This article is from contributing writer and IWPA Recording Secretary, Lolita Ditzler. She has been a writer and journalist for over 45 years and an IWPA member for the past 32 years.
“You’ll get your dad fired and the kids’ll flunk–all because you can’t keep your nose out of where it isn’t wanted!” My husband slammed out of the house with these parting words ending the biggest fight of our fourteen year marriage. He wore a uniform, badge and gun on his way to begin the three-to-eleven shift as a county cop.
I was a stringer from our Durand community for the Rockford Morning Star, an area daily newspaper. I’d spent the past four years, attending school board and village board meetings, chasing fire trucks and writing features about neighbors doing interesting things. Reporting the news nurtured my firm belief in the public’s right to know.
In rural communities, we’re all on a first name basis. There is no anonymity. Governing board members and I as a journalist might have to defend our work when we attend church, buy groceries or stop at a bar for a beer. If we don’t meet a concerned citizen face to face, our phone numbers are listed in the book.
That evening, Mom came to baby sit our three children so I could attend the school board meeting. Three years ago, my parents quit farming and moved into the village. Dad became a janitor at the school complex.
The meeting’s advance agenda included a closed session to discuss a request for bus service within the Lake Summerset private, residential development. But that highly-charged matter didn’t qualify as a reason to exclude the media during their deliberations. If necessary, I would argue the fact.
Four years ago, area cow pastures were invaded by Lake Summerset, a man-made body of water that straddles the Winnebago/Stephenson county line and the Durand/Dakota school district line. The development was conceived as a part-time retreat for residents of the Chicago suburbs, which are about a hundred miles away. It became a haven for families seeking to escape big city schools. The gated-community has had a mixed reception. Some local people viewed the home owners as interlopers and others welcomed the newcomers.
Harold Vale, Lake Summerset’s manager and a former agriculture teacher at Durand High School, had presented the board with a petition that said fourteen children needed bus service from their homes within the development to the Durand school instead of meeting the bus at the entrance. He noted that those who resided on the Dakota district side caught a bus from their front doors.
It was Durand’s policy that school buses did not travel on private drives. Students who lived on farms with long lanes met the bus at the edge of the road.
State rules said children did not have to walk more than 1.5 miles. The farthest any child walked to catch the Durand school bus at the Lake Summerset development entrance was a little less than 1.5 miles.
During the meeting that evening, the board discussed and then denied the petition, reaffirming their policy that the buses would not travel on private roads. I listened, took notes and phoned my editor with a report. Everyone could read about the meeting in the next day’s newspaper.
Later that night, my husband returned from his work shift ready to kiss and make up.
Fortunately, the mutual respect that existed between the school superintendent, Gordon Grande, and me prevailed. My dad‘s janitor job was secure. Our three children continued to receive the good grades they earned.
Months later, as the number of full-time residents with children continued to increase at Lake Summerset, the Durand School Board agreed to provide several central stops within the development. As more time passed and the population continued to expand, this became house by house pick-up. I reported all of the decisions.