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.

Nelle Conley

Seven years ago, a girls school founded by two Northern Illinois University professors opened its doors to its first eleven students in rural western Kenya. Now, 160 girls attend the school that has a goal of being “good enough for the richest, open to the poorest.” The school added music to its curriculum this year, and that created a mutual opportunity for one DeKalb native. On this week’s Friday Forum, WNIJ’s Susan Stephens sits down with Nelle Conley before she heads back to Kenya.

       

photo provided

An Illinois Democrat has been elected to head her party's Congressional campaign committee. 

Representative Cheri Bustos is only the second woman to head the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. She beat out two other representatives from Washington State who wanted to lead the organization that’s tasked with getting more Democrats elected to the House.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

25% of Illinois’ electricity is supposed to be generated by renewable energy sources by 2025, under the Future Energy Jobs Act – and that’s going to require a big increase in wind farms across the state. But one northern Illinois county made it much tougher for the wind industry to expand Wednesday night.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

The Catholic Diocese of Rockford has released a list of 15 clerics accused of sexually abusing minors. The list includes priests, a deacon, and a brother. The accusations range from 1925 to 1991. Some of the names were released previously, but some are being disclosed for the first time. All have been removed from the ministry and ten have died. Bishop David Malloy says the list is being released to “reassure the faithful and public at large.” It's available on the Rockford Diocese website.

courtesy of John Borling, Hans Rupert

200 men and women from across Illinois have been named to the state’s “Bicentennial Honor 200” list. They’re being recognized as military veterans who continue to serve their communities. Veterans from 50 counties across Illinois will be honored next month at the state’s 200th birthday celebration at Navy Pier in Chicago. Two of them are from Rockford.

 

Election day is just a week away. Voters in the 16th Congressional District will choose between Republican incumbent Adam Kinzinger and Democratic challenger Sara Dady.

Tronc.

Comedian John Oliver once said that was the sound of a stack of newspapers being thrown into a dumpster.

Now, the Chicago Tribune reports its parent company, Tronc, is changing its name back to Tribune Publishing.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Illinois is only seven years away from its deadline for getting 25% of the state’s energy from renewable sources. Wind power will have to play a big part to reach that ambitious goal. The state ranks 6th in the nation for the number of wind turbines, at more than 2,600. These wind farms are generally located in rural areas, many on active farms where people are raising corn and soybeans. The wind becomes a third crop that can be “harvested” year-round, giving the farmer a steady rental income.

NPR Illinois

Students across Illinois are heading back to school. And increasingly, they’re finding alternatives to bachelor’s degrees to reach their career goals.  NPR-Illinois hosted a forum in Rockford on Thursday about training today’s workforce. Northern Illinois University associate vice president Rena Cotsones and Workforce Connection director Lisa Bly had advice for students setting off on a career path.

Winnebago County State's Attorney's office

Winnebago County State’s Attorney Joe Bruscato says a former Rockford police officer is one of two people facing charges for an armed robbery.

 

Former officer Yuliya Kuznets and former Rockford Metro Enforcement officer James Akerman are accused of committing armed robbery at the Van Galder bus depot July 22. Kuznets also worked for Rockford Metro Enforcement, which is a private security company. The two quit the company earlier this year.

 

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Chicago has them. So does St. Charles. Even Naperville. Does your town allow backyard chickens?

DeKalb doesn’t, but a group of egg fans is eager to bring the issue up with the city council, where a backyard chicken proposal was rejected six years ago.       

People want eggs – not alarm clocks. So roosters generally are not allowed in urban backyards. But even with roosters out of the picture, local governments are still wary about letting people put up a chicken coop in their backyard, no matter how cute the little shed is.

courtesy Bob Pritchard / Facebook

A state representative from northern Illinois is leaving the legislature six months early. 

Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley, announced last year that he wouldn’t run for re-election, but he planned to continue representing the DeKalb area until his replacement is sworn in in January. That plan changed this week.

"I’ve been appointed to a board by the governor," said Pritchard. "As such, I had to resign from my legislative position. And that is all taking place on July 1."

provided by Sara Dorner

People across the nation plan to take to the streets June 30 to protest recent immigration policies that separate families crossing the southwest border of the United States. That includes marches in at least five Illinois cities.

Rockford activist Sara Dorner says she was so angry that children were being separated from their parents at the U.S. border that she contacted the White House, her senators, her representative -- and it still wasn’t enough.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

75 years ago this week, the women of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League put on their skirts and cleats and trotted out onto four Midwestern ball fields for the first time. Now some of those players are in Rockford to celebrate their history and help push women’s baseball into the future. 

Back in 1943, chewing-gum magnate P.K. Wrigley decided that America needed more baseball to keep spirits up during World War II. Since the "boys" were away fighting, he called on the "girls" to do the patriotic thing and entertain the Home Front. And, boy, did they!

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Racism’s roots run deep in American culture and institutions. But so does the desire to do something about it. For this week’s Friday Forum, we present part two of WNIJ's Susan Stephens interviewing Northern Illinois University Education Professor Joseph Flynn. He’s the author of White Fatigue: Rethinking Resistance for Social Justice, which explores how education can get more people engaged in the fight for equality.

We start with a song.  

Victoria Lunacek

Safer booking areas.

Enough space for inmates.

Locker rooms for officers.

A real laundry facility.

Those are just a few of the improvements DeKalb County Corrections Chief Joyce Klein says her employees have been waiting decades to see. Ribbon-cutting ceremonies occurred Thursday, and tours of the new facility continue through the weekend.

Dixon Police Department

Dixon High School’s school resource officer is being lauded for stopping a student who showed up with a gun Wednesday.

Dixon police have identified the officer as one of their own, Officer Mark Dallas. Dallas is a 15 year veteran of the police department, serving the last five as the high school’s resource officer.

Carl Nelson / WNIJ

America has been dealing with racism for hundreds of years, but we still have a long way to go. In the first of a two-part Friday Forum, WNIJ’s Susan Stephens sits down with Northern Illinois University professor Joseph Flynn to talk about racism’s deep roots in American culture and institutions.

Susan Stephens/WNIJ

Hundreds of supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment from all over Illinois will descend on Springfield Tuesday. They’re hoping to convince state representatives to approve the 1970s-era U.S. constitutional amendment to protect women’s rights.

A coalition of women’s groups has chartered buses to get supporters to ERA Rally Day at the state capitol.

Chase Cavanaugh / WNIJ

Northern Illinois University employees belonging to AFSCME Local 1890 approved a contract proposal Tuesday that was nearly three years in the making. The ratification vote on the five year contract took place throughout the day at NIU's student center. NIU’s Board of Trustees will vote on the deal May 10.

Sara Dorner is with AFSCME Council 31 and was part of the negotiations. She says she thinks NIU learned a lot about what its employees have to offer during the long bargaining process, and that “we will never be neglected again.”

Terry Schuster

There’s no denying the Bald Hill Prairie Preserve is a pretty special place. Last year, the Byron Forest Preserve District acquired the gravel hill prairie that had been used for cattle grazing for decades. For one thing, Forest Preserve Executive Director Todd Tucker says it’s the second highest point in Ogle County. It has a great view of the Rock River. It’s home to endangered and threatened plants and animals, like woolly milkweed and short-eared owls.

Oh, and the largest tree in Illinois.

"Am I Next? Student lie-in at the White House to protest gun laws" by Flickr user Lorie Shaull / (CC x 2.0) /

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois is accusing a northern Illinois high school of discriminating against a small group of pro-gun students.

The ACLU sent a letter to Rockton’s Hononegah High School this week, just as many students nationwide are planning school walkouts.

photo provided by Rockford Police Dept

The man accused of shooting three people in a party bus in Rockford last weekend has turned himself in. Police say 22-year-old Raheem D. King of Rockford turned himself in Wednesday afternoon around  5:00. His girlfriend, Lakeacia Kizart, 21, surrendered to police an hour later.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Saturday, March 31st was a pretty magical day for Chuck Jefferson -- dozens of his friends and colleagues gathered to honor the former state representative from Rockford, a library was named after him,  and it was his birthday.

Jefferson, a Democrat, represented the 67th district from 2001 until his retirement in 2014. Before that, he was a long-time member of the Winnebago County Board.  

He's also been a strong supporter of the  Booker Washington Center, a historic African-American community center on Rockford's southwest side. 

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

An immigration lawyer from Rockford will take on incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger in the race for the 16th Congressional district this fall.

Sara Dady beat three other candidates to win the Democratic nomination. She says her first priority, now that the primary is over, is to get Kinzinger to commit to at least four debates.

As for issues, Dady says, “I know, as a businesswoman, we need universal health care in this country. Not only did I lose my mother because she didn’t have access to health care, I know the burden that it is on small businesses.”

wchd.org

Leaders in education, social services, and government in Winnebago County are trying to work together on a common thread they see running through their community’s biggest challenges – trauma. 

League of Women Voters

A bill in the Illinois legislature would help friends and family members take action when they see warning signs that could lead to gun violence.

The House could take up the Lethal Violence Order of Protection Act this week. It has already passed the Senate. It would allow courts to temporarily take away guns from people found to be a danger to themselves or others.

The League of Women Voters of Illinois supports the measure. League president Bonnie Cox says—as a therapist—she sees it as a tool that could save lives.

Olson Funeral & Cremation Services

Memorial services will be held Friday for Christopher and John Ruckman. The young brothers were shot to death in their Rockford-area home last week.

Their father, Rock Valley College Prof. P.S. Ruckman, also was found dead in the home they shared in unincorporated Winnebago County. Winnebago County Coroner Bill Hintz says they each died from a single gunshot to the head, and the father’s wound appeared to be self-inflicted.  

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Ten years ago today, a former Northern Illinois University student opened fire in a classroom. Five students were killed; 17 more were shot; and four others were injured while escaping. WNIJ’s Susan Stephens remembers what it was like to be on campus then and in the difficult days that followed.

There are five faces that stay with you. Five students who will always be here, on the NIU campus in DeKalb. Five students who will never get to follow the community motto adopted from the Huskie fight song, “Forward, Together Forward.”

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

It was ten years ago this Wednesday that five students were shot and killed in a Northern Illinois University classroom. Retired NIU President John Peters returned to the school this weekend to take part in a number of observances.

Peters was the public face of NIU in the difficult days after the shooting. Behind the scenes, he took on the role of comforter-in-chief for the families of the five who were murdered. He says this weekend gave him the opportunity to reconnect with the families, the students who were injured, and the community.

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