Two Cents Worth – Aug 19, 2015

This week I had a conversation with someone about CSX closing the rail line through O’Fallon and they said something that really got me thinking.  During our talk I was told that I am doing important work, helping to document the history of O’Fallon, Shiloh, and the surrounding area.  Honestly, that thought has weighed heavily on me.

When my partner and I started this venture, we didn’t do it to be historians.  I needed work and decided to strike out and make my own way, while my partner (I think) is along for the ride to help and because he thought it could be a good time.  It’s nice to have good friends… but I digress…

It’s really true though, we are documenting the region’s history as we go along.  We document what events take place, milestones in the lives of residents, and even their passing in the obituaries.  We are providing a written record for those that will come along after us to be able to look back and see what life was like in the here and now.

But it messed with my mind a bit to actually hear that was what I was doing.

The person I was speaking with said it was imporatnt to have a written record because the internet is etherial and can be altered.  Our society has begun to use Facebook as our default news source, but that also makes it our default historical ledger.  I agree that is a dangerous path to go down because, not only are we trusting our history to one corporation running a website, but we are also trusting that data won’t ever be altered.  I’ve edited Facebook posts before and I’m sure you have as well.  Nothing on the internet is locked in print on a page.  Nothing on the internet is one-hundrend percent permanent, which it needs to be to stand up to the test of time.

My partner and I debated greatly when we were preparing to launch the O’Fallon Weekly as to wheter we’d do a print version or go online only.  We decided there was a legitimacy to having a print version that you just don’t have by going online.  Anyone can start a blog or a website.  I think we all know deep down that the internet is great, but the written word will always carry some immeasurable power.

Which is why it was important to me to include an article in this week’s edition talking about the rail line, its history, and how the railroad shaped O’Fallon.  It was important to take a moment and reflect on what exactly took place on August 7, 2015.  It wasn’t just the closure of a rail line.  It was the closure of the rail line that is responsible for the existence of the town itself.  It’s a moment that deserves some brief reflection.

Part of what I love about publishing the O’Fallon Weekly is the support and assistance I receive from the community.  I can’t tell you how many emails and messages I receive providing me with items to include in the paper.  And now that I’ve been so bluntly informed that we’re doing the work of the town historians, I have to point out that you are all also helping write the history of O’Fallon and Shiloh.

Every time you send me a photo, press release, or story, you’re adding a part to the area’s history.  It’s a really big thing to process when you take a moment to stop and consider it.

Personally, I am choosing not to dwell on it and to just keep doing what I’ve been doing.  That’s an awful lot of pressure and I think if I give it too much more thought, my production will come to a grinding halt.  After all, we really shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously…

Two Cents Worth – Aug 12, 2015

I don’t remember school starting so early back when I was a kid. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that our perception of time varies as we get older and that summer to a fourth-grader may seem like an eternity, but it still seems like its starting sooner than it used to.

Going back to school was fun though.  You got to catch up with peers you didn’t see over the summer, hear about their fun vacations, and tell people about yours.  I also really liked getting all the new school supplies and stuff.  It just felt like a fresh start to everything.

Hopefully all of the kids heading to whatever school they’re heading to are excited and happy to start a new year.  And hopefully all of the teachers and staff are looking forward to working with them to expand their horizons. I have to say, since we’ve launched the O’Fallon Weekly, I’ve had a chance to interact a little with teachers and administrators at some of the local schools.  I’m really impressed with the quality of educators that I’ve encountered.  The students have opportunities that, if taken advantage of, can be very beneficial for them in the future.

With all of that said, teachers, I have a request to make. One of the things I hear a lot is that residents of O’Fallon pay a lot of property taxes for the school districts. I’d like to showcase some of the great things you are doing in your classrooms so that the residents can see how their taxdollars are helping educate area youth. During this next school year, I’m hoping you’ll send me photos and information about some of the things your classes are doing.  For example, if you are a science teacher and its time for the volcano model, send me a photo of the kids while Mt. Vesuvius overflows. This is your opportunity to show off what you’re doing in your classrooms and for the local students.

Send any photos and information to Nick@OFallonWeekly.com and I’ll be glad to include them in upcoming editions.

Good luck this year to all of the students, teachers, staff, and administrators, even if you are starting earlier than you used to.

On an unrelated note, I’d like to welcome Shiloh Mayor Jim Vernier to the pages of the O’Fallon Weekly.  We reached out to Mayor Vernier to see if he’d be interested in talking about all of the happenings and issues taking place in Shiloh and he graciously accepted.

