1940s Legacies

Noel C. Peltier, (BSJ47, MSJ48)

Noel Charles Peltier died December 29, 2019. Noel was born and raised in the City of Chicago. He proudly served in the Military Police during World War II, then graduated from Medill with two degrees in journalism. Noel married Lois Olsen in 1947.

For years, Peltier’s first job out of college was working as a police reporter for the City News Bureau. He then moved into corporate marketing where he developed specialized in pharmaceuticals for Mead Johnson and Abbott Labs. His crowning career achievement, however, was 20 years of teaching at Barat College, which friends and family said he enjoyed so much that he tried to keep his age a secret so he wouldn’t be forced to retire.

Peltier’s wife, Lois, died in March, 2019, a few months after the couple’s 71st wedding anniversary. The couple are survived by their children, Noel and Patrice, and niece Patricia Peltier.

1950s Featured Legacies

Charles E. Hayes (MSJ55)

Charles E. Hayes, who reported on suburban Chicago and real estate for over 3 decades, died Jan. 3, 2020. He was born March 13, 1931, in Evanston, IL, and graduated from Maine Township High School, where he was editor of the student newspaper. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg College in Ohio,  where he was editor of the student newspaper and a member of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. In 1955 he received his master’s from Medill.

In 1954, while completing work on his graduate degree, Mr. Hayes was hired by Paddock Publications as a reporter for its weekly newspaper, but he rose through the ranks to become first news then editor, managing editor, executive editor, vice president and finally editor in chief. Under his leadership, the Paddock newspapers became pioneers in the emerging suburban press and grew in frequency from weekly to daily.

In 1975, Mr. Hayes joined the Chicago Tribune as editor of the Suburban Trib supplements. He also served on the editorial board and as real estate editor. In 1992, he received a SAMMY Award from the Sales and Marketing Council of Greater Chicago for his coverage of the Chicago housing industry.

“His writing was just awesome. He was a lovely, lovely writer and as his real estate editor, I appreciated him not just because he was an excellent writer who did not require much editing on my part, but because he also knew his subject matter so well and so deeply,” Sallie Gaines, a retired Tribune editor told the Tribune. “He was able to explain it clearly and in a manner that was interesting.”

After his retirement, he wrote for the Copley suburban daily newspaper. Mr. Hayes has served as president of the Chicago Headline Club (Society of Professional Journalists-Sigma Delta Chi) and the Suburban Press Club. He was a member of numerous regional and national journalism societies, including the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Chicago Press Club, and Suburban Press Foundation advisory council.

Hayes’ work with Chicago’s suburban latinx community also received recognition. He is the founder and past president of the Opportunity Council, Inc., an adult education program for Spanish-speaking migrant workers. Hayes received honorary membership from the League of United Latin American Citizens in recognition of his efforts on behalf of suburban Hispanics.

He is survived by his nieces, great-nephews, and his good friends.

1970s Featured Legacies

Michael Podracky (BSJ75)

Michael Lawrence Podracky, 66, died Jan. 25, 2020. He was born on Jan. 30, 1953 and married Susan King on March 18, 1978 and raised two daughters, Dana and Erin.

Friends remember Podracky for his boundless energy, his unrelenting drive in achieving his goals, his sense of adventure, and his generous and thoughtful spirit. He grew up fishing on Lake Erie with his dad and carried that passion throughout his whole life, passing it on to his own grandsons. He loved running, especially with his daughter, Dana, and often beat her in races. He travelled the world, visiting more places in the last few years than most people get to in their lifetime, but his favorite trips were the ones he took with his daughters. He was a lover of fine dining for dinner and Milk Duds for dessert and he enjoyed watching Cleveland sports as much as a Broadway musical. His greatest love in life though was his family. He never missed an opportunity to babysit his grandsons. He often showed up with surprise coffee and flowers for no reason at all. His most used expression in life was, “Dad is proud of you.”

1950s Featured Legacies Legacies

Joseph Blade (BSJ55, MSJ56)

Joseph Blade, a longtime reporter at the Minneapolis Star and Star Tribune, died Nov. 23, 2019 at the age of 85.

Born April 13, 1934, in Oklahoma, Blade began working as a reporter at his high school paper, then attended Medill on a full scholarship.

Blade joined the U.S. Army and spent time overseas in the 50s. But his heart lay with journalism, leading him to write stories and instigate change upon return for over four decades.

In 1975, Blade uncovered mistreatment of patients and financial mismanagement at River Villa, Minnesota’s largest privately owned nursing home, leading to five convictions, prison sentences and increased state regulations of nursing homes.

