Legendary singer/songwriter Paul Simon shows Chicago audience that he is still amazing after all these years

Paul Simon

By Tom Siebert

More than 17,000 concert-goers gathered last night at the aptly named United Center to hear legendary musician Paul Simon present his classic songs and eclectic sounds.

The poet-prophet opened the Chicago stop of his 42-date Homeward Bound farewell tour with the melancholy “America,” an epic folk anthem that many Baby Boomers in the audience first heard on the 1968 Simon & Garfunkel album Bookends.

Younger people in the crowd recognized it as the campaign song for U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont when he ran for president in 2016.

But whether they were introduced to Mr. Simon’s ubiquitous music on an LP or an elevator, the whole, happy throng sang, danced, clapped, and cried throughout the dazzling 26-song set that featured American standards as well as deep-catalogue gems.

“I would say this is my favorite city, but I’m not contractually allowed to say that,” he quipped to his Windy City fans, who cheered enthusiastically. “But it’s true.”

The second song performed was the 1975 chart-topper, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” opening with Jim Oblon’s military drum riff, followed by Mr. Simon’s smooth, Sinatra-style lyrics.

“The problem is all inside your head, she said to me/The answer is easy if you take it logically.”

And when the tune shifted gears into its funky romp, much of the United Center crowd was on their feet, singing along and perhaps recalling how they were once inspired to exit a toxic relationship.

“You just slip out the back, Jack/Make a new plan, Stan/Don’t need to be coy, Roy, just listen to me/Hop on the bus, Gus, don’t need to discuss much/Just drop off the key, Lee, and get yourself free.”

A virtuoso guitar player himself, Mr. Simon was accompanied by a nine-member, multi-instrumental ensemble, plus the chamber-music sextet yMusic, which National Public Radio has ordained the “future of classical music.”

Led by Rhymin’ Simon, the big-sounding band took the audience on an “It’s a Small World” cultural ride that spanned the globe of musical genres.

There was the Jamaican reggae of Mr. Simon’s 1971 hit “Mother and Child Reunion,” the Brazilian samba of 1972’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” the African pop/chant of 1986’s “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” and the catchy electronic funk of “Wristband” from his latest studio album, 2016’s Stranger to Stranger.

For many of us, the sounds of Simon were indeed the soundtrack of our lives. He is arguably the greatest singer/songwriter of his generation. While not as influential as Bob Dylan, his music was more accessible to the masses. And in the late 1960s, Simon and his singing partner Art Garfunkel sold more records than a little band called The Beatles.

For the record, Mr. Simon has earned sixteen Grammy awards, is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and was the first recipient of the Library of Congress’s Gershwin Award for Popular Song.

While ever expanding the horizons of his artistic vision, the five-foot-three music giant went truly global in 1985 when he traveled to apartheid South Africa, breaking the performers boycott of that country, collaborating with accomplished local musicians, and producing his masterwork Graceland, which won Grammy Album of the Year honors.

The mega-hit from that game-changing album, “You Can Call Me Al,” was the showstopper of the Chicago concert. Mr. Simon jokingly calls the song the national anthem “because everyone stands up for it.” The United Center crowd was no exception, aided in their joyful singing by a jumbo backdrop screen that featured flashes of the song’s colorful lyrics.

“I need a photo opportunity/I want a shot of redemption/Don’t want to end up a cartoon/In a cartoon graveyard.”

If you really want to see how music can demolish barriers of class and color, watch the YouTube video of Mr. Simon singing “You Can Call Me Al” in 1987 at a sold-out soccer stadium in Zimbabwe, Africa, where blacks and whites danced jubilantly together.

More than thirty years later, he is still bringing people together. The Homeward Bound tour heads to Europe later this month, and then returns to the states in the fall for three shows at Madison Square Garden and a to-be-announced location in New York City.

The music world is swirling with rumors that Mr. Simon will again stage a free concert in Central Park, as he did with Mr. Garfunkel in 1981, and as a solo act in 1991, performing before a total of a million people–maybe more.

On this final tour, he is pointedly not singing his magnum opus, “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” Perhaps he is saving the high-pitched hymn for his childhood chum “Artie” in a surprise appearance?