While Mayors Vernier and Graham have their supporters and their critics, which is normal in politics, I’m happy they are both taking advantage of the Weekly to reach out to the residents of their towns.

If you have any questions for the mayors they can be reached at their city halls.

Two Cents Worth – Aug 5, 2015

I find myself amazed at what we as human beings can do when we put our minds to something.  Recently, NASA came roaring back into the public consciousness by showing us fabulous photos of Pluto and its geography and moons.  This is a formerly-known-as-a-planet that is so far away it took nine and a half years for New Horizons to reach it.  It takes four and a half hours for a signal to travel from New Horizons to Earth at the speed of light.  And now NASA has announced that it has found planets in far away systems that closely resemble Earth and could possibly sustain life.

And so when I am presented with great examples of what we can do and where we can go when we really put our minds to something, it makes it all the more disappointing when we are presented with examples of great disfunction and turmoil right in our proverbial back yard.

It’s no secret that the state of Illinois is in a deep budget hole and I’m not going to get into my opinion of who I think is right or wrong at this point and who we should point fingers at.  That won’t do any good.  I’m more concerned at this point about what the budget situation will do to people locally.

My church helps to support the Uni-Press Kindercottage in East St. Louis.  Uni-Press was founded in 1965 as a non-profit agency designed to provide services to kids between 3 and 5 years.  Through the years its services have expanded and now it serves children six weeks to six years, including kids with special needs.  Its gone so far as to help needy families with health and developmental screenings, food, clothing, job referrals, and job training opportunities.  After all, how can a child be cared for if the parent can’t find work?  Uni-Press receives funding from the state to help in its mission, but that funding has been cut off like everyone else’s.

Now I’m sure there are examples of agencies and organizations, just like Uni-Press, right here in O’Fallon and Shiloh.  Agencies and organizations that are in need of help so they can help others.  And the question becomes how can we help everyone?  Can we even expect to be able to?

Well, maybe we should ask the O’Fallon Police Department.  Could they have expected that people would come out and donate $8,600 to benefit the Special Olympics at their “free” lunch fundraiser last week?  While they probably hoped for a turnout like that, I doubt they planned on it.  But that goes to show the true heart of a community, how it works to help others.

Unfortunately, because of decades of mismanagement in Springfield, I suspect we’re going to have to get used to not only fending for ourselves but relying on others in the community to help out when needed.  We’re going to have to take care of one another, because the people we elected to do so have messed everything up so badly.

And there’s no shortage of ways to donate money locally.  The District 90 Boosters, the food pantry, any number of churches, and many other organizations could all use some extra cash.  Don’t have some spare money lying around?  Ask how to volunteer time.  I’m a firm believer that oftentimes time is more valuable than money.

I’m in Rotary and we have a motto we live by, “Service Above Self.”  Ask any Rotarian what that means to them and they’ll each give you a different answer.  But I bet you all know a Rotarian.  You may not know they’re in Rotary, but I bet you’ve noticed them doing nice things for others or helping their community.  Same with members of the Kiwanis Club, Optimists, Lions, etc.  Consider getting involved in a service organization like Rotary.  Any club around would love to tell you what they’re all about and how you can help others.

Everyone likes to talk about how Illinois, our nation, and even the world is starting into a black hole and how we all can’t imagine how things can get better.  Maybe I’m foolish, but I choose to be like that little satellite that could and look to New Horizons.  Yeah, things aren’t great right now, but there’s only one way to go when you’re sitting at the bottom.  How will you help us all collectively stand up?

Do me a favor and send me a message this week telling me how you are already working to make a difference in your community or how you plan to.  I’d like to run some in a future edition.

Two Cents Worth – July 29, 2015

You may have noticed that we’ve added a new feature this week to the O’Fallon Weekly.  Going forward, page two will be the home of the “What’s Happening” section, which will list upcoming events around the O’Fallon and Shiloh area.

We’ve had a lot of folks send us notices about upcoming events and, until recently, we’ve just ran them as individual stories throughout the paper.  However, as we thought about it, we thought it would be more useful and helpful to you to have those sorts of listings all in one easy to find place.

This means I need events to put in the “What’s Happening” section.  So if you’re involved in an business, organization, group, or church who is planning an event, please let us know about it.  We’ll be glad to include you.

This is not the first new feature the O’Fallon Weekly will be rolling out over the next few weeks.  Starting in August, in conjunction with the new school year, we will be launching our sports section.  I’m really excited about this since I, personally, feel that has been the one big area we haven’t touched on yet in the paper’s existence.

