EUREKA - Cheryl Wolfe will retire on Dec. 31 after 39 years as an editorial staff member with the Woodford County Journal. An open house to celebrate her career will take place Dec. 13 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the newspaper, which is located at 1926 S. Main St. in the Lakeview Shopping Center.
Wolfe’s extensive portfolio of award-winning stories has contributed to her having one of the most recognized names in communities throughout the county. Her news stories, features, editorials and columns earned her numerous awards in multiple categories from the National Newspaper Association, Northern Illinois Newspaper Association and the Illinois Press Association throughout her career.
“I always enjoyed writing and I wrote my first ‘book’ in longhand, which was really just a long story, when I was 10 years old. But I never expected to make a career out of it,” Wolfe said. “I never expected to be able to say I’ve had an award-winning career either."
Wolfe’s newspaper career actually started as a teenager, when she worked on the Chiefs’ Chatter staff at Deer Creek-Mackinaw High School, and wrote school news for the Tazewell County News. She continued news writing at Illinois Central College in East Peoria, where she worked on the staff of The Harbinger.
Wolfe started writing news professionally, reporting local news for the Roanoke Review in 1980 when that publication and the WCJ were owned by Burrus Dickinson.
Eventually, her assignments expanded into other areas, including writing feature articles, covering local government board meetings, school boards and sports along with editing, production work and general office work.
“One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about my job is the growth of duties where I was always learning something new. This job taught me many things including how to keep a baseball scorebook, how to use a basketball ‘shorthand’ to cover a game, how to take a good action photo, how to use a computer plus multiple versions of software, how to design newspaper pages and lay them out both by hand and on the computer. I love that I had that opportunity,” Wolfe said.
A frequent presence in local government board rooms, Wolfe’s news stories detailing the actions of local governing bodies have been frequently praised by officials for their thorough descriptions and balanced point of view. Of course, there were also times when officials did not like what she wrote.
“I believe the public should know and hold their local government bodies accountable for how they use the tax dollars available to them. I have learned more about tax levies, zoning laws, curbs, gutters, street maintenance and water treatment than I ever really wanted to, but I think it’s important for people to know what their money does for their community,” she said. “I have always tried to report fairly presenting both sides of issues to let the people decide how they feel about it. And, I am a strong proponent for transparency in government, even when it poses difficulties for public officials.”
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Wolfe added while board meetings are important stories for the public, some of her favorite stories to write have been feature articles.
“Many times when I would contact someone to write a feature story, people would be reluctant to be interviewed. I’ve heard many people say what they were doing was not interesting or worth a story in the paper, but I disagreed. I’ve said many times over the years, ‘everyone has a story to tell and this one is worth telling,’” she said. “If they would talk to me, I could write a story about what they said. I feel very fortunate to have been the one to tell their stories in print and make it a written part of history.”
Wolfe’s feature stories have included everything from stories about war veterans and where they served, 100th birthday celebrations, all kinds of animals from goats to ostriches, community and charity events, acts of human kindness, unusual hobbies and poignant stories about the human spirit that touch the heart.
“My work has been such an education. What other job do you get to learn that sheep are grazers, but goats are browsers when it comes to the food they eat? Writing veterans’ stories that gave me a first-hand view of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a prisoner in a German Prisoner of War (POW) camp and what it was like to meet General (George) Patton were very meaningful to me,” Wolfe said. “But, it is also the everyday stories of people who grew oversized vegetables or visited a foreign country or upheld a long-time family tradition that made my work special. To this day, it makes me feel good to see the stories I’ve written posted on doors, bulletin boards and refrigerators in people’s homes and workplaces. It meant as much to me to write those stories as it did to the people I wrote about.”
Wolfe is also well-known for her editorial column, From the Wolfe Den, which began its regular appearance in 1985 when she became editor of the Roanoke Review. Her column, originally titled A Personal Story, featured aspects of small-town Midwest living and often co-starred her family and children.
“I started writing columns about my family because that’s what I knew best and I thought people could relate to it. And, honestly, my family is very entertaining. Little did I know it’s one of the most memorable parts of the Journal for many subscribers,” she said.
From the Wolfe Den appeared on a regular cadence in the WCJ for nearly 30 years. In recent editions, Wolfe has re-published some of her favorites with extended epilogues.
“I started re-running some of my old columns because many people told me how much they enjoyed them and I also had many people ask me about my family and what they are up to now. When I started going through my columns, I discovered they are a detailed anthology of my family’s life and experiences, which is a true gift,” Wolfe said.
As she heads into retirement, Wolfe plans to continue to write the next chapter of her family anthology, featuring her husband, children and grandchildren. She also plans to spend more time doing the things she already loves to do while finding time to enjoy new challenges and experiences.
“A friend once told me, ‘I do not like to write, but I love having written.’ I find that very true, especially at this point in my life. Looking into my retirement, I will not be writing as much. But, I love having written so much for this newspaper and this community.”