His investigative work “consumed” him, his partner of 47 years, Ann Burckhardt told the Star Tribune. She added,“when he was on somebody’s trail, it absolutely took over his life.”

Blade would often rent a motel room where he could spread out boxes of paperwork, toiling “night and day till he had the details he sought,” Burckhardt said.

Blade later wrote an award winning series about job satisfaction. He retired in 1990.

Blade and Burkhardt met at the Star Tribune, where she was a longtime reporter and editor for the Taste section.

Blade is survived by Ann Burckhardt and brothers Bill and Richard.

1970s Featured Legacies Legacies

John Witkauskas (BSJ70)

John Witkauskas, died January 24, 2020 at the age of 71. He was born in Sheboygan on February 20, 1948. John attended local schools and graduated from Sheboygan South High School in 1966. He then went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Medill. After college, John worked for Delta Airlines in Chicago for over 20 years visiting many countries around the world. Following retirement from Delta, John worked at Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic school in Sheboygan. While there, he also reorganized and updated the school library system. John was known for his enthusiastic and upbeat personality. He enjoyed collecting old postcards, books, and movies. He also liked to spend time with family and friends. John’s life was well lived, and happy.

He is survived by his sisters, Sandy and Mary; his niece Rebecca; and three nephews: Chris, Paul, and Mike. He is further survived by many cousins and friends.

Home My Medill Story Uncategorized

Q&A with Thomas P. Schaffner (MSJ80)

Tom Schaffner shares his Medill story, from starting his own communications firm to starting a new company with his daughter.

Why did you come to Medill for graduate school after getting an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Kansas, a pretty good journalism school?

I had been working for three years at an entertainment-oriented public relations firm in Chicago but wasn’t doing the kind of writing I wanted to do.  I decided that the nine-month path to an MSJ at Medill was the perfect way for me transition from a non-writing job back into the world of journalism.  I was told many times by teachers and journalists that an MSJ was unnecessary for someone already holding a BSJ.  For me, the MSJ was a necessary step to get myself back into the world of writing and editing, something that I missed and was more comfortable with.

What was your area of concentration? Favorite courses?

My undergraduate degree at Kansas was in newswriting, so I thought I would concentrate in something different at Medill.  I chose the Magazine sequence and thoroughly enjoyed Professor Peter Jacobi, his classes, teaching style and, of course, his legendary trip to New York where we visited the staffs of top magazines at their offices.  I also particularly enjoyed ethics and media classes taught by Richard Schwarzlose.  He would start with a simple dilemma but keep adding complications so that by the end of class, everyone saw the issue from a completely different perspective.

What was your first job after Medill?

Shortly after graduating from Medill (1980), I accepted a communications specialist position at the National Live Stock & Meat Board, a Chicago-based organization that conducted programs of research, education, advertising and promotion on behalf of the nation’s beef, pork and lamb industries.  When I left six years later, I had been promoted to Director of Communications and was responsible for developing and implementing internal and external communications programs to trade and consumer audiences nationwide.  I learned two very important things at the Meat Board, both of which had a profound influence on the rest of my communications career:  1) almost any transaction or project underway at a company or business organization has a communications issue at its core and 2) there is an inexhaustible need for people who know how to communicate effectively at these very same companies or organizations.  These gems were the inspiration I needed to become an entrepreneur.

Before you opened Schaffner Communications, you created a newsletter called the Chicago File. Can you talk about your mission and how you did it?

When I was a freshman at Kansas (1977), I subscribed to the Chicago Daily News (newspaper) so I could keep up with everything that was happening back home.  Unfortunately, the newspaper, which traveled to me via the U.S. Postal Service, usually arrived about 10 days late and came in bunches of about five or six at a time.  I remember thinking at the time that there had to be a better way to keep up with news from Chicago.  I filed the thought in my mind and eight years later developed and produced a sample newsletter for former Chicagoans that became known as the Chicago File (for Chicagophiles).  The sample issue evolved into a monthly publication that contained news and features about what was happening in Chicago — buildings going up and coming down, the latest indicted politicians, new transit lines being contemplated and the most popular feature, a column called “Only in Chicago” which highlighted quirky events, bizarre activities and odd news items that could only happen in Chicago.  Subscribers were former Chicagoans, people who no longer lived in the Chicago area but wanted to know what was going on there.  At its height, the Chicago File had several thousand subscribers around the world and received a lot of coverage and publicity from major news outlets across the country.  Its cult-like following and popularity was, in essence, my 15 minutes of fame.  I continued to publish the Chicago File for six years and although it was breaking even financially, I decided to shut it down in 1991, literally at the dawn of the Internet.  Today I am recycling much of that 35-year-old Chicago File material into an online blog for my newest entrepreneurial adventure, L Stop Tours.  It’s deja vu all over again.