Nathan Poignee, who wrote the article last week about the OTHS Athletes of the Year, will be heading up our sports for the near-future.  However, as I’ve learned putting out this paper for the past 14 weeks, you can’t do it all by yourself, and this is where Nathan and I are asking for help.

I’m sure there are some boosters and energetic parents that attend every game or event of their chosen sport. Maybe you’re that dad who likes to go to every lacrosse game or that mom who makes sure she attends every soccer game.  Perhaps you’re an assistant coach who wants to help highlight the students you work with.  Or maybe you’re a sports fan who just likes going to watch high school bowling competition.  If this describes you, we want you to be a part of our sports coverage.  Take some photos of the action and send them our way.  Feeling really industrious? Talk to a coach after the game and do a short write up about what happened.

And let me also say, this is most definitely not limited to just high school sports.  If you’re a parent at a junior high school or St. Clare, we’re more than interested in your help as well.

Nathan and I can’t be everywhere, but working together with all of you we can cover nearly everything in the O’Fallon Weekly.

You may have also noticed starting in last week’s paper that we are looking for someone to be an advertising sales representative.

Do you have prior sales experience?  Are you good at interacting with people and able to provide excellent customer service?  Are you interested in a job that pretty much lets you set your own hours and where your success is measured only by how much effort you put into your work?  If so, send your resume to ads@OFallonWeekly.com.

Applicants should have at least two years of experience in sales and have reliable transportation.

Two Cents Worth – July 22, 2015

They say we come into this world with nothing and we leave this world with nothing.  While I’ll concede the first part of that statement, I do believe we leave the world with something.  Everyone has an opinion and we take those opinions to the grave.

No one can honestly say if their opinion is right or wrong, it just is what it is.  You believe in something and no one is going to convince you otherwise.  Or maybe you can be swayed after debating the subject, in which case I guess I applaud you for having an open mind.

As I write this I’m sitting at my desk following tonight’s O’Fallon City Council meeting.  During the public comment, a resident felt the need to point out that both newspapers in town have placed a 250 word limit on letters to the editor.  He felt as though that was the media stifling, or at the very least limiting, the voice of the public.  That’s his opinion.  But sir, if you’re reading, allow me a chance to retort.

I have never seen the O’Fallon Weekly as my personal bully pulpit to preach to the citizens of O’Fallon about what I feel about a particular subject.  I’ve also, at times, gone out of my way to include viewpoints I may or may not agree with.  I’ve said from the beginning that I want to create a newspaper that everyone can embrace as their own and feel a part of.

The O’Fallon Weekly has run a large ad on it’s Vantage Point pages asking readers to send in letters to the editor on pretty much any topic they wish since we launched 13 weeks ago.  To date, I have received three letters to the editor and have printed all three in their entirety.  Two came from city leaders and one was from the vice-president of the District 90 Board of Education.  Granted, those letters were all longer than 250 words, but that leads me to my main point.

If there is one thing the O’Fallon Weekly has not done, and will never do, its stifle the voice of the public.  So I invite the gentleman who spoke tonight, and everyone else, to send in a letter expressing an opinion on a subject that is important to you.  While, yes, I do state to please keep letters at 250 words or less, be aware that you can go longer if you feel the need.  However, I reserve the right to edit a letter that comes to me that is over 250 words if I am running low on page space.  In all honestly, I will more than likely not touch a thing in your letter and print it just as you send it to me.  But, just so we’re clear, if its more than 250 words, I will trim it down if I need to.  If you keep it at or under 250, you guarantee that it will be printed as you send it.

The only point that I will not bend on and will not tolerate are personal attacks on anyone.  I’m more than willing to present an opposing viewpoint, but the O’Fallon Weekly will not be party to bullying.  So keep your letters to the issues and we’ll all get along just fine.

I’ve always enjoyed the letters to the editor page in a newspaper.  A healthy debate and the free exchange of ideas helps move a community forward. I’m happy that some of our civic leaders, both at the city level and from District 90, have taken advantage of the free page space I’m offering.  I hope some of the residents of O’Fallon and Shiloh begin to do the same.  After all, we all have opinions.

Two Cents Worth – July 15, 2015

OFW_07152015 001If there’s one page I labor over the most every week it’s the front page.

It’s a really important page!  Its the first impression to new readers, a hook to get current readers interested, and maybe even a draw for casual or lapsed readers.

