Bad news travels like wildfire, as Johnny Cash once observed.
And it nearly always comes before dawn’s cold early light, as it did Friday morning.
Death takes cuts: I’d awakened before 7 and was writing my journal when ertswhile Illinois Central College Harbinger editor and retired Times-Observer newspapers editor and managing editor Beth Gehrt vacationing up in Michigan phoned at 7:07. Her weeping voice was hard to recognize.
So was the news.
DeWayne Bartels, maybe the best student reporter and editor I’d ever taught and mentored at ICC in my 34 years there, was found dead at his computer July 27, dying happily doing what he loved most: writing.
A birthday wish to our daughter Megan in Powder Springs, Ga., sent at 1 a.m. may’ve been the last thing he wrote.
She’s shook up. We all are. Times-Observer managing editor Jeanette Kendall called in tears before 9.
DeWayne Bartels was a fire-in-the belly kick-ass-take-names no-shit journalist and the sweetest, kindest mad dog I ever met, up until his dying day.
I met him 25 years ago this hot August in Journalism 122, Reporting, at ICC. He was 25, perhaps, then but he was still fresh meat.
He sat in the front row, farthest seat to the professor’s right, where he could see but be unseen, wearing that hidden smirk beneath that Lynyrd Skynyrd roadie beard.
Like the two above, he learned the hard lessons in Hell Month.
A fact error is an automatic “F.”
Missing a due date earned a “D” as in deadline.
People lie to reporters. Get it right, get it on time, have fun with it.
He swiftly advanced to Harbinger reporter, news editor, pundit. In May, 1988, the outgoing editors unanimously picked him as next year’s editor.
The staff he captained included Jeff Ostrowski, Jennifer Davis Stephens, Scott Shepler, Lori Baker Boyce, Chris Walka, Mary Vecco Newman, Brent Lonteen, Jennifer Miller, and Virgil Burt. He stamped them with his brand, and perhaps the 1988-89 Harbinger was ICC’s dream team.
I last saw him June 24, covering A Fine Kettle Of Fish’s 50th anniversary party at the Peoria Pizza Works. We never did play Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” for him.
Today many friends and former students wrote their memories of DeWayne as a colleague, a J.122 class visitant, a man who wrote about them: an encouraging touching tribute.
So I wrote this as he would: from the heart.
Only 53. God damn cigarettes.
So spare a prayer or a kindly thought for DeWayne Bartels and the free American press.