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Columns

Pat Wallis: Cutting back, but just a bit, after 60 years on the local news beat

Pat Wallis
Pat Wallis

The Sandwich City Council meetings have been a part of my life since the mid-1960s, when I started covering the city for the Aurora Beacon-News. That’s when I was a member of a group of four residents who met with Mayor Leon Cook at his home the evening before the once-a-month council meetings so he could discuss subjects that would be brought up the following night.

The group was composed of a veteran, another man, an older woman and a younger one. When a friend asked me to take over her spot because she was moving out of town, I said “sure,” never realizing it would change my life, a little bit at a time. At one group session, Mayor Cook said an Aurora Beacon-News representative came to the city hall asking if they knew anyone who would write stories about Sandwich for the newspaper.  

When I found out they’d pay $35 a month, I really got excited! My husband, Ron, and I had just moved into a new house we built on the north edge of town, and with four young sons, every dollar counted! I hadn’t worked outside the home since our eldest was born.

It was quite an experience for me to attend Sandwich City Council meetings the second Monday of every month. The meeting started at 7 p.m. and went on until they’d completed everything on the agenda. It sometimes lasted as late as midnight, partly because every city bill was read out loud by City Clerk Sadie Aska. The aldermen would discuss each bill, ask questions, then approve paying it. Or they’d want more information so they could make a decision the following month.

Over the next 50 years, mayors, council members, meeting sites and schedules changed, but I’m challenged when trying to remember dates. It’s the exciting and sometimes soul-wrenching events, terrific people, active business district and improvements in the city and schools that I recall. And still, when we have visitors from out of town, I’ve been thrilled to drive them by our Open Door Sheltered Workshop, Valley West Community Hospital, Indian Valley Vocational Center, the Sandwich City Hall/Opera House and the Sandwich Fairgrounds.

I’ve had other news-type opportunities, such as a five-day-a-week, live, half-hour program reporting from a desk in the corner of the downtown James Jewelry Store for WCMY Ottawa; reporting about city council and school board meetings for WSPY-FM since it started broadcasting in the mid-1970s; and working intermittently as a “stringer” (that’s what they called me) for the Sandwich Free Press, Ottawa Republican Times, DeKalb Daily Chronicle and Beacon-News. 

It still amazes me that with no official training, I’ve found work in a field that’s been so stimulating, learning about road construction, water and sewer plants, city rules and regulations, police departments and city funding while surrounded by great folks who make decisions that have molded Sandwich into the “center of the universe.” At least that’s what I call it.

Now other journalists will be attending Sandwich City Council meetings for the Record, leaving home after dark in the winters, sometimes driving through snow and fog so they don’t miss a minute of the action. I’ll still be attending and writing about Sandwich School Board meetings and writing about other subjects for the Record, but I’m cutting back.

However, if you see me sitting and staring into space, don’t be worried or alarmed. I’m just going through withdrawal, a little bit at a time.

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