Picking out a really interesting and cool photo each week is not an easy task.  Some weeks there just isn’t a lot of images to pick from.

And then there’s the headline!  What short bit of text do I put on the front page to try and grab a reader’s attention and quickly convey what the image is all about?  Do we go informational or witty?  Do we do a sub-head, or secondary headline, that provides a it more detail?  There’s a lot that goes into that one page!

Let’s take this week.

All week long, from the moment I pick up my printed papers Tuesday afternoon until the end of day the following Monday, I’m looking for a great photo opportunity for the front page.  This week it came via a text message on Saturday afternoon.

Earlier in the day on Saturday, a milk truck had a bit of an accident and tipped over at Highway 50 and State Street. By the time I arrived at the scene, the truck was already being put back on its wheels.  As I was standing there, taking my own photos, I began to talk to Tyrone Reading.  Tyrone happened to live just a few doors down the road from the accident site and was outside when it took place.  He showed me some photos that he had taken right after the truck had tipped over.

And just like that, we had a cover shot.

Tyrone was gracious enough to share his photos with me so I could share them with you.  As I was cropping and determining how to showcase the scene, I noticed a mass inside of the truck cabin.  It’s the driver standing there on his phone!  Add that element to the milk spilling out of the tank, and the reflection of the police car in the tank, and you’ve got a pretty interesting and compelling photo.

Now came the question of the headline…

Since no one was injured, I opted to go for a bit wittier of a headline.  Originally I considered “The Day the Cereal Went Dry”, but that was a bit long.  I had “Udder Chaos” suggested to me by a friend, but that seemed a touch more dramatic than what the situation called for.  It was just a one truck accident after all.

The phrase “No use crying over spilled milk” kept getting thrown around a lot in relation to this accident.  It seemed a bit too obvious, and too long for my front page, but then another friend suggested a solution.

“Why don’t you just say ‘No use crying…’ and let the reader complete the phrase mentally on their own,” he asked.

Thus a front page was born.

If you’re ever out and about and see something that you think is interesting or newsworthy, take a photo or three and send them my way.  I will always give you photo credit and will be eternally grateful for the help.

Two Cents Worth – July 8, 2015

In the short time we’ve been publishing the O’Fallon Weekly, I’ve been fortunate to work with some really great people.  Granted, they always start off looking for a paying gig, but somehow I end up talking them into light stringer work or an internship or something.

One of those folks is Jarad Jarmon.  You may have noticed Jarad’s byline on a lot of stories about Shiloh.  That’s been his beat for the most part.

Jarad has been an immense help to me over the past month and a half or so because Shiloh and O’Fallon government meetings both fall on Monday night at the same time.  No one has perfected cloning technology (at least not technology I can use) and so I’ve needed Jarad to attend and report on Shiloh government.

Jarad informed me Monday night after he’d emailed me his article that he had gotten a full time job at a newspaper in eastern Illinois and that he’d be leaving the Weekly.

I couldn’t be happier.

Now that’s not to say that Jarad hasn’t done a great job.  He has.  He’s been reliable, helpful, and punctual when submitting his stories.  I’ve come to rely on Jarad to take care of Shiloh for me, and I’m going to be sad to see him go so soon.

With that said, I’m thrilled for Jarad.  Finding a full-time job in the media is not an easy thing to do these days.  I should say finding a job in the media that pays well enough that you can afford ramen noodles is hard, which I was unfortunately unable to give him.

I knew when I started having people ask me if they could help write for me that while I couldn’t offer much, I could at least offer them bylines and experience.  Bylines and experience they could use as a portfolio when looking for regular, decent paying work. And hopefully we could have a good time while doing so.

I don’t want to take any credit for Jarad’s success in finding work.  He came to me with an impressive enough resume already that I felt fortunate to have him help me for the pittance I was able to give him.  It doesn’t surprise me that he has already found the start of his way.

So the story by Jarad in this week’s issue is more than likely his last for the Weekly.  He may have one more next week, but it’s just as likely he’ll be out east looking for an apartment.

And after Jarad moves on to bigger and better things, the Weekly will eventually welcome its next reporter who is ready to claw and scratch their way into the media world, and the cycle will begin anew. But we won’t forget those who came before.

Congratulations on the new job Jarad and thank you for all your help.  It’s been greatly appreciated.