I am skeptical about “farewell tours,” having attended The Who’s allegedly last concert, at the Los Angeles Coliseum––in 1982.

Addressing the question of whether he was really retiring, Mr. Simon was not coy, Roy.

“I’m going to continue writing music,” he assured his loyal fans, who responded with hearty applause.

At 76, Mr. Simon’s voice is rustproof. And his fingers still fly up and down the fret of his guitar. He even danced during the opening accordion of the zydeco-tinged “She Was Your Mother.”

Moreover, he is still reinventing his music, modulating keys, changing phrasings, and graciously cuing his fellow musicians when it’s their time to shine. One of the many band standouts last night was Andy Snitzer’s heavenly sax solo on the jazzy “Still Crazy After All These Years,” the title track from Mr. Simon’s 1975 Grammy Album of the Year.

The youthful members of yMusic encircled the cerebral singer during the 1990 tune “Can’t Run But,” immaculately playing, respectively––the violin, viola, cello, flute, clarinet and trumpet.

The sextet also created the mood and movement for “René and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog after the War,” a surreal 1983 song that Mr. Simon explained was inspired by a book that he randomly picked up at Joan Baez’ house while visiting the famed folksinger.

Also starring during the two-and-a-half-hour concert were keyboard wizard Mick Rossi as well as gifted guitarists Mark Stewart and Bakithi Kumalo, he of the iconic slap-bass run on “You Can Call Me Al.” Mr. Simon’s other longtime guitar player, Vincent Nguini, died last December, one of the reasons the performer has given for his decision to stop touring.

Mr. Nguini’s replacement, Biodun Kuti, was equally stellar, especially on “Spirit Voices” and “The Obvious Child,” both tracks from The Rhythm of the Saints, Mr. Simon’s blockbuster 1990 follow-up to Graceland.

A harbinger of the singer’s post-touring career may have been when he performed the environmentally conscious “Questions for the Angels” from the critically acclaimed 2011 album So Beautiful So What. It is easy to envision the longtime philanthropist playing benefit concerts on behalf of saving the planet and other peaceful causes.

The first of three encore sets was kicked off by the title track from Graceland, a Sun Records-rooted song that brilliantly describes a rite-of-passage pilgrimage to the Elvis Presley mansion-museum.

“The Mississippi Delta was shining/Like a national guitar/I am following the river/Down the highway/Through the cradle of the Civil War/I’m going to Graceland.”

Then there was the irresistible 1973 hit “Kodachrome,” which includes one of the most clever and clairvoyant lines ever written.

“And though my lack of education hasn’t hurt me none/I can read the writing on the wall.”

Nearly a half century ago, Mr. Simon wrote prophetically, “Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest,” predicting our present dark age of alternative facts and fake news.

The hallowed song from which those perspicacious lyrics came, “The Boxer,” was perfected in the second encore session by Mr. Simon’s wistful voice and finger-picking guitar mastery––plus, a freight-train rhythm, crashing cymbals, and solemn trumpet solo by yMusic’s C.J. Camerieri.

It is still an astonishing song, with multi-layered lyrics that change narratives from a youth’s leaving-home lament to a third-person portrait of a battered prizefighter.

“In the clearing stands a boxer/And a fighter by his trade/And he carries the reminders/Of ev’ry glove that laid him down/Or cut him till he cried out/In his anger and his shame/I am leaving, I am leaving/But the fighter still remains.”

Mr. Simon joyously and generously shared the plaintive hook with the animated, emotional crowd.

“Lie la lie, lie la la la lie lie/Lie la lie, lie la la la la lie la la lie.”

The 1966 ballad “Homeward Bound” off the album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme was made particularly poignant by a slideshow that traced Mr. Simon’s journey from “a poet and a one-man band” to a world-renowned composer for the ages.

Finally, the fitting last encore was “The Sound of Silence,” the 1965 breakthrough single that propelled the voices of Simon & Garfunkel into the collective neurons of the nation’s consciousness.

Alone in the spotlight with his acoustic guitar, Paul gave his all, singing the timeless lyrics passionately and powerfully.

“Hello, darkness, my old friend/I’ve come to talk with you again/Because a vision softly creeping/Left its seeds while I was sleeping/And the vision that was planted in my brain/Still remains/Within the sound of silence.”

