Category: The Rockford Files

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Coming Home

“The people who go to St. Stan’s aren’t Polish; they’re Polish-American.”  Those words, blurted without thinking, have haunted me for almost a decade and a half.  Anna Mycek-Wodecki, then art director of Chronicles, was a true Pole.  Like Leopold

Manufacturing Our Future
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Manufacturing Our Future

Last month, I discussed what the future of manufacturing in the United States will have to be, if manufacturing in the United States is to have a future; this month, I can say with some certainty that I have seen

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The End of Manufacturing

The unemployment rate in Illinois broke double-digits in May to hit a seasonally adjusted 10.1 percent, a 26-year high.  Of course, double-digit unemployment rates are nothing new here in Rockford; we have been above ten percent for the better part

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Of Sycophants and Soliloquies

For those of us here in Rockford, Illinois, 200 miles (give or take) northwest of South Bend, Indiana, President Barack Obama’s commencement address at the University of Notre Dame on May 17 provoked a sense of déjà vu.  For

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All Local, All the Time

One of the talk-radio stations here in Rockford bills itself as “All Local. All Day.”  It is an interesting slogan, in light of increasing reports of the impending failure of local media; it would be even more interesting if it

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Meet Rod Blago

As the former governor of Illinois crisscrossed the country on his farewell tour, I kept imagining him lying back in his seat, scalp being massaged by his personal hairstylist (it takes work to keep that Serbian gangster hairdo in pristine

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Everything in Its Place

On December 9, 2008, as I read through the federal criminal complaint against the latest Illinois governor to be indicted for the merest portion of his crimes, I could not help but feel uneasy.  Sure, it was great fun to

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Hot Rod Lincoln

He knew that he was destined for greatness.  The son of uneducated manual laborers, immigrants to Illinois, he was never much of a student, but he would become a successful lawyer.  From a young age, though, his sights were set

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Detroit City

Home folks think I’m big in Detroit City

From the letters that I write they think I’m fine

But by day I make the cars

By night I make the bars

If only they could read between the lines .

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Losing Our Minds

Most years, writing a column that is due on October 15 for an issue cover-dated December, which will go to press six days before a general election but appear in subscribers’ mailboxes and on newsstands about two weeks after, would

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The Audacity of Dopes

No one expected the vote to be so close.  After Sarah Palin’s acceptance speech in St. Paul, the Republicans were certain they had found a rock star to compete with Barack Obama.  They could ride the crest of Palinmania all

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Diversity Is Our Strength

As the summer slid into August, gasoline prices fell a bit, back to about $3.79 per gallon here in the Midwest, and even that modest reprieve seemed to dispel some of the summertime blues.  Traffic on the interstates around Lake

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Lighting Candles

I cannot remember when I first met Mary Ann Aiello.  I know, of course, that it had to have been sometime after I moved to Rockford in the last week of 1995, and I suspect that it may have been

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Summertime Blues

Driving from Rockford to St. Paul, Minnesota, is a bit like going back in time.  St. Paul (like La Crosse, Wisconsin, where we crossed over the Mississippi River just hours before it began to burst its banks) is relatively well

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What’s Good for Rockford Acromatics

Dean Olson, the chairman of Rockford Acromatic Products, an after-market auto-parts manufacturer, is a longtime supporter of Republican candidates.  Still, he is not optimistic about the November election: “Even though the Democrats are in full rout, we’re not able

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If My Daddy Could See Me Now

September 11, 2001, we are often told, “changed everything.”  In Washington, D.C., and Baghdad, Iraq, that may have been true.  President George W. Bush and a handful of his advisors, who had been itching for a fight with Iraq

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Tan, Rested, and Ready

“I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, so help

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Three Coins

The weather in Rome has been on the chilly side, but compared with Rockford in January, it’s positively balmy.  Warm enough, in fact, to risk a charge of heresy (or at least philistinism) by capping the first full day of

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The Words of Muhammad (PBUH)

When confronted with an American convert to Islam who has studied overseas, it’s hard not to think today of the celebrated case of John Walker Lindh, “the American Taliban” captured by U.S. troops in Afghanistan and brought back to the

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Inside the Gates

Fr. Brian A.T. Bovee, the rector of Saint Mary’s Oratory in Rockford, sometimes calls his church Santa Maria Inter Carceres—Saint Mary’s Among the Jails.  It’s a (half-)joking reference to the oratory’s location just to the west of the Public Safety

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In the Garden

“How’s your garden doing this year?”  It’s a familiar question, as normal as the greeting that began the conversation and the goodbye that will end it.  I cannot start a conversation with my grandmother, or an aunt or uncle or

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The New Math: 66 < 60

How much would you pay for a library card?  In Rockford, if you are not a resident, you have to pay $140 per year for the privilege of using the Rockford Public Library system.  With six branches scattered throughout the

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Trusting Whitey

On June 30, 2002, the Rockford school-desegregation lawsuit came to an end.  After 13 years of busing; the closing of numerous neighborhood schools, one of which is now a mosque and Islamic school; the construction of several massive (and

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A Light Out of the Dim

How did an eighth-generation German-American growing up in Rockford, Illinois, proud of his ethnic heritage, baptized Lutheran, educated in Catholic schools, come to convert to Islam?  As Aaron, “Abdul,” and I sit down at the Richard John Neuhaus Memorial Conference

A Highly Personal History
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A Highly Personal History

We’re about 50 miles east of Toledo, cruising along the Ohio Turnpike on our way to Cleveland for the wedding of longtime Chronicles contributor Tom Piatak.  Satisfied from a lunch of cabbage rolls, paprikas dumplings, and Hungarian sausage at

Just an American Boy
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Just an American Boy

Give me, ya-Allah, Give me Iman and victory.