Two Cents Worth – July 1, 2015

Before we begin, I want to thank everyone for the suggestions on how to deal with my thunder-hating dog.  What was really helpful for me is that you all gave me the same advice and told me to buy a Thundershirt. My wife and I bought Riley one last Saturday, which came in really handy for Sunday night’s storms.

Riley did remarkably better with the Thundershirt.  While he still hung close, he laid on the floor and wasn’t crying and clingy like normal.  I’m still waiting to see how he does overnight with it, as I was up late Sunday night and it stopped raining before I went to bed.  So far though, you guys all hit this solution right on the head.  Thanks!

Since we’re having a bit of a dialogue, I want to talk this week about Facebook and social networking.

Last week, the O’Fallon Weekly received its 1,000th “Like” on Facebook.  To thank you all for your support, we partnered with Imo’s Pizza to give you buy-one-get-one large pizzas if you mentioned the O’Fallon Weekly.  I’d like to take a brief moment to thank Bridgett and the team at Imo’s Pizza in O’Fallon for working with us and giving you all such an excellent deal.

But what I want to ask you all is what kinds of posts are interesting to you.  I can put post after post up and receive little interaction with our now 1,120 (as of this writing) followers.  But then I put up a photo of how Ravanelli’s has changed into Fire-N-Smoke and you guys go bananas!  We received more interaction on that one post than any other so far.  You liked, commented, and lots of you shared it all over Facebook.

So I want to know if that’s what you’re looking for from us on Facebook.  We use Facebook as a way to interact and update you all throughout the week.  Maybe we’ll ask some questions and that sort of thing, but for the most part we promote the paper and show what kinds of things we’re up to and seeing the other six days of the week.  Is that what you’re looking for?

What kinds of posts are you interested in?  What prompts you to share a post around?

The O’Fallon Weekly is a work in progress, but I love that I can ask you all for your input and receive it.

One last point… If you don’t already, please consider doing business with the advertisers in the O’Fallon Weekly.  They have taken a chance on a new community newspaper by purchasing advertising, and its only because of that faith and generosity that I am able to put out a paper each week.  It’s important to me to provide you all with a quality product for free each Wednesday, but the only way I can do that is if advertisers keep buying ads.  So if you can, please do me a favor and do some business with the advertisers in the Weekly.  And if you already do business with them, thank them for advertising in the Weekly.  They’re good people and they’ve all been a big help to me.

Two Cents Worth – June 24, 2015

My dog hates thunder.  Absolutely HATES thunder.  In fact, he’s smart enough to also be afraid of the lightning because he knows thunder follows lightning.

Last Friday morning I had just been woken up by my alarm clock when I heard the rain hitting the roof.  It was steady enough that I knew this wasn’t a quick little drizzle like we had been having.  No, this was an actual rain shower.

Then came the lightning.

At that time I knew I was soon to be sharing the bed with a 90-pound chow mix who has no clue of his size and strength.  Sure enough, one clap of thunder later, Riley was in the bed whimpering and crying.

Now normally, if we know the storm is going to last a while, my wife and I give the dog “Happy Bread”, which is just a slice of bread with a Benadryl pill mashed into it.  Our vet had given us these other pills to give him, but they were too strong and seemed excessive.  So the vet advised Benadryl as a safer, shorter-term option.  Unfortunately, it takes a bit for the pill to kick in and so you’re stuck with a large, fuzzy baby clinging to you for the duration of the storm.

I opted not to give Riley any bread because I was up already and knew that I would be home with him for a while.  I hoped I could just wait out the storm and he’d be fine.  I didn’t realize we were finally getting the rain from Tropical Storm Bill and that Friday would turn into a very wet and soggy day.

By 11 a.m. I had gotten ready and was about to go take some pictures of the rising water around the area when I realized I hadn’t given Riley any bread and that he was still in a panic over thunder, even though it hadn’t thundered in quite a while.

I had to decide what to do.  Do I just leave and hope he’ll calm down?  Do I give him some bread and hope the pill kicks in quick and he just takes a nap?  I opted to just go and hoped he’d calm down.  I don’t like medicating my dog unless its necessary… My mistake…

When I returned home, I found that Riley must have had a full-on freak fest.  He evidently decided he would get up on our bed, root around and strip the mattress of all blankets, sheets, and pillows.  They were all strewn around the room.  The hamper was tipped over and our clothes were everywhere.  The bathroom door was open (no clue how he managed that with no thumbs…) and that garbage can was tipped over and everywhere.  The toilet paper had been shredded, but I blame that on the cat.  And to top it off, he’d knocked over the lamp on my wife’s nightstand and broke the bulb (the glass didn’t break, it just won’t work now).