The transcendent song was a soft exclamation point to an almost spiritual night. The audience cheered and clapped for more than two minutes, as Mr. Simon clasped his hands together in a prayer-like expression of gratitude.

All of this was apropos for a musician whose songs have always been replete with religious references:

“Jesus loves you more than you will know” from “Mrs. Robinson”; “These are the days of miracles and wonders” from “The Boy in the Bubble”; and “He sees angels in the architecture/Spinning in infinity/He says, Amen and ‘Hallelujah!” from “You Can Call Me Al.”

So whether we are blessed to hear Paul Simon sing again here on earth––or in the hereafter––his vision will remain.


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Democrat Howard Dean and Republican Newt Gingrich speak, not spar, during World Leaders Forum at Judson University


By Tom Siebert

Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean did not scream, as the Democrat had following his loss in the 2004 Iowa presidential caucuses. And ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich did not seem like “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” as he was depicted a decade earlier on a Newsweek magazine cover after he led Republicans to the control of Congress for the first time in 40 years.

Instead, the two legendary political figures generated more light than heat in a friendly forum titled “A Bipartisan Conversation About Leadership in Divided Times” at the 2018 World Leaders Forum at Judson University in Elgin, northwest of Chicago.

“It is possible for us to sit down together even though the two parties have different philosophies,” said the liberal Mr. Dean, standing appropriately on the left side of the stage, while the conservative Mr. Gingrich stood proudly on the right.

Last week, Mr. Gingrich made national news headlines when he compared federal agents who seized documents from one of President Trump‘s attorneys to the Gestapo, the notorious secret police in 1940s Nazi Germany. But the former House speaker spoke in a decidedly different tone at the Judson event.
“When people view ‘the other side’ as ‘the enemy,’ it gets dangerous because people suffer when politics break down,” he said. “Great accomplishments are made in this country when people practice cheerful persistence and strong listening skills. If you ask the right questions, you can often help guide people to solve their own problems.”


Mr. Dean agreed: “America’s political system was designed for cooperation, and somewhere along the line, we lost our way. All that said–I’m optimistic about the future because of our younger generation, a powerful group of socially tolerant, respectful individuals who are eager to work together.”

Apart from their political views, the differing duo has a lot in common. They are both doctors: Mr. Dean is a physician and Mr. Gingrich earned a Ph.D. in history. They each led their parties to reclaim majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives, Dr. Gingrich as speaker in 1994 and Dr. Dean as chair of the Democratic National Committee in 2006.

Moreover, the two worked for the same law firm, are commentators for competing cable news channels, and were once front runners for their respective party’s presidential nominations.

“I didn’t get to be president but my wife did,” quipped Mr. Gingrich, referring to his unsuccessful 2012 race and the fact that his wife Callista later became president of a neighborhood association in their Virginia suburb. She is now U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

Mr. Dean joked about his self-described “red-faced rant” in which he exuberantly tried to rally his supporters in the aftermath of his crushing third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses in January 2004.

“Just for the record, I didn’t lose the presidential nomination because of my ‘I Have a Scream’ speech,” he said, acknowledging that his campaign was in trouble long before the hot-mike mistake in which he shouted out the names of the upcoming state primaries that he hoped to win.

Thursday’s event marked the eighth World Leaders Forum at Judson. Previous keynote speakers were former President George W. Bush, ex-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev, ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Mexican President Felipe Calderón, and Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan.

“Our world has become increasingly divided along political lines, and Judson University is honored to host a conversation highlighting the importance of civility in political discourse,” said Judson President Gene Crume. “We believe in presenting our campus and our community with a balanced approach to understanding divergent ideologies by fostering respectful dialogue.”

For participating in the forum/fundraiser, Mr. Dean and Mr. Gingrich were given vintage Elgin watches, commemorating the city’s history as onetime home to a world-renowned watchmaking company.

However, Mayor David Kaptain told the Judson audience that Elgin is more well known today as the inspiration for the city in which television character “Roseanne” and her fictional family reside.

“Elgin is one of the most diverse cities in the country,” the mayor bragged. “We are a model of middle-class America. And we are very proud of that.”

