A one-of-a-kind journalist and great friend has left us

Jeanette Kendall

The tears won’t stop coming today. It is a sad day. My dearest colleague, DeWayne Bartels, has died at the age of 53.

I worked with DeWayne for 17 years. We both worked on The Harbinger together at Illinois Central College and went on to work at Tazewell Publishing Co. in Morton.

I always loved to hear DeWayne’s stories. They were exciting. He could make the most boring of stories exciting. That’s how he was. He saw potential and a challenge in everything, and he told me the more chaotic things were the better.

When the apartment building DeWayne lived in with his family caught on fire in Morton, he began taking photos and notes! He was always a newspaper man first, a one-of-a-kind breed.

He lit up our newsroom with enthusiasm and encouragement. He helped us all greatly. He was a rock we all depended on. He was kind and rarely said a bad word about anyone. When people called him with a story idea or a tidbit, he always sounded very appreciative, even after over two decades in the business when most people would have surely been burnt out a bit on the job, but not DeWayne.

DeWayne loved Alice Cooper. He was old school. He loved to drink Pepsi and he was full of energy. He loved to go on walks. He loved nature and looking at stars. He belonged to the Peoria Astronomy club. His desk was always messy, but he liked it that way.

DeWayne didn’t sleep much. He would be at work at 4 a.m. and he always finished his paper way ahead of time and would begin working on his next issue. It wasn’t unusual for DeWayne to have three issues planned.

When I arrived at work at 8 a.m. there is one sure thing I could expect — to see DeWayne sitting at his desk. But, he didn’t stay there long, he didn’t like to be cooped up in the newsroom. He wanted to be out, pounding the pavement, talking to people, getting the story.

Like I said, he was old school.

I am grateful that just last week I asked the staff if they wanted to go to lunch to hear DeWayne’s stories about his exciting times as a newspaperman. We rarely all go to lunch like that, but we did and we listened to DeWayne talk about being on the Montel Williams’ show in connection with a story and book he worked on about serial killer Henry Lee Lucas.

I am also grateful that on Thursday, I visited with DeWayne at Eysal’s Coffee in East Peoria. We both went there every Thursday morning. When I arrived, he was sitting at table talking to Mayor Dave Mingus, Chamber Director Rick Swan and attorney Dick Williams. They chatted every week. I overheard them talking about being a director and having a good team. I walked over, placed my hand on DeWayne’s shoulder and told them all that it is easy being DeWayne’s boss because he is a great employee. I am glad I did that.

That same day, DeWayne, Fred Kraus, the owner of Eysal’s, and I talked. I told them I had been reflecting on my life and the neat things I’ve done. I told them I stood on the top of the Eiffel Tower and watched the sun come up on top of Haleakala in Maui. I asked them what things stood out in their lives.

DeWayne agreed that standing on top of Haleakala was a phenomenal experience. He and his wife, Melody, had vacationed there. He also said watching the birth of his children was a great thing in his life.

Looking back, it is kind of a weird coincidence that we had that particular conversation, but I am glad we did because I can share that information with his family.

When I came to work this morning, the newsroom was dark. DeWayne was not sitting at his desk. Before anyone else arrived, I took pictures of DeWayne’s messy desk, the desk that I got on him to clean up once in a while. I wanted to remember it as it was. I sat in his chair and touched his mouse and camera, knowing he recently touched them. I cried and told him goodbye.

Then, I had work to do. There are newspapers to put out, and I know if DeWayne was here, that’s what he would tell me.