So needless to say, from here on out, Happy Bread will be dished up before I leave.

I can’t be the only one with a pet that is afraid of thunder.  How do you all deal with it?  Any tips, tricks, or helpful pieces of advice that might help Riley deal with the thunder without the use of drugs?

Two Cents Worth – June 17, 2015

This past Saturday was the annual Salute to Scott festival, put on by O’Fallon and Shiloh in conjunction with the O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce.

It was a really great day, with good weather, food, games, and banana splits.

There was also a business expo where members of the chamber could set up a booth and showcase their business to the attendees.  The O’Fallon Weekly was there and we gave away more than 300 newspapers.  We also heard from many of you that you already pick us up, and we really appreciate that!

I wanted to take the opportunity to shower a bit of praise on the local chamber of commerce.  We’ve only been a member for a very short time, but since day one of our existence the chamber has been very welcoming and supportive of what we’re trying to do.

But this isn’t unusual.

In my short time interacting with them, I’ve noticed that the members of the chamber go out of their way to not only actively promote their businesses but also create opportunities for them to fellowship with one another.  They create a sense of community that makes you want to do business with a fellow chamber member.

I was speaking with a gentleman last Friday over an iced tea and he told me about the hard work the chamber has been doing behind the scenes to attract medical professionals and businesses to the area.  It really only makes sense since O’Fallon is about to be the medical hub of the Metro-East in the next few years with Memorial East and St. Elizabeth’s opening their doors.  But that got me thinking about the chamber and all the work they are doing that we don’t hear about.

How many people in our area have a job because the local chamber went out and helped bring a business here?  How many small businesses just getting started were able to get over an issue or problem because of help from the chamber?  How much revenue do local businesses have the chamber to thank for?

I know SpectraGraphics has the chamber to thank for the approximately $120 or so I’ve spent on shirts in the last few weeks.  I went into the chamber office, asked about embroidery services, and they gave me business cards for a couple of shops.  It’s a small service, but it resulted in real-life revenue for a chamber member.

The business expo at the Salute to Scott is just another great way our chamber is working for everyone.  Not only do the businesses benefit, but a lot of military folks who recently transferred here had the opportunity to see everything O’Fallon and Shiloh have to offer.  It’s a win win for everyone.

So thank you O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce.  We appreciated the opportunity you provided.

If you haven’t seen it on the bottom of the front page, we have launched our digital version of the O’Fallon Weekly.

If you are interested in getting an email every Wednesday with a link to the digital version of this newspaper, just go to our webstie www.OFallonWeekly.com and sign up at the top of the screen.

It’s free and you get the same great content you get in the print edition.

Also, for those of you on social media, “Like” us on Facebook if you haven’t yet.  We post on there pretty regularly and showcase some of the stories we’re working on during the week.

Two Cents Worth – June 10, 2015

One of the reasons I love what I do is because I get to drop into and out of people’s lives, almost like I’m sampling food at a buffet.  Today I’ll try a bit of this person’s life and tomorrow I’ll experience a bit of that person’s life.  It’s a very unique opportunity that a lot of people don’t have.

I like to think it helps to provide me with a bit of insight and clarity about my own life.  A lot of people would benefit from walking a mile in another person’s shoes.  It might make them appreciate all of the blessings they have.

Last week I met nine-year-old Delaney Hall, her mother Lynn, and her relative Carol Huelsmann. I learned that Delaney had recently asked all of the guests at her birthday party to bring swatches of fabric instead of presents.  She used that fabric to make blankets for the sick children at St. Louis Children’s Hospital in honor of her cousin Galen, who passed away from leukemia in 2013.

Now apparently making blankets in honor of Galen is nothing new.  From what Carol told me, she estimates Team Galen has made and donated close to 1,400 blankets to Children’s Hospital.  But just because others have done it before doesn’t mean its any less special.  Heck, making 1,400 blankets seems like quite the accomplishment to me.

I met up with Delaney, Lynn, and Carol last week to deliver a batch of 40 blankets to the hospital staff.  I talked with them about Galen, making the blankets, and dealing with such a horrible twist of life.

Galen was only 16 when he passed away.  Think about your life after you turned 16 years old.  Think about everything you’ve done.  Now imagine it was all taken away by disease.

