Susan Stephens

Reporter, All Things Considered Host

Susan’s parents should have known she’d end up in radio: her favorite toys were tape recorders, cameras, notepads, and books. Many years later, she’s an award-winning reporter at her favorite radio station. Formerly WNIJ’s News Director, she asked to return to the role of full-time reporter/anchor/utility player in 2010 (less paperwork, more reporting!). Her #1 goal is to tell the most compelling stories in the fewest words possible…all the better if a little humor can be thrown into the mix.  It should come as no surprise, then, that she can whip up a haiku for any occasion. She also enjoys the Detroit Tigers, learning pioneer skills (Gardening, canning, and the like. Just in case.), traveling with friends, and pretending she’s going to get around to playing her theremin.

Vicki Snyder-Chura / Rochelle Twp High School

One Rochelle-area teenager used the occasion of Veterans Day to honor his great-grandfather by sharing an important part of their family's history.

Rochelle Township High School Senior John Combs spent only a few Veterans Days with his great-grandfather, who died 11 years ago. But it could have been much worse for his family. Combs turned a class assignment into an opportunity to write an essay about his great-grandfather James Combs and how he was mistaken for a ghost during World War II.

Susan Stephens/WNIJ

The story of the nation’s largest case of municipal embezzlement finally hit the big screen in Illinois, with the debut of All the Queen’s Horses in Dixon.

The subject seemed irresistible for a filmmaker: a bottomless well of money, corruption at city hall, gold-plated extravagance -- and horses. But filmmaker Kelly Richmond Pope had another reason for being drawn to the story of Rita Crundwell, Dixon’s former comptroller who stole nearly $54 million from her hometown.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

The woman who blew the whistle on former Dixon Comptroller Rita Crundwell received a national award this weekend. Kathe Swanson was Dixon’s city clerk when she discovered accounting irregularities in 2011, which eventually revealed that Crundwell stole more than $53 million from the city.

Swanson was presented the Ethical Courage Award by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy at a screening of the documentary All the Queen’s Horses, by filmmaker Kelly Richmond Pope, who featured Swanson in her film.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Check your medicine cabinet. Still have painkillers left from dental surgery years ago? Leftover prescription drugs can end up in the wrong hands or contaminating the environment, but there are ways to get rid of your unneeded pills safely.

The Rockford Police Department now has prescription-drug drop-off boxes in all three of its district stations.

A former candidate for Rockford mayor is running for lieutenant governor. Brian Leggero announced Wednesday that he was asked by Republican gubernatorial candidate William J. Kelly to be his running mate.

 

WNIJ

So what’s the difference between a podcast and a radio show, besides where you listen to them?

1) Podcasts have no time constraints. They can go long, they can go short. No one tunes in in the middle of a podcast. No need for self-identifying constantly.

2) Podcasts don’t need to please everyone. They can, and should, target a very specific audience.

The Illinois primary election isn’t until next March, but campaigns are going strong. Most Democrats running for governor will take part in a forum Tuesday night at Northern Illinois University.

Kim Gates, a member of DeKalb Stands, says her group -- which helped organize the event -- was formed in reaction to concerns about the presidential election. Now, she says, they see the importance of being engaged politically at every level of government.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Police are still looking for a man accused of shooting a Winnebago County sheriff's deputy last weekend.

Deputy Stephen Wright was shot in the back and shoulder early Saturday morning during a traffic stop near southwest Rockford. Detectives identified 27-year-old Jordan Spates of Rockford as a suspect. They conducted a massive manhunt much of Saturday in wooded areas near the site of the shooting, including Klehm Arboretum.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Nearly 13 percent of Illinoisans do not have a high school diploma. Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill into law Friday aimed at changing that. The new law will allow community colleges and non-profit organizations to set up “adult high school” programs where people over 21 can earn diplomas.

Currently, their only option is a GED. Rauner said this program will offer much more, including “more job opportunities, to better careers and higher wages, higher salaries for the people of Illinois who now have access to a high school diploma that they didn’t have access to before.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

It’s been 24 years since a federal magistrate proclaimed the Rockford Public Schools had “raised discrimination to an art form” and ordered the schools to desegregate.

The court remedy set up a system of school choice, which led to racially balanced schools. In 2010, the order was lifted and the district chose to return to “zoned schools.” Students now attend schools close to their homes -- but that has led to re-segregation.

Strong Sound!

Sep 18, 2017

STRONG SOUND = STRONGER STORIES

Use of sound sets public radio reporting apart. Always ask yourself what sound you can get as you are planning your story and how it will “take the listener there.” Not just for long, in-depth pieces.

Plan your sound. Discuss with editor. Brainstorm with co-workers. Ask the people you plan to interview what sound epitomizes the issue you are going to talk with them about. Then go to the place and decide for yourself.

Different types of “nat sound”:

Seventeen Illinois lawmakers have signed on to support a Wisconsin case before the U.S. Supreme Court that calls political gerrymandering unconstitutional.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Passions ran high at a DeKalb School Board meeting Tuesday night. Residents packed the room to show their opposition to a proposal to hire a company that would check whether students really live in the district.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Federal, state, and local officials celebrated the beginning of Phase Two of a huge improvement project at the Chicago/Rockford International Airport Monday.

Rebecca Hall

Where will you watch the solar eclipse?

People within a 70-mile wide band stretching from Oregon to South Carolina will be able to see a total eclipse for a few minutes Monday: The rest of us will have to settle for a partial solar eclipse.

Facebook candidate accounts

A geology professor from DeKalb and an insurance agent from Sycamore plan to run for the Illinois 70th District House seat.