Mr. Kaptain said later that the forum was “wonderful,” adding that the Elgin City Council is an example of bipartisanship. “That’s what we do every day–set aside our differences.”

Judson students also gave rave reviews of the political discussion.

“I thought it was very interesting,” said Claire Konnor, a freshman majoring in architecture. “It was a good idea to have two people with opposing views.”

Ms. Konnor also said that many millennials such as her became more interested in politics after the “controversial” presidential election victory of real estate developer/reality TV star Donald J. Trump over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Andrew Kennedy, a biochemistry and premed major, said that not all Judson students are conservative, as might be expected at a Christian university.

The senior explained: “Some are conservative, some are liberal, and some are in the middle.”

The goal of the World Leaders Forum is to present Judson students and the Chicagoland community with an opportunity to be inspired by significant thought leaders. Proceeds fund Judson Leadership Scholarships and innovative entrepreneurial activities as well as support ongoing operations of the Forum.

Located in Elgin since 1963, Judson affords students a Christian, liberal arts and sciences education through its bachelor of arts degrees in more than 60 majors, minors, and graduate programs. The university also offers online courses, in addition to certification and accelerated adult-degree programs. For more information, visit www.JudsonU.edu.

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Nicor Gas grant fuels transportation for guests of Kendall County PADS

By Tom Siebert

In a wide-open county with no public transportation, the homeless often have a hard time just getting to the seven shelter sites run by Kendall County PADS during the colder months of the year.

But thanks to a $2,500 grant from Nicor Gas, the long roads to food, shelter, counseling, employment and other services will continue to be open to PADS guests, according to Anne Engelhardt, executive director of the homeless support group.

“The guests of PADS are people who are often unseen, at the margins of our local society,” Ms. Engelhardt said. “They are poor socio-economically and suffer from mental, emotional and social issues. PADS strives to help them get to local social services and supports them becoming and staying employed.  Providing transportation is an important way we can help.”

PADS PHOTOMark Knox, director of resource management forecasting at Nicor Gas, and Anne Engelhardt, executive director of Kendall County PADS, hold up giant check representing the grant that the energy company recently gave to the homeless support group.

The grant from the Naperville-based energy company will permit PADS to continue contracting with Kendall Area Transit and Yorkville Express, an area taxi service that has been providing transportation to the homeless guests for the past few shelter seasons.

“Nicor Gas believes it’s important to give back to the communities we serve,” said Mark Knox, director of the firm’s resource management forecasting.  “We’re proud to support Kendall County PADS. With our support we can help them meet the basic human needs of our society.”

Mr. Knox and his wife, Cheryl, also volunteer at one of the seven PADS shelter that are open one overnight per week from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. through April 14.

The nights and sites are as follows:

  • Sundays, Cross Lutheran Church, 8609 Route 47, Yorkville
  • Mondays, Yorkville Congregational United Church of Christ, 409 Center Parkway, Yorkville
  • Tuesdays, Harvest New Beginnings church, 5315 Douglas Road, Oswego
  • Wednesdays, Parkview Christian Academy, upper campus, 202 East Countryside Parkway, Yorkville
  • Thursdays, Trinity United Methodist Church, 2505 Boomer Lane, Yorkville
  • Fridays, Church of the Good Shepherd, 5 West Washington Street, Oswego
  • Saturdays, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, 53 Fernwood Road, Montgomery

The overall travel distance from site to site is more than 50 miles. Moreover, the distance between the sites can be as far as 13 miles, making it difficult for anyone to walk the routes, especially in winter weather, and carrying a backpack or duffel bag. About half of PADS guests do not own vehicles, and in past years, some have traveled the treacherous routes on bicycles.

PADS guests receive a hot meal, a safe place to sleep, breakfast and a packaged lunch to go. They also receive help with employment, social services and housing referrals. Those who wish to donate or volunteer at a shelter site may call (630) 553-5073 or visit the website at http://www.kendallcountypads.org.

Nicor is a natural-gas distribution company, serving more than 2 million customers in an area that encompasses most of the northern third of Illinois.



