Growing Up In Sullivan: The Christmas Season of Today

GintherBy Jerry L. Ginther
NP Columnist

Most folks think of Christmas as a season rather than a single day because the spirit of Christmas spans several weeks with the decorating, shopping and celebration.

Nevertheless, there are so many enjoyable activities to attend, both secular and sacred, that the time passes in a whirlwind. The song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, doesn’t come close to covering the season anymore. The preparations start earlier each year. It has been said for many years now that the day after Thanksgiving Day is the busiest shopping day of the season.

Notwithstanding, we see the stores preparing for sales several weeks prior to that. Frosty the snowman, Rudolph and Santa Claus are already appearing in advertisements in catalogs and magazines before Halloween. As a matter of fact, as I write this article our local stores are already stocking Christmas décor and gift items, and it’s a month before Halloween.

The excitement in the air and on the faces of busy shoppers as the shopping season kicks off spreads throughout the country. If we have some snow on or before Christmas Eve, it seems to fuel wintry thoughts of the season even more.  Read More

Understanding Illinois: Bicentennial Planning Underway for Homegrown Illinois Celebration

Nowlan•December 21, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

The state of Illinois has at long last started thinking about a bicentennial celebration for Illinois, admitted as a state December 3, 1818. [Next door, the State of Indiana devoted seven years to planning for its 200th birthday, which Hoosiers have been celebrating this year.]

Gov. Bruce Rauner has appointed sports marketing whiz Stuart Layne (Mariners, Celtics, others) to staff the 40+ worthies the guv recently named to a bicentennial commission.

Given the short time available, Layne needs our help, and we across the 1,200 or so communities of Illinois can sure use his.

The state has less than no money, so Layne hopes to attract corporate sponsorships that will pay for such as major touring historical exhibits, in return for the opportunity to link companies to the people of Illinois.

I am a little uncomfortable allowing, say, Anheuser-Busch to take credit for our state’s greatness. But, hey, this is a brave new world where governments, especially ones that are broke, are often being shorn of what some see as, at best, collateral responsibilities.

I guess we should take help where we can get, and be thankful. Read More

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

•December 21, 2016•

It’s been 119 years since Virginia O’Hanlon sought the truth about Santa from the New York Sun.

In over a century, the lives of children — and their parents— have increased in complexity by a factor of ten.

Man landed on the moon, communism rose and fell, countries changed names and borders, Elvis begat Jagger, who in turn led to “gangsta rap”. The kidnap and murder of children, which made world headlines for the Lindbergh family, now touches the lives of hundreds of families annually. Children begin learning at ages two and three about “stranger danger,” AIDS and sexual abuse.

The age of innocence is gone. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Teacher Shortages Reflect Turmoil In Education

NowlanBy Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

The teacher shortages popping up around the country, especially in poor rural as well as troubled urban districts, probably reflect the consequences of turmoil that has beset education since the scathing “A Nation at Risk” report in 1983 that declared American public schools were failing.

A recent survey by the Illinois association of regional education superintendents found that 60 percent of reporting school districts had staffing difficulties this past year and 16 percent had to cancel classes due to shortages of qualified teachers.

My rural district has had a deuce of a time finding a Spanish teacher and has resorted to an online offering to provide its single foreign language. Industrial arts, agriculture and “home ec” slots are also hard to fill in rural areas, while bilingual and special ed teachers are hard to come by in urban districts.

The situation will get worse. Enrollment in teacher ed programs nationally has dropped from 691,000 in 2009 to 451,000 in 2014.

Illinois State University in Normal has always been a major producer of teachers. ISU administrator Amee Adkins reports that graduation of newly minted teachers at her university has declined from 1,000 in 2009 to 750 this past year, and that similar reductions are the case across the 55 teacher ed programs in Illinois.

Prosperous suburban schools with good teacher pay, often averaging $100,000 ($110,000 for New Trier High faculty in Winnetka), will have few problems finding faculty.  Read More

Oh Brother…Almost Taking a Stand at Standing Rock

•December 14, 2016•

Some of you may have noticed a story about the Standing Rock in the News Progress recently and wondered what the heck was going on.

As it turns out this is a typical Oh Brother story; it just took a thousand miles to unfold.

I am not an activist as a general rule, but following the recent presidential election, I became interested in the stand off between the Native Americans and Big Oil in North Dakota.

In the course of learning about the Dakota Pipeline construction near the Sioux reservation, I learned favorite musicians Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt had scheduled a concert to benefit the Water Protectors.

Noticing that the concert was on my birthday, I mentioned it to fiancé Cindy Clore, who promptly purchased tickets online.

Did I mention that the designated location of said concert was at the Prairie Knights Casino and Pavilion in Fort Yates, N.D. some 992 miles from Sullivan. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Accelerating Rate of Global Change Shows Scary Growth

Nowlan•December 7, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

For most of human history, there has been no change from generation to generation. Peasants tilled their fields across the centuries with the same primitive tools. Their masters carried on “economic development” (warfare) unabated.

The rate of change over time was flat, scraping along the bottom of the chart.

