The day I killed Lewis Cushman on the front page of the Benton Evening News

Editor’s Note: (This column appeared in the Southern Illinoisan on February 10, 2004 and it remains to this day one of my all-time favorites.)
Lewis Cushman died last week and even though I read the obituary in the newspaper I still attended the wake just to make sure.

I’m certainly not making light of the matter, but I have every reason to be a little bit apprehensive about the death of Lewis Cushman. Medically speaking Cushman has only expired once, but journalistically speaking he’s died twice and the first time I was responsible.

The 84-year-old Cushman and his wife Angie ran Benton Baking Company for more than three decades, an old fashioned bakery that made great homemade bread and an assortment of other fine pastries.

Several years ago when I was working at the Benton Evening News I wrote a story about the Cushman’s daughter Connie (Peterson) who is married and lives in central Illinois. The story revolved around a prestigious award that Peterson and her husband had won on their farm/ranch and a news article that had appeared in a national magazine.

I conducted the interview over the phone and still recall that it was a story that was easy to write, a feel-good feature that are frequently in newspapers about a small town girl making good. The only problem I experienced with the story was that I forgot to ask Connie Peterson if both her parents were still alive.

After several unsuccessful attempts to reach the Petersons and the Cushmans and with a deadline bearing down on me I conferred with Danny Malkovich, managing editor, and we decided that Angie was alive but that Lewis had passed away a couple of years earlier. So, the story ended by saying: “Connie Peterson is the daughter of Angie and the late Lewis Cushman.”

The day the story ran I was out of the office in the early afternoon and returned around 3 p.m., about an hour after the paper hit the street. The first thing I noticed was a note on my desk written in bold letters that were underlined: ‘CALL LEWIS CUSHMAN!” The phone number was listed, also in large print.

I can still recall the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and the cold sweat on my forehead as I dialed Cushman’s number to take the scolding and the heat that I knew was forthcoming.

To my amazement though, Lewis and Angie Cushman proved to be good-natured and took my mistake quite well, even making a few jokes about it. They did ask me to correct the mistake the next day, though.

Using a lead I’m certain has been used many times by other harried newspaper writers the following day’s paper had a front page correction that began: “Much like Mark Twain, news of the death of Lewis Cushman is greatly exaggerated…”

Perhaps one of the funniest lines I’ve ever heard came a few days later when Angie Cushman called to tell me about the reception Lewis received from the elderly gentlemen that he drank coffee with every morning at a local restaurant.

She said the second Lewis walked in one gentleman commented about the speed at which he’d returned to life after his demise was reported a day earlier in the local newspaper.

“You know Lewis, it took Jesus three days to resurrect,” he said. “But you made it back for coffee the next morning.”

Since that forgettable day 10 years ago I’ve seen the Cushmans on countless occasions and we always shared a laugh about the glaring mistake that I made. And in the event that I would see Angie without Lewis I would always inquire, with somewhat of an exaggerated worried tone, how her husband was feeling.

“Lewis is ALIVE and doing quite well,” Angie would always reply with a wide smile.

While I’ll readily admit that I’ve made an occasional mistake with dates, places, and times during my tenure as a writer, reporting the erroneous death and subsequent resurrection of Lewis Cushman remains my biggest blunder.

And while it might be a small token, I hope it’s some source of comfort to readers to know that in the event that I mistakenly kill you on the front page one day … I can bring you back to life within 24 hours.

I stood at Lewis Cushman’s casket last week only a few minutes before the start of his funeral and talked with Angie and her children and we once again recalled and shared a laugh about that infamous day more than a decade ago when I reported his very premature death.

After I exited the church that day the thought crossed my mind that all those laughs and smiles through the years that I enjoyed with the Cushmans happened solely because they had a forgiving nature and a keen sense of humor. If they had blasted me and held a grudge, all those smiles and friendly greetings and even this column would never have happened. We should all be so fortunate when we pass on that people would remember us for those two qualities.

