Jul 26, 2014

Meet the Insiders

Kurt Wehrmeister and Beth Bales, two of the best writers and editors in the business, invite you for a weekly look "Inside Geneva." Their column will arrive at 6 a.m. every Monday to give you something to savor—and think about—as you start you

Meet the Insiders

Editor's note: For the sake of full disclosure, I should mention that Kurt Wehrmeister and Beth Bales are two of my favorite people. They also happen to be two of the best local columnists in Geneva history. We're calling their column Inside Geneva, and Geneva Patch is lucky to have them. To get things rolling, we gave Kurt and Beth this writing challenge: In 300 words or less, describe your opposite number.

Kurt says: Beth Bales is upbeat, lightning-quick and 'a hell of a good reporter'

Beth Bales is effervescent and determinedly upbeat, a stickler for detail with a lightning-quick mind and an unquenchable curiosity about nearly everything that crosses her path. She's empathetic by nature but isn't afraid to be brutally honest when the situation calls for it. All this makes her a hell of a good reporter, and a wonderful friend of mine for more than 30 years.

Beth believes that people should take some initiative to solve the problems around them. That comes in large part from having grown up one of nine children in a modest home on Aurora's near-West Side, the daughter of two schoolteachers—and of a father who was always working a second and sometimes a third job.  There was plenty of love, but not a lot of extra dollars and very little coddling.

"We walked everywhere. When you're one of nine, you don't get driven too many places," she laughs.

One of the places she walked to constantly was the Aurora Public Library.

"I went through all sorts of library books; I read everything I could get my hands on. I still love to read."

Both her parents were voracious readers as well, and at home one of the few "splurge" purchases was—a set of encyclopedias!

In grade school at Mary A. Todd Elementary, she was among the last generation of young females whose peers talked of becoming a nurse, a mother or a teacher—and little else.

"I was in first grade and I said, I don't want to be any of those things!"  Well before she progressed to West Aurora High School, she realized what she did want to be: "I could be a writer! In school, I always loved writing of every sort."

She wrote well enough that in 1974 she was accepted into Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She garnered plenty of scholarship money, but what wasn't covered, she paid for herself, by working constantly—babysitting, in retail and in an office, even busing tables and washing dishes at her Alpha Phi sorority house in Evanston. Somehow, she even found time to play bells in the Northwestern Wildcats marching band on fall Saturdays at Ryan Field!

By the time she earned her degree in May 1978 Beth had a job offer with her Aurora hometown daily, The Beacon-News. Half of her 11 years with that paper were spent covering Geneva from a satellite office, where I met her—and where she met future Geneva Fire Chief Steve Olson, whom she married in 1984 and with whom she has three daughters—Emma, 22; Torie, 20;and Anne, 17.

Beth worked at The Beacon until 1989, then three-plus years at the Kane County Chronicle, before leaving to establish her own home-based freelance communications/marketing business, which she still operates today. She's also been a community columnist with the Daily Herald. 

"I was happy to grow up in Aurora—but Geneva's home," she says.

Beth says: Kurt Wehrmeister has got to be a lifer, right?

To Kurt Wehrmeister's everlasting regret, he wasn't born in Geneva, in the old Community Hospital.

And he's constantly correcting those who have the understandable impression—he, with his encylopedic knowledge of all things Geneva—that he's a lifer.

Kurt moved to Geneva's East Side with his family as a 7-year-old in 1964. He attended Harrison Street Elementary School and was in the first class to go to Coultrap Middle School as a sixth-grader. He's a 1975 graduate of Geneva Community High School, where he worked on the newspaper and yearbook and also began a more than 30-year career as the familiar—now mostly retired—public-address voice of the Geneva Vikings.

"I wasn't cut out to play sports but I still wanted to participate, so I found a way to do that," he explained.

The job also dovetailed nicely with his planned career in broadcast journalism at the University of Illinois. He switched to newspapers as a major after Illinois discontinued its broadcast curriculum his junior and senior years.

And everything was done with an eye to returning home.

"I thought I might work in Chicago, but I never once had the thought, so common to 17-year-olds, that 'Oh, this is so boring; I want to get the hell out of here.' I always loved living in Geneva, and my father commuted downtown (to run an insurance agency).  It seemed a very logical way to live."

So home he came, in 1979. He'd already put in a summer at the Geneva Republican and happily accepted a full-time job there after graduation. As Kurt has already noted, it was through the covering of city meetings where we first met and became friends. He worked there for six years, then, as he'd thought he might, commuted to the Loop on the train for five years, to edit a construction trade publication. After two more years making a "crazy" drive every morning to Wilmette to a marketing/media job with a business-park developer, in fall 1991 he took a position in communications at Mooseheart, where he still works today.

While at the Republican in 1983 he fell in love with the executive director of the Geneva Public Library (who says you can't find love at public meetings?); they married the next year, moved to a starter home in Batavia for a time—and then, as quickly as they could, returned "home" in January 1988.

"My brother thought it hysterical that by April I'd been appointed (by then-Mayor Dick Lewis) to the Geneva Plan Commission," Kurt laughs.

Other volunteer positions followed, including his recently completed decades-long stint calling the plays for GHS basketball and football games. His love of Geneva blue has only grown stronger over the years.

"People lament what downtowns used to be," he says. "You can look at photos from 1965 or 1970 and realize Geneva is much more attractive today."

He and wife Judy—now librarian at Mill Creek Elementary School—have two sons, Robb, 23, and Eric, 20.

He's not going anywhere, at least for the moment.

"I would get really nervous not having an address here," he says—ever the consummate Genevan, ever the resident whose love for his city literally knows no bounds.

That love isn't blind, however. He, and I, won't hesitate to point out some of its flaws, to discuss the downsides, all in an effort to try to improve what's already a pretty great place to live. He and I both hope, as we draft these weekly missives, to inspire, to amuse, sometimes to irritate, to let you know something new—and, we hope, interesting about the town we're both proud to call home.

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