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Kendall County community gives generously to PADS

By Tom Siebert

Midway through its eighth season of providing nutritious meals and overnight shelter to the area’s homeless community, Kendall County PADS has received an outpouring of donations that have helped its guests get through what has thus far been an unusually harsh winter.

The homeless support group has received generous gifts from churches, businesses, civic organizations, and individual citizens, according to Anne Engelhardt, executive director of Kendall County PADS.

“I am very grateful for the tremendous community support for people living with homelessness,” said Ms. Engelhardt. “We have not had to do any fundraising activities. Instead, our time and energy go into volunteering at the shelter sites.”

One longtime donor to PADS is the Fox Valley Family YMCA, where gymnastics director Karen Oelker led a fundraising effort late last year that garnered $400 from coaches and participants at the Plano facility.

Ms. Oelker said that every year she works with her team captains to come up with a way to give back to the community. In recent years, the YMCA has donated winter clothing, laundry detergent, and laundromat cards for PADS guests.

“This really made the girls think about how real this was, and we then decided this is what we would be fundraising for,” she recalled.

So they held an open gym and advertised it as a “parents’ night out,” with profits going to Kendall County PADS.

Why does the Y do this?

“I believe part of my job is to help these young ladies grow up to be caring individuals and tomorrow’s leaders,” Ms. Oelker explained. “We have plans to do this even bigger this year.”

At Parkview Christian Academy in Yorkville, the second grade class of teacher Kristen Dudding collected and donated to PADS guests dozens of toothbrushes, tubes of toothpaste, bars of soap, and other hygiene items.

PADS photo.jpg

Becky Grace of Coldwell Banker The Real Estate Group in Yorkville also organized a PADS drive. Coldwell Banker agents and clients donated paper goods, hygiene items, pre-paid laundry cards, NCG movie passes, and gift cards for McDonald’s and Walgreens. In addition, Coldwell Banker collected nine large boxes of winter outdoor clothing (coats, hats, gloves, and scarves). And the real estate firm donated funds to the Kendall County Community Food Pantry, a PADS partner.

Some area residents found innovative ways to give to PADS. David Edelman, a 1987 graduate of Oswego High School, raised $500 from his fellow classmates at a recent reunion. And Yorkville resident April Morsch used her Facebook page, April’s Awesome Attic, to collect coats, scarves, gloves, and boots––as well as a monetary contribution––from her friends and neighbors.

Also donating to Kendall County PADS this shelter season were the American Legion Riders, Oswego; Au Sable Grove Presbyterian Church, Yorkville; Church of the Good Shepherd, Oswego; First Baptist Church, Plano; Kendall Lodge 471 A.F. & A.M., Yorkville; the Marian Fathers of St. Mary Catholic Church, Plano; Masonic Raven Lodge #303, Oswego; the Men’s Group at Trinity United Methodist Church, Yorkville; St. John’s Lutheran Church, Somonauk; the sixth grade classes at Emily G. Jones School, Plano; United Methodist Women, Yorkville; Wheaton Title and Trust; Wines for Humanity, Naperville; and the Yorkville Junior Women’s Club.

There were other donors who asked to remain anonymous, Ms. Engelhardt stated. Those who wish to donate or volunteer at a shelter site may call (630) 553-5073 or visit the website at www.kendallcountypads.org.

Each of the seven Kendall County PADS shelters remains open one overnight per week from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. through April 14. The nights and sites are as follows:

  • Sundays: Cross Lutheran Church, 8609 Route 47, Yorkville
  • Mondays: Yorkville Congregational United Church of Christ, 409 Center Parkway, Yorkville
  • Tuesdays: Harvest New Beginnings church, 5315 Douglas Road, Oswego
  • Wednesdays: Parkview Christian Academy, upper campus, 202 East Countryside Parkway, Yorkville
  • Thursdays: Trinity United Methodist Church, 2505 Boomer Lane, Yorkville
  • Fridays: Church of the Good Shepherd, 5 West Washington Street, Oswego
  • Saturdays: St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, 53 Fernwood Road, Montgomery

PADS of Kendall County is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) group funded by donations received from grants, gifts, individuals, organizations, and businesses. Overnight guests at PADS receive a hot meal, a safe place to sleep, breakfast, and a packaged lunch to go. They also receive help with employment, social services, and housing referrals.