As an epitaph to this story I feel that I should say thanks, Lewis, for taking it easy on me after I erroneously reported your death on the front page of the local newspaper. But more importantly thanks for a classic story for the ages and the warm memories and the many smiles we shared.

82 employees, residents of Choate Mental Health test COVID-19-positive in past 10 days

ANNA — In the past 10 days, 82 employees and residents of Choate Developmental Center in Anna have tested positive for COVID-19, officials said Wednesday.

Here’s a link to the story at the Southern Illinoisan.

Reform group says move to hold Madigan accountable is above politics

(The Center Square) – While Democrats say Republicans are playing politics with the House investigation into Speaker Michael Madigan, a group promoting reforms said the issue is much bigger than that.
Here’s a link to the story at Illinois News Network.

Pritzker proposes changes to state justice system

(The Center Square) – Gov. J.B. Pritzker released a set of principles Tuesday for changing Illinois’ criminal justice system.

Here’s a link to the story at Illinois News Network.

RLC breaks ground on monumental “Hub” Project

INA, IL — Months of fundraising have paid off for the Rend Lake College Foundation as the college broke ground on a major addition and renovation project for the Learning Resource Center.

The construction phase of the Hub campaign is underway as RLC officials turned over dirt with the ceremonial shovels Thursday morning on the Ina campus. The expansion will help tie the LRC to the center of campus, making it a “Hub” of learning for all students attending the college.

“Today we celebrate the culmination of years of dreams and plans to improve our Learning Resource Center. Because of the incredibly generous support of our alumni and community friends, our vision to expand and enhance the services provided to our students is becoming a reality,” said RLC Foundation Chief Executive Officer Kay Zibby-Damron.

Zibby-Damron spoke before a socially-distanced and masked audience in front of the LRC surrounded by signs showing the details of the project. RLC President Terry Wilkerson and Reference Librarian Beth Mandrell also spoke, thanking the audience and the community for the tremendous support the Hub campaign has received. Wilkerson also commended the RLC’s library staff for their initiative the past few years to plan some fundraising activities to help with the library’s updates. He said they ultimately were able to raise $15,000 through their efforts.

Rend Lake College officials and supporters break ground in front of the Learning Resource Center Thursday on the Ina Campus. The ceremony commemorated the start of a major addition and renovation to the LRC called the Hub project. Pictured (left to right) are RLC Foundation CEO Kay Zibby-Damron, RLC Trustee Randall Crocker, RLC President Terry Wilkerson, RLC Reference Librarian Beth Mandrell, RLC Foundation Board Directors & campaign committee members Tony Wielt, Jim Leuty, Pat Kern, Amanda Basso, and former RLC Foundation Board Director and supporters Brad and Susan Gesell.

Rend Lake College officials and supporters break ground in front of the Learning Resource Center Thursday on the Ina Campus. The ceremony commemorated the start of a major addition and renovation to the LRC called the Hub project. Pictured (left to right) are RLC Foundation CEO Kay Zibby-Damron, RLC Trustee Randall Crocker, RLC President Terry Wilkerson, RLC Reference Librarian Beth Mandrell, RLC Foundation Board Directors & campaign committee members Tony Wielt, Jim Leuty, Pat Kern, Amanda Basso, and former RLC Foundation Board Director and supporters Brad and Susan Gesell. [/caption]

The project was first announced last December at the RLCF Annual Dinner by project co-chair and former RLC Foundation CEO Pat Kern. Kern said the Foundation took on the project after RLC President Terry Wilkerson shared some of the college’s needs with the Foundation Board of Directors.

“This project is long overdue. With the new entrance facing the clocktower, it makes the (LRC) more welcoming than ever before,” Kern said at Thursday’s ceremony. “We will be above the norm and that is where Rend Lake College has always been.”

Foundation Emeritus member George Slankard, along with his wife Mary, contributed a generous lead gift to get the project started in December. Unfortunately, Mr. Slankard passed away in March just as the college began seeking bids for the project. Zibby-Damron noted George and Mary, who also could not attend the ceremony, were with them in spirit during the groundbreaking.

