Susan Stephens

Susan’s parents should have known she’d end up in radio: her favorite toys were tape recorders, cameras, notepads, and books. Many years later, she’s an award-winning reporter at her favorite radio station. Formerly WNIJ’s News Director, she asked to return to the role of full-time reporter/anchor/utility player in 2010 (less paperwork, more reporting!). Her #1 goal is to tell the most compelling stories in the fewest words possible…all the better if a little humor can be thrown into the mix.  It should come as no surprise, then, that she can whip up a haiku for any occasion. She also enjoys the Detroit Tigers, learning pioneer skills (Gardening, canning, and the like. Just in case.), traveling with friends, and pretending she’s going to get around to playing her theremin.

A new Illinois law ups the penalties for illegal logging in protected areas. 

The Rockford-based Natural Land Institute was one of the organizations that pushed for changes to the state’s Wrongful Tree Cutting Act. Executive director Kerry Leigh says allowing the owners of damaged nature preserves to recoup the full cost of restoration will deter illegal loggers. 

While politicians debate the merits of legalizing recreational cannabis, many Illinois farmers are more interested in its biological cousin, hemp. Last year, Illinois lawmakers made it legal to grow hemp. Now the race is on for the state to put rules in place in time for the planting season. In this week's Friday Forum, WNIJ's Susan Stephens talks with some of the people pushing to get the hemp industry off the ground.

The 39-year-old Springfield man accused of killing McHenry County Sheriff's Deputy Jacob Keltner pleaded not guilty in federal court in Rockford Wednesday morning. 

A federal grand jury indicted Floyd E. Brown Tuesday for Keltner's death earlier this month. Keltner was working as a member of a U.S. Marshals Service task force when he was shot and killed while trying to serve a warrant at a Rockford hotel.

Red and blue lights flashed for miles in Rockford Thursday night as police officers and firefighters from across the region took part in a procession across the city. They accompanied the body of a McHenry County Deputy Sheriff from the hospital where he died to the coroner’s office.

25% of Illinois’ electricity is supposed to be generated by renewable energy sources by 2025, under the Future Energy Jobs Act – and that’s going to require a big increase in wind farms across the state. But one northern Illinois county made it much tougher for the wind industry to expand Wednesday night.

Illinois is only seven years away from its deadline for getting 25% of the state’s energy from renewable sources. Wind power will have to play a big part to reach that ambitious goal. The state ranks 6th in the nation for the number of wind turbines, at more than 2,600. These wind farms are generally located in rural areas, many on active farms where people are raising corn and soybeans. The wind becomes a third crop that can be “harvested” year-round, giving the farmer a steady rental income.

75 years ago this week, the women of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League put on their skirts and cleats and trotted out onto four Midwestern ball fields for the first time. Now some of those players are in Rockford to celebrate their history and help push women’s baseball into the future. 

Back in 1943, chewing-gum magnate P.K. Wrigley decided that America needed more baseball to keep spirits up during World War II. Since the "boys" were away fighting, he called on the "girls" to do the patriotic thing and entertain the Home Front. And, boy, did they!

Dixon High School’s school resource officer is being lauded for stopping a student who showed up with a gun Wednesday.

Dixon police have identified the officer as one of their own, Officer Mark Dallas. Dallas is a 15 year veteran of the police department, serving the last five as the high school’s resource officer.

There’s no denying the Bald Hill Prairie Preserve is a pretty special place. Last year, the Byron Forest Preserve District acquired the gravel hill prairie that had been used for cattle grazing for decades. For one thing, Forest Preserve Executive Director Todd Tucker says it’s the second highest point in Ogle County. It has a great view of the Rock River. It’s home to endangered and threatened plants and animals, like woolly milkweed and short-eared owls.

A bill in the Illinois legislature would help friends and family members take action when they see warning signs that could lead to gun violence.

The House could take up the Lethal Violence Order of Protection Act this week. It has already passed the Senate. It would allow courts to temporarily take away guns from people found to be a danger to themselves or others.

The League of Women Voters of Illinois supports the measure. League president Bonnie Cox says—as a therapist—she sees it as a tool that could save lives.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Several Illinois universities are reassuring future students that disciplinary action resulting from recent protest activity will not affect their admission to those schools. Northern Illinois University officials said in a statement this week that the admissions status of prospective students will not be affected due to any detentions or suspensions imposed for protests after the Parkland, Fla., shooting.

It was ten years ago this Wednesday that five students were shot and killed in a Northern Illinois University classroom. Retired NIU President John Peters returned to the school this weekend to take part in a number of observances.

The DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation celebrated its 30th year Thursday night with a dinner featuring a keynote address by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Supporters of President Donald Trump held a rally and expo in Rockford Tuesday to celebrate the first year of his presidency.

www.allthequeenshorsesfilm.com

The story of the nation’s largest case of municipal embezzlement hit the big screen this weekend. The subject seemed irresistible for a filmmaker: a bottomless well of money, corruption at city hall, gold-plated extravagance... and horses. But filmmaker Kelly Richmond Pope had another reason for being drawn to the story of Rita Crundwell, Dixon’s former comptroller who stole nearly 54-million dollars from her hometown. Illinois Public Radio’s Susan Stephens explains.

The Illinois primary election isn’t until next March, but campaigns are going strong. Most Democrats running for governor will take part in a forum Tuesday night at Northern Illinois University.

Kim Gates, a member of DeKalb Stands, says her group -- which helped organize the event -- was formed in reaction to concerns about the presidential election. Now, she says, they see the importance of being engaged politically at every level of government.

Where will you watch the solar eclipse?

People within a 70-mile wide band stretching from Oregon to South Carolina will be able to see a total eclipse for a few minutes Monday: The rest of us will have to settle for a partial solar eclipse.

Veterans Choice is a federal program intended to reduce the length of waiting times for medical appointments. We continue our series, “Veterans Choice: Making it Work” by hearing from the people these benefits were designed to help.

There are more than 20,000,000 military veterans in the U.S. More than 700,000 of them live in Illinois. Their health-care needs can be more complicated than the needs of civilians, with exposure to war-zone toxins, complex physical injuries, and the trauma of combat.  

Winnebago County’s Sheriff dropped the idea Thursday of allowing the federal government to house immigration detainees in his jail. Gary Caruana said Immigration and Customs Enforcement was not able to agree to his terms.

In exchange for committing a portion of the jail to the federal prisoners, guarding them, and caring for them, ICE would have paid the county a daily per-prisoner fee; $80 was one figure mentioned frequently during discussions. 

 

 

A 77-year-old Seattle man has been granted a Certificate of Innocence in the 1957 kidnapping and murder of a Sycamore girl. 

Jack McCullough was not in court in DeKalb County today when Judge William Brady announced his decision. This clears the way for McCullough to receive up to $85,000 from the state for wrongful conviction. He served four years in prison before his conviction was vacated last year.

7-year-old Maria Ridulph was kidnapped near her home in Sycamore in 1957. Her body was found several months later. The case is still open.

About 200 students protested in the Illinois Capitol rotunda Wednesday.  They’re part of the Illinois Coalition to Invest in Higher Education.

The group wanted to show lawmakers the importance of funding colleges and universities, as well as MAP grants for students.  

One of the protestors was Kiasee Ray,  a freshman at Dominican University in River Forest. She says the MAP grant is the reason she's in college today.

Anywhere you go in America, you are never far from railroad tracks. Someone has to maintain all of those tracks. And someone has to build the machines to do it. That’s why the owners of a Rockford company want Congress to know railway maintenance is a five-billion dollar industry that deserves support.  

It was a year ago Saturday a massive tornado bulldozed a 30-mile path through northern Illinois. It’s often referred to as the Fairdale Tornado because of the tiny DeKalb County town it nearly destroyed. But farms and neighborhoods are still being rebuilt all along the EF-4 tornado’s path. The Rochelle-area is making huge strides, thanks to the efforts of committed volunteers.

Bobcat hunting season starts this November in most of Illinois, but rules are still being worked out. The deadline for public comment is Monday, March 7. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is closing the 45-day comment period.

A new Census analysis shows Illinois leads the nation in population loss.

The U-S Census updates its population numbers every year by looking at government documents like tax returns as well as birth and death records. Illinois lost 22-thousand people over the past year. That’s like losing a city the size of Freeport in just one year.

There may be another substantial amount of money from Rita Crundwell’s assets heading to the city of Dixon. The Justice Department has worked out a settlement with the former Dixon comptroller’s family.

Northern Illinois University leaders held a town hall meeting with employees yesterday to outline budget challenges. NIU President Doug Baker and top administrators talked about efforts to bring in more students and streamlining operations. They also answered questions about whether people will lose jobs under the state’s budget uncertainties.

Nine tornadoes altogether touched down Monday night in northern Illinois, and one was stronger than officials originally determined.

The National Weather Service continues to investigate and evaluate damage and other information about the June 22 severe weather outbreak.

The tornado that caused considerable damage to Coal City, which is south of Chicago on the Grundy-Will county line, has been upgraded from an EF-2 to an EF-3. It was determined that top winds were around 160 miles per hour.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has issued a disaster declaration for Lee and Grundy counties as a result of the tornadoes that ripped through northern Illinois on Monday.

Rauner surveyed tornado and storm damage in Lee County and in Coal City on Tuesday morning.

It’s been one year since Rockford’s Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home opened to the public. This weekend, the Laurent House will celebrate the anniversary and Wright’s 148th birthday. 

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