And as Ms. Engelhardt noted: “It’s mid-winter and the homeless are still in need of shelter, food, and care.”





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Hanks, Streep, and Spielberg give ‘The Post’ greatness and gravitas


By Tom Siebert

In a dark age when most Americans get their news from their favorite cable channel, and the president of the United States refers to the media as the “enemy of the people,” “The Post” hearkens back to a more enlightened time when newspapers were widely read, believed, and beneficial to the public good.

It is June 1971 and the New York Times is publishing excerpts of the so-called Pentagon Papers, a voluminous, decades-long discrediting of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, which by that time had cost more than 50,000 American lives. John Mitchell, attorney general under President Richard M. Nixon, secures a court injunction to stop publication of the top-secret documents, citing national security and the Espionage Act of 1917.

In steps the Washington Post to begin publishing its own articles based on the Pentagon Papers, setting in motion an epic two-week court battle that threatens to swallow up both newspapers, along with the First Amendment.

Legendary director Steven Spielberg, noting the similarities between presidential attacks on the press then and now, rushed “The Post” into production and filmed the movie in the stunning span of six months. He could not have done it without Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, arguably the best actor and actress of our times, as well as a stellar supporting cast that includes Allison Brie, Carrie Coon, David Cross, Bruce Greenwood, Pat Healy, Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Jessie Piemons, Matthew Rhys, John Rue, and Zach Woods.

The male-dominated cast, reflecting the man’s business world of the 1970s, is led by Hanks, who plays fabled Post executive editor Ben Bradlee with flair and feistiness. But it is Streep’s tour de force performance as Post publisher Katharine Graham that carries the film, chronicling her remarkable career arc from self-doubting widow to feminist pioneer to free press champion.

Written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, “The Post” also addresses the cozy relationships that many news people once had with the public officials whom they covered. Bradlee, for instance, had been good friends with President John F. Kennedy, whose administration is among four that are damned in the Pentagon Papers for misleading the nation about Vietnam.

And this multi-dimensional movie also shows how Graham’s friendship with Robert McNamara is painfully strained by her newspaper’s pending publication of the papers, which quote the former defense secretary as concluding as early as 1965 that the war was unwinnable.

Director Spielberg proves once again that he is a master story teller––from the jarring opening scene of U.S. troops fighting in Vietnam, to the John le Carré-like skullduggery depicting how government analyst turned peace activist Daniel Ellsberg stole copies of the Pentagon Papers from a California think tank, to the tense conversations between Graham and the Post’s investors, who fear that the publishing controversy will cause the newspaper to go under just as it is going public.

And as he did with his previous period pieces such as “Bridge of Spies,” “Lincoln,” and “Schindler’s List,” Spielberg demonstrates that he is a virtuoso of verisimilitude. “The Post” is accurately replete with 1970s hair styles, sideburns, wide ties, bell bottoms, and even a mass peace rally held outside of the United States Supreme Court Building. (But the director did display his artistic license by accompanying the opening 1966 war scene with Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Green River,” a song that was not recorded until 1969.)

The fast-paced film is scored by mega-Oscar winner John Williams, who deftly blends suspenseful electronic sounds with dramatic orchestral flourishes. But the real soundtrack of “The Post” is composed of clicking typewriters, ringing phones, and rumbling presses.

Spoiler alert: “The Post” ends well. The Supreme Court rules 6-3 in favor of the New York Times, Washington Post, and the 15 other newspapers that had begun publishing the Pentagon Papers. Graham and Bradlee do not go to prison. And two years later, the Post goes on to break the Watergate Scandal, which made it a national paper of record.

But what about today––when newspapers are struggling to survive in the digital age and Americans have retreated to their cable news niches, with millions on each side claiming to have cornered the market on the truth and dismissing the others’ media sources as “fake news”?

This sharp national divide will be evidenced writ large during the upcoming O.J. moment when half the country will believe the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller, while the other half will not. What then?