At the August meeting, the RLC Board of Trustees approved Hunter Construction of Belleville to complete the work at a cost of $746,583. The contractor will construct a 1,935-square-foot addition on the south side of the LRC along with building a new façade to serve as the main entryway. The plans also include expanding floor space to create six collaborative learning/study rooms across the front of the library for both individual and group study. Outside, more study space will be available with the installation of solar charging tables to be placed along the new decorative walkways. The Career and Technical Education Success Center and CTE Computer Lab located within the LRC are getting upgrades as well. The Success Center and Computer Lab will be transformed into a more modern learning space to provide contextualized tutoring and other resources for the college’s technical programs. The Children’s Library area will be enhanced to provide a more robust space for future Rend Lake College Warriors to read and learn. And finally, a new Wellness Room will also be included in the project to provide a quiet and therapeutic space designed to improve the quality of student’s emotional, mental and physical health.

Construction will officially start next week. Zibby-Damron said the tentative completion date would be by the end of the calendar year.

While the physical work is about to be in full swing, there is still time for anyone looking to contribute to this monumental project.

“We are continuing to raise private support to ensure completion of the project, and are very grateful the response from our donors has been overwhelmingly positive. Our newly renovated Learning Resource Center will greatly benefit all Rend Lake College students and our community, today and well into the future,” Zibby-Damron said.

The goal is to raise all the money for construction through private charitable support. Zibby-Damron said the Foundation is very close but has not quite reached the target goal yet. Anyone in the local community is invited to contribute to this project that benefits Rend Lake College. All donors will be recognized, and donors of $5,000 or more will be listed on a special permanent tribute inside the LRC. The Rend Lake College Foundation is a nonprofit 501c3. For more information about giving opportunities please contact the Rend Lake College Foundation at 618-437-5321 Ext. 1214 or email Donations may also be made online at

County board hires local contractor to build new courthouse; project comes in $2.3 million under budget

Staff Report

During action at its regular monthly meeting Tuesday night, the Franklin County Board hired a local contractor to build a new 46,000-square feet courthouse that will be located on the Benton Public Square and heard positive financial reports concerning the cost of the project.

In a unanimous vote the board accepted the low bid of Fager McGee, a well-known Murphysboro-based commercial contractor, to proceed with work on the new three-story structure. Fager McGee submitted the low bid of $12,634,000 – which is more than $1.2 million under the budgeted amount for the much-anticipated project. As part of the bid package Fager McGee estimated that it would take 510 calendar days, approximately 17 months, to build the new courthouse. Construction is expected to begin in early September.

The board also heard an upbeat report from Katie Aholt, project manager with Navigate Building Solutions, of St. Louis. Navigate was hired early in the process to help guide the county through the lengthy building plan.

Aholt said the total cost of the project, that includes Campbell Building construction, asbestos abatement, demolition, special construction, furniture and fixtures, professional services, technology, financing and miscellaneous costs came in at $18,492,297, which is $2.3 million below the projected budget cost of $20.8 million that the county board set in March of this year. The lower budget numbers include a 10 percent savings in demolition and asbestos abatement, 10 percent under the general construction cost schedule and 5 percent decrease in construction contingency from $1,384,977 to $631,700.

In her presentation to the board, Aholt stressed that Fager McGee is local and has familiarity with sub-contractors in the region and has also worked on several successful projects with White & Borgononi Architects, located in Carbondale, who drew up plans for the new structure.

Aholt said with the board’s action approving a contractor, Fager McGee will be receive “notice to proceed” which essentially starts the clock ticking on the 510 days to completion. She also noted that “liquidated damages” is built into the construction contract which could levy fines against the contractor if that time frame is not met.