When did you launch your own firm?

In 1985, while still working at the Meat Board, I had the opportunity to work with first-time ever desktop publishing software and a newly invented HP laser printer.  I immediately saw the future of publishing — writers, graphic designers, typesetters, layout personnel and printers could now be combined into a single person and, by so doing, could speed the publishing process and remove significant costs from the system.  For someone like me who spent much of his career producing time-intensive newsletters, the new design software and printers were a game changer, they represented a tremendous new business opportunity for anyone willing to take the plunge.  I decided to open a communications firm, Schaffner Communications, which was incorporated in July 1986.  I was 30 years old at the time.  My first corporate act?   I ran out to a store and bought a Macintosh computer, Pagemaker design and graphics software, Microsoft Word 1 for the Mac, Filemaker (database software) a laser printer, a daisy wheel printer (for envelope labels) and a few other miscellaneous items for $15,000.  Today, a MacBook Air laptop computer and a laser printer alone cost less than 10 percent of that amount.  Too bad I couldn’t delay my purchase for 35 years — I would have saved plenty.

What was the mission of Schaffner Communications?  What did your business focus on?

Schaffner Communications was designed from the get-go to be radically different than other firms in the marketplace. For starters, we positioned ourselves as a communications consulting firm and not a public relations firm because we wanted to portray ourselves as experts in the field of communications.  More specifically, our area of expertise was to help businesses — large and small — build and maintain effective communication systems that delivered important and timely messages to key corporate audiences consistently, effectively and efficiently.  For us, quality corporate communication belonged in the hands of skilled professional journalists — so we made it company policy to hire account personnel with only those qualifications.

How did your Medill skills contribute to the success of Schaffner Communications?

Journalists know how to write, communicate, develop creative solutions to problems, gather information, ask questions, edit copy so that reads better than the previous version, and much more.  I honed all of these skills at Medill and put them to good use at my consulting firm.  At Schaffner Communications, we used our journalistic skills to improve the quality of communications at businesses and corporations across the country — sharper, crisper editing of key corporate documents, improved media relations with more transparency, faster periodical production cycles with upgraded equipment and technology, increased collaboration at all levels of project management and a host of other techniques and initiatives.

You were the agency of record for a $4 billion wholesale grocery cooperative for many years. How did you not only maintain that business, but grow it? What were your secrets of success?

This Los Angeles-based firm outsourced all of their communications (internal and external) to Schaffner Communications for 19 years (1994-2013), they were one of our largest and longest-tenured clients.  One hundred percent of the clients served by Schaffner Communications over the past 35 years came to us via a referral, and this particular client was no exception.  We were recommended to the senior management team by friends of mine who had worked there as labor management consultants.  While it’s true that quality work speaks for itself, a good referral gets you in the door and provides you with an opportunity to prove yourself over the long haul — and working anywhere over the long haul is a sure way to grow the business.  Another reason we were able to hold onto this client for such a long time is because I worked hard to develop a strong, dynamic relationship with the chief executive officer of the company, as well as the senior management team.  With their constant and unwavering support of our efforts, it was relatively easy to develop and maintain effective and efficient communication systems and programs throughout the company.

Can you talk about your next chapter – “L” Stop Tours? How did it come to be and how’s it going so far?

A little over a year ago, I started a new business with my daughter, Lindsay, a Chicago tour company called L Stop Tours.  We’re only in our second season but already the business is tremendously successful.  Our tours are different — we utilize Chicago’s elevated transit system (the “L”) to travel to interesting neighborhoods throughout the city and, upon arrival, explore the history, culture and food of the area via walking tours.  We believe that you haven’t seen Chicago if you haven’t been to the neighborhoods and we are the only company in the metropolitan area that travels to these areas via the L.  All of our tours start in the Loop and then head to such neighborhoods as Pilsen, the Prairie Avenue Historic District, Chinatown, Wicker Park and Fulton Market.  We also have special tours that go to Andersonville, Evanston, breweries along the Blue Line and another that visits historic Chicago taverns.  I do the vast majority of the tours because I love Chicago, have lived here my entire life and know a lot about city’s history, culture and traditions.  At age 64 I finally found my dream job!

Photo: Tom Schaffner (right) with daughter, Lindsay McNaught, co-owners of L Stop Tours, on the El platform, of course!