Give me, ya-Allah, give me strength to set us free,

As we struggle on your path,

Mujahideen

Five years ago, Aaron Wolf and I first heard these lines being sung by Muslim

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Immanentizing the Eschaton

Around this time every year, I find myself in the strange circumstance of writing a column before Ash Wednesday that won’t appear until after Easter Sunday.  If the overarching theme of my column were something other than Rockford as a

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Blue Christmas

The November election results were all about the war, the chattering classes told us; and in this case, there’s probably more truth to popular opinion than not.  For those of us who have opposed the war in Iraq from the

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Are the Good Times Really Over?

In mid-September, the original campus of Rockford’s Barber-Colman Company was named an historic district and placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It’s a fitting end to one of Rockford’s best-known manufacturing sites.  Founded in 1900, the Barber-Colman Company

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What Lies Beneath

According to an article in the New York Times on September 10, “In 2005, more people from Muslim countries became legal permanent United States residents—nearly 96,000—than in any year in the previous two decades.”  Moreover, many of these are

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Life in a Border Town

The archetypical middle-sized town in the middle of the Middle West, Rockford seems about as far removed from the border as you can get, unless we count the border with Wisconsin, a few miles to the north.  And yet, Rockford

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A Third Way

The American love of free enterprise has been one of this country’s greatest blessings.  The same, however, cannot be said unequivocally of the economic individualism that we too often assume is an indispensable part of the free-enterprise system.  The fundamental

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Shades of Blue

The Rockford Public Schools, as longtime readers of Chronicles know, have seen more than their fair share of troubles.  With the end, in June 2002, of the 13-year-long desegregation suit and its accompanying rule by the federal courts, and the

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Black Like Me

Rockford alderman Ann Thompson owns a cleaning service.  That, in itself, is not surprising; while Rockford aldermen receive some benefits that are traditionally reserved to full-time employees (such as health insurance), they are paid a part-time stipend, and only those

Not Fade Away
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Not Fade Away

At first glance, the area around Anthony Rudis’s 614-acre farm outside Monee, Illinois, seems closer to my hometown in Michigan than it does to Chronicles’ hometown of Rockford, Illinois.  (As the crow flies, the distance between Monee and Spring

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A Few Bad Men

The results of two extensive studies were released too late for me to consider them in my column (“Truth and Consequences”) last month.  Both the “Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,”

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Truth and Consequences

Next month will mark the fourth anniversary of the adoption, by the U.S. Catholic bishops, of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.  The protocol document was the bishops’ response to allegations of long-standing clerical sexual abuse

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Home, Sweet Home

The Rockford Institute sits on the northern edge of Rockford’s downtown, at the upper end of a stretch of North Main Street that local boosters have dubbed “the Cultural Corridor.” The corridor is not much even by the standards of

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True Love Ways

For the past 40 years, Rockford’s Midtown district has seen more downs than ups.  Centered on Seventh Street from First Avenue to Broadway, southeast of the main part of downtown, Midtown—once a bustling commercial and cultural center at the heart

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Revitalizing Rockford

In January, this column will celebrate its fifth anniversary.  When Tom Fleming and I originally conceived of the idea back in 1998 (as an occasional “Letter From Rockford” to be written by various local activists), we were capitalizing on the

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Master of Your Domain

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision in Kelo v. New London, the truth of this column’s conceit—that Rockford, Illinois, is a microcosm of America—has never been more clear.  One of the running themes of this column since shortly

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Master of Your Domain

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision in Kelo v. New London, the truth of this column’s conceit—that Rockford, Illinois, is a microcosm of America—has never been more clear.  One of the running themes of this column since shortly

Eternal Memory
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Eternal Memory

As we round the curve, the driver pulls up short—at least, as short as you can when you’re only going five miles per hour in the first place.  As the minibus shudders to a halt, we all shift in our

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If You Can’t Beat ’Em . . .

While Rockford, as I wrote last month, is becoming increasingly Democratic, Winnebago County, in which Rockford lies, remains fairly strongly Republican.  Despite the massive growth of the City of Rockford over the last two-and-a-half decades (it now pushes all the

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Three Strikes and You’re Out

April 2005 will mark the third mayoral election since I arrived in Rockford at the end of 1995.  In that first election in April 1997, Rockford’s first (and, so far, only) black mayor, Democrat Charles Box, was running for his