It dawned on me as we walked the halls that I had never been to St. Louis Children’s Hospital until that moment.  I immediately counted myself fortunate that I’ve never had a reason to go.  I wasn’t sick as a kid and I don’t have any relatives or friends that ever had to to go or stay there.  Realizing that was a real eye opening moment too.

“Forget about trying to imagine what it would be like to have a life-threatening disease at age 16, and just think about how lucky I am not to have never been here before,” I thought to myself.

After a bit it was time to go.  We made our way back to the parking garage where we went our separate ways.  I had re-entered my own life, where my biggest concern was where I would grab a quick bite of lunch (I ended up at Lion’s Choice for those who are interested).

Just like every other visit into other people’s lives, my visit with Delaney, Lynn, and Carol taught me a few things.  It’s one thing to say you’re fortunate, but it’s another thing to be put in a situation where you really realize it.  I’m still blown away by my realization of how fortunate I am to have never set foot in Children’s Hospital for any reason (and God forbid, it stays that way).  I also learned that despite all of the negative things you see and hear in the news and on television, there are parents that are teaching their kids to be kind and generous to those who need help.  Delaney didn’t just decide to ask for fabric for her birthday out of thin air.  She had a family who raised her to think of others.

I’m not sure what life situation I will pop into next week, but I can only hope I take away as much as I did this week with Delaney, Lynn, Carol, and Galen.

Two Cents Worth – June 3, 2015

While I’ve never been a big fan of it, I have to begrudgingly admit that, at times, change is good.  Doing the same thing over and over produces the same results, with possibly diminishing returns.  Only by switching things up a bit can we test and see what works and what doesn’t, in an attempt to find that a sweet spot.

I’ve been doing a bit of that with the O’Fallon Weekly since we launched in the last week of April.  As of this issue, we are six weeks old.  Most would be happy just to have put out six consecutive issues, and trust me I most certainly am.  However, I’m also trying to do different things and see what works and what doesn’t.  See what is interesting and what isn’t.

I’ve heard a lot of very positive feedback as I’ve gone around town talking to folks.  You all seem to really like the positive and community focused stories.  I’m very happy to hear that as that’s what I wanted to bring you.  A lot of times in the media industry you hear that “scandal sells” or that “if it bleeds it leads.”  I’m happy to know that that isn’t always the case and isn’t always what people are looking for.

I’m happy when I pop into a business and the first thing they do is check the back page to see what dessert we’re featuring this week (those are my mom’s recipes, so I can vouch for their being very good).  I’m glad the folks at St. Nicholas Roman Catholic Church appreciate the photos from the inaugural NickFest (I had a blast covering that event!).  It’s a good feeling when I get a message on our Facebook page telling me that both of her grandsons are on our cover that week (you have ‘liked’ us on Facebook, right?!?).

But in the spirit of mixing things up a bit and keeping everyone on their toes, there are some new additions to the paper I want to highlight.

The O’Fallon Weekly has partnered with the St. Clair County Animal Adoption Center to showcase Pets of the Week, in an effort to prompt pet adoption and help some fuzzy friends find forever homes.  Also, a big thank you to Four Paws Animal Hospital for sponsoring the Pets of the Week feature.

My pal David Porter, who owns the Lebanon Advertiser, has graciously shared his weekly column “Ramblin’ Man” with my readers.  Read this week’s column on page 11 to read more about what “Ramblin’ Man” is all about.

Fitness instructor, and the best wife I could have asked for, Laura Miller, has been sharing her fitness knowledge in her feature “The Fitness Fanatic.”  I should be taking more of her advice…

And starting this week, and running through the IndyCar season, my dad Jim Miller, will be providing weekly recaps of the IndyCar races.  As you may have read in my column last week, my dad and I attend the Indy 500 together every year with my uncle.  During the race, my uncle suggested I have some IndyCar news in the Weekly because no other paper around the area runs any that’s not from a newswire.  So, until the IndyCar season ends in August, the O’Fallon Weekly will feature original content about the races.

As I said in my first issue though, we can’t do this without the community pitching in.  It’s been great receiving story ideas, photos, news tips, and suggestions from you all.  Please keep them coming.    Send notes and suggestions to Nick@OFallonWeekly.com.

When the idea for this paper was conceived, we wanted to provide a product that gave the people of O’Fallon and Shiloh what they wanted.  Don’t hesitate to tell us what that is.