Most newspapers still provide responsible objective journalism but their readers are dwindling by the day. And even a great newspaper movie such as “The Post” has a limited audience. At my suburban Chicago multiplex, a sparse crowd showed up on the opening night of this important film. Meanwhile, for nearly a month, two screens in the theater complex have been drawing packed houses for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

Perhaps the slogan for our time should be: “Fiction trumps truth.”

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‘Cop and Convict’ share message of hope over dope to Chicago suburb

By Tom Siebert
Community Contributor

“My name is Tim, and I’m a grateful recovering alcoholic and heroin addict.”

With those sobering words, Tim Ryan introduced himself not to a 12-step meeting Wednesday night but to an audience of more than 200 people gathered at the Naperville Municipal Center, west of Chicago.

“This is a great community but I’m sick and tired of burying people,” Ryan said, explaining that he has attended more than 113 funerals for those who have died from drugs during the past three and a half years.

But the founder of the A Man In Recovery Foundation said that he has also steered more than 3,000 addicts into treatment during that period, some into Transformations, a south Florida rehabilitation center for which he works as national outreach director.

Ryan, who was sent to prison twice for drug- and alcohol-connected offenses, spoke at a community forum entitled “The Unforgettable Drug Program: The Cop and the Convict,” cosponsored by the local nonprofit group KidsMatter and the Naperville Police Department.

The “cop” in the forum’s title is Naperville police detective Rich Wistocki, who was contacted by Ryan shortly after he was released from prison in late 2013. The recovering addict was seeking the assistance of the law enforcement officer in his crusade against drug addiction.

Wistocki, a 27-year police veteran, was skeptical of Ryan’s motives. But after conducting his own investigation, he was convinced that the ex-convict had truly turned his life around. So the two teamed up to begin presenting their “cop and convict” seminar to communities throughout Illinois.

At the Naperville forum, Ryan captured the attention of the audience with his riveting story of alcohol abuse, drug addiction, and near death.

He grew up in Crystal Lake, spent much of his teens and twenties under the influence of alcohol and marijuana, but did not get hooked on heroin until he was 32. Still, he was a functioning addict, able to make big bucks as a “headhunter” for a tech-industry executive recruiting firm.

However, much of his lucrative salary went to support his $500-per-day heroin habit, rather than his wife and four children. He flirted with death every day. “I overdosed eight times and was pronounced clinically dead three times,” Ryan recounted.

In December 2010, Ryan had just shot heroin into his veins on Chicago’s West Side when he passed out in his mini-van, crashing into two vehicles. Paramedics administered two doses of the life-saving medication naloxone, which reverses the effects of heroin.

Ryan was charged with aggravated DUI, bailed out of jail, but continued to use heroin during a long, protracted court fight. It was during that time that he learned his teenage son Nick had also descended into drug addiction.

The father and son soon began using heroin together.

“I know it sounds crazy but that’s how Nick and I bonded,” Ryan told the incredulous crowd. “I was his friend when I should have been his father.”

In late 2012, Ryan was convicted and sentenced to prison. At that time there were 28 prisons in Illinois and only two offered residential drug treatment, one of them Sheridan Correctional Center.

So in his cell at the prison reception facility in Joliet, he prayed: “God, Higher Power, or whatever You are, please take away my obsession and compulsion, and I swear I will turn my will and life over to You. And please let me get to Sheridan!”

Ryan’s prayers were answered and he wound up at the treatment center, where he and other inmates became well versed in the Bible and the book Alcoholics Anonymous during his 13 months in prison. They went to meetings, participated in group therapy, and looked out for each other.

He was released in December 2014, and eight months later, his 20-year-old son Nick died of a heroin overdose. Ryan went to a 12-step meeting that night, and a month later, the grief-stricken father founded A Man In Recovery in memory of his late son.

Since then he has been getting addicts into treatment, running recovery groups, and teaming up with Wistocki to raise community awareness about drug abuse and prevention.

Ryan, a Naperville resident, has been featured in many publications such as Newsweek and USA Today. He also has appeared on several television programs, including Fox and Friends and The Steve Harvey Show. And his recovery story was the subject of an A & E documentary called “Dope Man.”

Wistocki’s segment of the forum was highlighted by tough talk to the many parents in the audience.

“There’s no such thing as privacy with children,” the detective told them. “All of you parents here tonight are responsible for your children. You are responsible for their devices.”