Based on the new decreased budget numbers submitted by Aholt, Franklin County Treasurer Steve Vercellino presented more good news with a detailed report to the board regarding projected sales tax for the courthouse construction. In April 2019 Franklin County voters overwhelmingly approved a one-cent sales tax increase to provide funding for the new courthouse.

Vercellino said that based on projected sales tax revenue the debt for the new courthouse could be paid off as early as December 2029 – slightly more than nine years from the start of construction. The projected December 2029 is also a far shorter time period than was first anticipated. In the initial stages of planning it was projected that the payback time would be 12 to 15 years.

Franklin County Board Chairman Randall Crocker said he is “very pleased” with the cost projections, the shorter payoff period and with the progress that has taken place.

“The entire process has really gone well up to this point,” said Crocker. “We are way under budget and I can speak for the entire board in saying that we are proud and happy with where we currently are and what we’ve accomplished to date.”

Crocker gave high marks to both project manager Navigate and also White & Borgononi Architects, for the guidance they have provided to the board through the different aspects of the process.

“I think both have provided us with really good advice,” said Crocker. “We are on schedule and I am really pleased with where we are at right now.”

Board member Larry Miller also voice his approval of the decreased budget amount.

“What we are doing is good for Franklin County,” said Miller. “What we have accomplished at the Campbell Building will always be there and can be used for other county offices in the future. When the new courthouse is completed it will be a great day for Franklin County.”

In other action the board confirmed that a lease agreement has been reached for the use of a parking lot on East Church Street for use by construction workers. By utilizing the East Church Street property, the board hopes to alleviate parking on the public square and adjacent parking lots by construction workers. The property formerly house Benton Grade School District 47 offices. It’s estimated that at the height of construction 50-70 workers will be involved in the courthouse construction project. The county will pay $900 per month to Rend Investments, LLC to use the lot.

The board also hired Holcomb Foundation Engineering for material testing at the new courthouse.

Pate Funeral Home Receives Illinois Award of Funeral Service Distinction

Pate Funeral Home, of Benton, was recently recognized by the Illinois Funeral Directors Association as a recipient of its first Illinois Award of Funeral Service Distinction. There were ten funeral homes that achieved this prestigious honor for their efforts during 2019-2020.

Steven Pate

“Congratulations to all of the recipients of the 2020 Illinois Award of Funeral Service Distinction,” said 2020-2021 IFDA President Robert J. Smith, Jr. “You are an example of what is best in funeral service. We encourage every IFDA member to strive for and receive this award, and to enhance their service to the community.”

This is the third year that the association has established the awards program as a way to recognize the exemplary and enduring contributions that its members make to the communities they serve, as well as to the funeral profession. The Illinois Award of Funeral Service Distinction has been instituted to recognize IFDA members for their outstanding achievements in select areas and to promote initiatives in social and educational areas. These firms inspire future generations of leaders to higher levels of achievement.

Entries and the accompanying criteria were carefully reviewed by the IFDA Illinois Award of Funeral Service Distinction Committee. Pate Funeral Home completed stringent funeral service criteria related to Community Outreach, Family Outreach, and Professional Development.

IFDA represents 478 funeral homes and more than 1,100 individual licensed Illinois Funeral Directors and Embalmers who adhere to the IFDA Constitution and Code of Professional Conduct in addition to the Funeral Directors and Embalmers Licensing Code.

The cost of a gap year could come back to haunt you

By Terry Wilkerson
Rend Lake College President

College students have a decision to make this fall. Are online classes the best option? Is heading back to campus worth the risk during a global pandemic? Is this the best time to take a year off?

Many prospective college students are enticed by the “gap year” — an academic break for students between high school and college. With the traditional college experience in jeopardy, now is the perfect time, right? Well, it may come back to hurt your pocketbook in the future.

A study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York estimates a student can lose up to $90,000 in future earnings by taking a gap year. This happens because a graduate would enter the job market later than they could have. They miss out on that initial year of wages as they finish college later than expected. And that wage loss can compound each year compared to the earnings of someone who entered the job market ahead of them.
“Together, these costs add up to more than $90,000 over one’s working life, which erodes the value of a college degree,” the study states.