Two Cents Worth – May 27, 2015

For the past five years my Memorial Day weekend tradition has been to head out to Indiana and watch the Indinapolis 500 with my dad and uncle.  They’ve been going for 20 years now, but I only recently joined the group when a spot came open.  And much like the race cars that do nearly 230 miles per hour on the two and a half mile oval track, our trip is a very well oiled machine.  My dad lives in Indiana, but my uncle and I live in Illinois.  So for the last few years my uncle has picked me up on Saturday and we’ve driven to meet Dad.  My uncle will pick me up at around 1:30 p.m., we’ll drive about four hours east, and meet my dad at Gray Brother’s Cafeteria in Mooresville, Indidana, where we’ll have dinner that evening.

The next morning, we get up at the crack of dawn so we can grab breakfast (usually at a Cracker Barrel, but occasionally an IHOP).  Then we head to the grocery store to get our boxed lunches that we’ll eat at the race.  We pack up the coolers, drive to the neighborhood just east of the track, and park in someone’s lawn.  Race day is a big money maker in that neighborhood, as everyone seems to be charging $10 to $20 to park your car on their lawn.

After a couple mile long walk to our seats in section 53, just up from the pits, we settle in and watch the race.

Now why am I telling you all of the details of our racing tradition?  Memorial Day is a time to reflect upon the sacrifices made by our brave men and women of the armed forces.  It’s a time to honor our veterans, remember the fallen, and thank our active duty enlisted soldiers.  It’s a time to really contemplate what others have sacrificed so you can live a comfortable life, worrying about seemingly important things like a race instead of an ever-present threat from those that would harm us.

The Indianapolis 500 takes a good amount of time before the race to honor our military.  It’s a very patriotic event.  Just because you’re getting ready to watch cars go real fast, it doesn’t mean you can check out on what weekend it is.

So then on Monday, as I’m standing at the two different Memorial Day observances that took place in O’Fallon, I found myself reflecting on my weekend.  I thought about spending time with my family… bonding with my uncle and dad… watching an exciting race… enjoying good food. And then I thought about the price paid for me to be able to do those things and how blessed we all are that brave men and women exist that are willing to pay that price so we don’t have to.

This week, take a honest moment and reflect on your flie.  And then thank a soldier.

Two Cents Worth – May 20, 2015

I was really excited heading into this past weekend.  Who wouldn’t be in my position?   A local church was throwing an entire festival in my honor!

This has never happened to me before and I was very understandably giddy.

So needless to say I was a bit confused when I arrived at NickFest on Friday afternoon and I wasn’t immediately greeted by crowds of adoring fans and well-wishers.  Sure, everyone was pleasant enough, saying hello and smiling.  But it wasn’t quite the welcome that I expected to receive at an event named after me.

Over the course of Friday and Saturday I obviously came to realize that as much as I wanted it to be, NickFest was not a party thrown in my honor.  Rather, it actually served an even greater purpose.

NickFest had an opportunity this weekend to provide something that O’Fallon has been lacking for a while, and that is a community festival.  By now everyone has heard about May Fest and why it ultimately went away.  O’Fallon has been without a real classic festival and the folks at St. Nicholas Roman Catholic Church decided they were going to try and bring one back.  They should be commended for their efforts.

The inaugural NickFest was a success given that it had a few things going against it.  There was the weather.  It was pretty damp at times, which a lot of folks feared would keep crowds away.  There were so many other festivals going on, from the Moye School Spring Fling to Belleville’s Art on the Square, that there was no shortage of entertainment this past weekend.  But despite it all, there were large crowds both evenings, with lots of families coming out together to enjoy the festivities.

It surprises me that a town with as much community pride as O’Fallon hasn’t had much of a town festival since May Fest went away. So even though NickFest had nothing to do with me, it’s good to see the city residents embracing the event and making its first year a good one.

Two Cents Worth – May 13, 2015

As we went to press last week, a story about an SIU Edwardsville student that had gone missing began to develop.

Unfortunately, we’re now all to well aware of what happened to that young man. All he wanted to do was sell his car through an ad on Craigslist and make a bit of extra money, and now he’s gone.

What struck with me about this young man’s story is that the O’Fallon Police had just released a notice the week prior about how they are opening up the Public Safety Building as a safe zone to conduct online transactions. You can’t help but think what would have happened had the young man told his potential buyer that he wanted to meet at a local police department. More likely than not, he’d still be with us. That’s no criticism of the victim, but rather should serve as a warning to the rest of us.

The O’Fallon PD has graciously opened their doors to the public, providing us with a safe place to conduct our business. Please take advantage of it and stay safe.

Hopefully more departments around the area follow the lead of O’Fallon and open their doors too.