Real change began in the Golden Age of 5th Century BC Greece, I would say, followed in the 700s AD or so with Islamic and Tang Dynasty China scientific advances. Then followed the 14th Century Renaissance and later the Scientific Method and Industrial Revolution.

The 20th Century saw the rate of change catapult sharply upward. Yet the change we have seen in recent years in artificial intelligence, cyber communication and genetic manipulation have been at a breath-taking, exhilarating and sobering, almost incomprehensible rate that has the line on the chart headed almost straight up.

In the 19th Century, Mendel’s path-breaking experiments with the inheritance of characteristics languished in obscurity for decades before being recognized; Darwin delayed publication of his work on evolution for many years. Read More

Understanding Illinois: The Center Is Not Holding and the Future is at Stake

Nowlan•November 30, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

I spoke post-election to the Current Events Class in Evanston, 30 or so mature and very successful professional and business couples who have been meeting for decades to assay the world around them.

Over coffee before my remarks, I learned that most couples had been unfavorable to Trump. I also sensed that their children and adult grandchildren were married and part of what I call the two-income “double professional” class, and doing very well.

In this election, Evanston and most of the suburbs in the once reliably GOP “golden crescent” around Chicago went for Hillary. In contrast, my rural county of Stark, like all of rural Downstate, was casting two of every three votes, or more, for Donald Trump, a much more GOP turnout than normal.

I pointed out to the worthies in Evanston that, sadly different from the situations of their offspring, many families in Stark, often headed by single white moms, are earning as little as 1/12th to 1/30th (this last for single moms) that of the double professionals.

When I was growing up in Stark in the 1950s, most families were intact and felt middle class. Read More

Thanksgiving Day – An American Tradition

Ginther•November 23, 2016•

By Jerry L. Ginther
NP Columnist

Tradition has significance for most seniors, I believe, especially during the autumn and winter holidays. I mean, what would Thanksgiving Day be without the traditional turkey dinner with pumpkin pie, stuffing, cranberry sauce and the many other treats associated with the day? The aroma from the kitchen created anticipation for all who waited for the feast to be served. Who would think of dining out at a restaurant on this occasion unless one had no family with which to share the day?

There was always excitement in the preparations, too. And, as the old song, Over the River and Through Wood, suggests, we often went to Grandmother’s house for the day. Family would begin arriving at Grandma’s house mid morning, some with excited children. Some would bring side dishes to share, and all brought good humor and a healthy appetite. The ladies gathered in the kitchen with cheerful greetings and preparations for the meal got underway. I don’t recall any complaints concerning, “too many cooks in the kitchen.”

So many cheerful conversations took place before, during and after the meal. Of course, I can’t remember every Thanksgiving Day, but I can remember the atmosphere that was present at all. With the menfolk, the first fishing tale would never top the last, and every buck deer bagged had a huge rack. If you were a young boy, you were enthralled by the adventure. Even the girls found enjoyment in those accounts. The details of each hunt and fishing trip were articulated in such vivid detail that they captured the imagination of the listeners as only the old storytellers could. The art of conversation and storytelling was still intact in those days. That is to say, they were never boring. To me there was no such thing as an embellished account. If one of my uncles was telling the story, it had to be just as he told it. Is there any wonder as to why they enjoyed telling their stories to children? Yes, we believed every word! Read More

Understanding Illinois: New Dem Comptroller Could Wreak Havoc

Nowlan•November 23, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

I promise readers this is the last column, at least for a while, about my near-obsession, understandable as I think it is, over the failure of the governor and Illinois House speaker to come together somehow to forge a responsible state budget.

In the recent election, GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner reduced the speaker’s House Democratic majority from 71-47 to 67-51, and in the state Senate he gained two GOP seats, which brings the Dems’ majority in that chamber down to just under two-thirds.

The governor was unable, however, to hang onto the office of Illinois Comptroller, which had been rather securely in GOP hands under the late Judy Baar Topinka until 2014, when Rauner appointed Leslie Munger, a businesswoman, to the post on Judy’s passing.

At that time, the Democrats enacted a bill that limited Munger’s appointed tenure to two years, rather than the four years it would have been otherwise.

This is a ministerial, rather than policy, office. The comptroller writes the checks to pay the state’s bills. Yet the office has been critical to Rauner.

Because of the lack of a balanced budget, the state has been racking up billions of dollars in bills each recent year, which it lacks the revenue to pay.  Read More

Understanding Illinois: Illinois Slow Growth is Likely To Continue

Nowlan•November 16, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

I am writing this the day before the election, so as you read this you know much that I did not yet know. Thus I turn to broader topics: Where are we in Illinois at present, and whither are we tending?

Illinois has for years been growing more slowly than the nation and the rest of the Midwest, even though we have we have riches in transportation infrastructure, location, water and talent that most other states would die for.

In 1950, we were one of the four richest states in the nation, and Illinois per capita income stood at 128 percent of the national average of 100 percent. Since then, the state’s wealth has been steadily declining, relative to other states.

We are now at about 104 percent of the national average or right about in the middle.

But we were a big industrial state in the post-war era when all other major economies were flat on their backs. The heady days of the 1950s are not likely to come back soon. Read More