Tuesday night, Democrat Paul Stoddard announced his intention to run for the office currently held by Republican Bob Pritchard, who is not running for re-election. Stoddard is retiring soon from Northern Illinois University and has been a DeKalb County Board member for 10 years.

courtesy Bob Pritchard / Facebook

About a dozen Illinois lawmakers have announced they are quitting or not running for re-election. That includes Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, State Sen. Tim Bivins of Dixon, and State Rep. Bob Pritchard, who has represented the DeKalb area for 14 years. For this week’s Friday Forum, WNIJ’s Susan Stephens caught up with Pritchard while he was doing what he calls the best part of his job: hanging around with his constituents.

WNIJ

DeKalb and Rochelle may be in the running for a massive new auto manufacturing plant. Toyota and Mazda announced they are teaming up to build a $1.5 billion factory in the U.S. but didn’t specify the site.

State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, says he knows state and local economic-development officials are working on a code-named project that meets the same specifications of the Toyota/Mazda plan. 

Demmer says he’s not surprised that DeKalb and Rochelle are contenders. He said both of the cities within his legislative district have what a manufacturer of that size needs.

The Winnebago County State’s Attorney announced Thursday that a Rockford police officer took the right action when he shot a woman in a parking lot last spring.

On April 8, 2017, Rockford patrol officer Ben Schuster fired 6 shots at Eboney Adams, hitting her once in the arm. She had been accused of shoplifting at Dick’s Sporting Goods on East State Street. When Schuster confronted her in her car, she backed up, hitting him with her car door. Schuster said it appeared she was maneuvering to hit him again, so he shot her. Both survived.

Katie Finlon / WNIJ

19,000 visitors are expected to swoop into the Rockford area, starting this weekend. Four major national conventions and events are underway.

Most of them are attending the annual convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses over the next three weekends at the BMO Harris Bank Center. But thousands of trappers also are expected at the Winnebago County Fairgrounds: It’s the 58th annual National Trappers Association convention, congregating in the region for the first time.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

A border wall, ICE raids, detention centers, and street protests – immigration has been one of the hottest political issues over the past year. But how much do you know about the process that made America “a nation of immigrants?” On this Week’s Friday Forum, WNIJ’s Susan Stephens sat down with immigration attorney Sara Dady, who’s with the Rockford law firm Dady and Hoffmann.

Heather Holm

When you think of bees, you picture honey bees, or maybe a fat bumblebee, dipping into flowers in a garden. But did you know there are more than 450 types of bees in Illinois alone? And the Rusty Patched Bumblebee, added this year to the Endangered Species List, isn’t the only pollinator in need of help.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

One man’s prairie is another man’s patch of weeds. That’s the debate that is unfolding in DeKalb over a proposed rewrite of the city’s “weeds ordinance.”

About 20 people spoke out about native plants, property rights, and good neighbors at Thursday’s hearing of DeKalb’s Citizens Environmental Commission.

Paul Soderholm of Mt. Morris spoke about his own nature preserve in neighboring Ogle County and the benefits of native plants. He said they “support native insects, support native birds.”

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

For some kids, summer means packing your shorts and bug spray and heading off to camp. For some local teachers, camp means early morning lectures and late night discussions about race, gender, and privilege. At least it did last week at Northern Illinois University. WNIJ’s Susan Stephens stopped by Social Justice Summer Camp for this week’s Friday Forum.

Illinois Department of Corrections / illinois.gov

The man convicted of killing his six children in their Rockford home in 1978 died Sunday. Simon Peter Nelson died while still imprisoned for the crimes, according to a news release from Winnebago County State’s Attorney Joe Bruscato. He was 85.

Bruscato had been fighting Nelson’s latest attempt at parole. He was up for parole for the 19th time. There was a public petition campaign against his possible release, and his request for parole was to be ruled on by the Illinois Prisoner Review Board in July.

datacenter.kidscount.org/il

Illinois ranks nineteenth in the nation when it comes to the overall well-being of children according to the latest Kids Count Data Book, which analyzes the health, education, family, and economic conditions of the nation’s children.

Illinois ranks high in the survey in education (13) and health (10), thanks to pre-school opportunities and the high number of kids with health insurance. But the newest numbers are from 2015 and don’t reflect the impact that the lack of a state budget has had on programs.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

There’s not much left of the prairies and oak savannas that used to cover Illinois. Now the state has found a way to help environmental organizations protect those precious natural areas.

 

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

The partisan divide in Springfield seems wider than ever as Illinoisans brace for the start of another fiscal year without a budget. Lawmakers adjourned Wednesday without a spending plan. In this week’s Friday Forum, WNIJ’s Susan Stephens asked Rockford University Economics and Political Science Professor Bob Evans how we ended up here again.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Veterans Choice is a federal program intended to reduce the length of waiting times for medical appointments. We continue our series, “Veterans Choice: Making it Work” by hearing from the people these benefits were designed to help.

There are more than 20,000,000 military veterans in the U.S. More than 700,000 of them live in Illinois. Their health-care needs can be more complicated than the needs of civilians, with exposure to war-zone toxins, complex physical injuries, and the trauma of combat.  

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Winnebago County’s Sheriff dropped the idea Thursday of allowing the federal government to house immigration detainees in his jail. Gary Caruana said Immigration and Customs Enforcement was not able to agree to his terms.

In exchange for committing a portion of the jail to the federal prisoners, guarding them, and caring for them, ICE would have paid the county a daily per-prisoner fee; $80 was one figure mentioned frequently during discussions. 

 

 

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