Plus, if you are not earning money during your academic break, a gap year is going to cost you money. It may even cost you scholarships or financial aid when you do return to college if they are not guaranteed for the next year.

The traditional college experience may be out of reach, but that is no reason to fall behind. Rend Lake College’s plan for fall instruction will mostly be online learning. But at a fraction of the cost of classes offered at four-year institutions, a college student can save thousands of dollars each semester by choosing RLC.

And online classes have never been more affordable at RLC. The college has waived its online fee this fall, meaning a full-time student can save around $300 for the semester. With more than 80% of students qualifying for some form of financial aid, most students can find assistance when paying for classes.

A gap year can be enticing, but don’t let it shrink your future earnings. Continue your education in a dependable environment at RLC. Stay safe. Stay local. And save money. Get started today by visiting

Benton police make arrests

On July 25th, 2020 at approximately 2:30 a.m., Benton Police arrested Victor Troyan, age 58, of Benton for unlawful failure to register as a sex offender.

Troyan was charged and transported to the Franklin County Jail for further processing.

On July 26th, 2020 at approximately 11:40 p.m., Benton Police arrested Joshua L. Craig, age 31, of West Frankfort on an active Franklin County warrant for failure to appear.

Craig was transported to the Franklin County Jail for further processing.

On July 29th, 2020 at approximately 4 p.m., Benton Police were dispatched to the 400 block of East Bond Street in reference to a suspicious person.

Upon investigating, police arrested Laura A. Kastner, age 34, of Benton for theft, aggravated assault, and resisting a peace officer.

Kastner was charged and transported to the Franklin County Jail for further processing.

Construction bids for new Franklin County Courthouse submitted; demolition to begin on old courthouse on August 5

During action at a special meeting on Thursday, July 30, 2020, the Franklin County Board moved closer to the reality of a new courthouse when six very competitive construction bids were submitted.

The primary item on the afternoon agenda was to open the sealed bids that were picked up beginning July 1, 2020. The six bids were read aloud to the large crowd on hand for the historic event.

ICF Construction, of St. Louis, was the low bidder with a bid of $12,432,000. ICF estimated in the bid specs that it would take 500 calendar days to complete the construction with a starting date of Sept. 1, 2020.
Other bidding on the construction of the 46,000-square-foot, three-story structure included:

Fager-McGhee Construction, of Murphysboro, IL, was the next low bidder with a price of $12,515,000 and an estimated completion time of 510 days.

KNS Associates, of St. Louis, was next with a bid of $13,195,000 and a completion time of 700 days.

River City Construction Co., of Benton, IL, was fourth with a bid of $13,303,000 and a completion time of 510 days.

Poettker Construction Co., of Breese, IL, was next with a bid $13,504,000 and a completion time of 520 days.

And rounding out the bidders was Grunloh Construction Co., of Effingham, IL, with a bid of $14,529,000 and a completion time of 520 days. An important note is that five of the six bids came in below the $13.8 million dollars that has been budgeted by the county board for construction of the new courthouse.

The county board will now cut the number down to the top two or three bidders and begin an interview process on August 5, 2020 before making a final decision on the successful low, responsible bidder at the August 18 board meeting. Construction is set to begin on September 1, 2020.

In other pertinent information for county residents to know concerning the demolition of the 145-year-old courthouse, concrete barriers will be set on the inside perimeter of the Public Square on Friday, July 31, 2020. The placement of the barriers will eliminate all parking on the inside of the Public Square until the project is completed in approximately 18 months.
Demolition is set to begin on the courthouse on Wednesday, August 5, 2020. The demolition and cleanup is expected to take less than two weeks.

County officials, including judges, elected officials, county employees and board members are continuing to meet with project managers, architects and engineers via teleconference twice monthly going over construction plans and other intricate details in preparation for construction of the three-story courthouse that is expected to be completed in late December 2021.

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