In an elaborate PowerPoint presentation, Wistocki showed the parents how to monitor their kids’ cellphones and computers to determine if they are purchasing and using drugs. He also suggested searching their rooms for other tell-tale signs of drug use.

“If your kids have a scale, it’s not because they are really smart in science,” the detective quipped, eliciting nervous laughter among the crowd.

But there was nothing funny about the statistics read to the audience by Naperville Deputy Police Chief Jason Arres. The police department has responded to 104 overdose calls so far this year, doubling the numbers of 2015 and 2016.

Arres said further that as of Nov. 8, there had been 29 heroin overdoses and five heroin deaths in the city this year. He added that thus far in 2017, there have been 56 prescription drug overdoses and no fatalities.

The good news is that 23 times this year drug users were saved from overdoses after receiving a dose of narcan, an antidote that was administered by either Naperville police or paramedics.

The deputy police chief also updated the community on a recently enacted department policy that allows drug addicts to turn themselves and avoid arrest, stating that 32 people have taken advantage of the treatment-alternative program.

“It’s not just about arresting people; it’s about helping them,” Arres asserted. “We are going to help them get treatment whether they can afford it or not.

“We cannot arrest ourselves out of this problem.”

Tim Ryan

Posted in Addiction, Alcoholism, Drug Addiction, Naperville, Police, Recovery, Tom Siebert | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Democrat Howard Dean and Republican Newt Gingrich to keynote 2018 World Leaders Forum at Judson University

By Tom Siebert

Hoping to generate less heat and more light in the global political debate, Judson University has scheduled ex-Vermont Governor Howard Dean and former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to speak, not spar, at the Christian college’s seventh World Leaders Forum next spring.


“In a world that is becoming increasingly politically divided, Judson University is honored to host a conversation highlighting the importance of civility in political discourse,” said university President Gene Crume. “We believe in presenting our campus and our community with a balanced approach to understanding divergent ideologies by fostering respectful dialogue.”

Mr. Dean and Mr. Gingrich, both of whom were once front runners for their respective parties’ presidential nominations, are set to keynote the 2018 World Leaders Forum, entitled “A Bipartisan Conversation About Leadership in Divided Times.”

The event is slated for April 19 at Judson’s campus in northwest suburban Elgin, followed by a VIP reception and photo opportunity in Chicago. The two political leaders will be sharing a stage for the first time since 2011.

Howard Dean served as governor of Vermont from 1991 to 2003, gaining a national reputation for fiscal responsibility as well as promoting equality and opportunity for the state’s residents. Governor Dean was named public official of the year by Governing magazine in 2002.

He ran for president in 2004, coming in second place for the Democratic nomination behind Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. Mr. Dean then ran the Democratic National Committee from 2005-2009, helping his party take control of the House of Representatives in 2006 and the Senate in 2008. He is a frequent guest on political talk shows.

Newt Gingrich was first elected to the House from Georgia in 1978 and served until 1999. He was House minority whip from 1989-1995 and speaker from 1995-1999. Under his leadership, the House passed welfare reform, the first balanced budget in a generation, and the first tax cut in 16 years. In addition, funding was restored to strengthen defense and intelligence capabilities, an action later lauded by the bipartisan 9/11 Commission.

Mr. Gingrich ran a surprisingly strong campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, which was eventually won by Arizona Senator John McCain. He has published 35 books, including 15 New York Times bestsellers. He is currently a Fox News contributor and senior advisor at Dentons, the world’s largest law firm.

Previous keynoters at the World Leaders Forum were former President George W. Bush, ex-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev, ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Mexican President Felipe Calderón, and Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan.

The forum affords Judson students and the Chicagoland community an opportunity to be inspired by significant thought leaders. Proceeds fund Judson leadership scholarships, innovative entrepreneurial activities, and ongoing operations of the World Leaders Forum.

Judson University offers a Christian liberal arts and sciences education through its bachelor of arts degrees for more than 60 majors, minors, and graduate programs. Also offered are online certification and accelerated adult-degree programs. For more information, visit www.JudsonU.edu.


Posted in Howard Dean, Judson University, Newt Gingrich, Tom Siebert | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment