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SSU helped change the course of my life. I was a dissatisfied teacher who had no idea I could actually be paid for writing.
Thanks to Bob Spencer for helping create Sangamon State and for allowing me to meet then-Lt. Gov. Paul Simon, who introduced me and 14 others to public affairs journalism and guided us to the profession I felt privileged to join.
I served my Capitol reporting internship under John Camper, who was bureau chief of the Springfield office of The Chicago Daily News, Mike Royko's home paper. I met so many fascinating Daily News journalists, including Henry Hanson and Charlie Nicodemus, for whom I did a lot of legwork in the corporation division of the Secretary of State's office.
John taught me about the legislature and its operations and how to cover it all. He helped me conduct an investigation of 'double-dipping' legislators, who got paychecks from both the state and from local governments. He even shared his byline with me.
The pressroom, then overseen by Shelby Vasconcelles, was in a huge, cavernous room, divided by partitions for each bureau. I remember Shelby yelling, "Tribune! Pick up your phone!" when someone wasn't answering an incoming call.
We interns met such great reporters as Tom Laue, Mike Robinson, Bob Kieckhefer, Burnell Heinecke, Larry Kramp, Gregg Ramshaw, Taylor Pensoneau, Simeon Osby, and Al and Mary Lou Manning (and many more I've forgotten at the moment).
We met and worked alongside the gifted photographers Les Sintay and John Filo, who just two years before had won the Pulitzer Prize for spot news photography for his shot of the girl kneeling, pleadingly over the body of a Kent State student who'd been killed by the Ohio National Guard.
SSU and Paul Simon gave me superb training that led to a newspaper job, and gave me friendships that have lasted for a lifetime.
My musings and occasional investigations can be read at www.penningthoughts.com, the tag that had been, for 19 years, my Penning Thoughts newspaper column, which was the only regular newspaper column in our urban suburb of Arlington, Va., and ran in the Arlington Courier and later The Arlington Connection.
The paper decided I was too hot to handle in '08, when I became the subject of fierce blog postings on at least two gun blogs. It was when they ran my column, "Honey, Grab the Derringer, We're Taking the Kids to McDonalds!" a story on how an anti-gun bill, 'Guns may not be carried into bars,' got turned into, 'guns may be carried into bars, as long as the gun-toter doesn't drink'!
Thanks to Bob Spencer, Paul Simon and SSU for all you did to help me become a newspaperman and columnist who made it to Washington, D.C., where Mary Ann and I raised four daughters and today celebrate our 42nd anniversary.