that along,” DiLeonardi said. The goal is to raise the scholarship to an endowed level. Those who wish to support the “Red Line” Scholarship can contact University Advancement at (309) 438-2586.