It’s graduation season and students will say goodbye forever to their high school teachers.
Chuck, who died Wednesday, was a friend and mentor who ignited a passion in me and dozens of other neophyte journalists at a time we needed guidance, care and an occasional kick in the pants.
Long before he moved to Rockford, where he was a parks commissioner, CB, as we called him, was my high school journalism instructor. Then he was a 20s-something teacher at D.C. Everest High School in Schofield, Wis.
I was a directionless 16-year-old junior when I took his class. The next year I was sports editor of the D.C. Jet and set on a career path.
CB was a perfectionist, as demanding as any editor I’ve worked under. He loved a good read, hated mistakes, competed fiercely with other high school papers and preached ethics and professionalism. He turned the Jet from student rag into a real world laboratory that became a national model of what high school journalism could be.
Reporters were taught to write about issues and people and real news that happened in school. We were taught to avoid the pablum of high school culture and critically view the PR that administrators wanted us to publish. Editors were to breathe life into dead copy and write headlines that drew attention. We were to use photos and graphics to make pages look interesting.
On layout night, CB was a bubbling cauldron as we slapped waxed strips of copy, headlines and photos to pages, using pica poles and straight edges to make sure everything was aligned.
When CB found a mistake we missed, he boiled.
We read and reread pages late into deadline night. Editors would leave; CB stayed, sometimes for hours, making sure everything was perfect when the Jet rolled off the press the next day.
It never was. There were always ways to improve the Jet. CB was never satisfied.
But contest judges were. They loved the Jet and, under Brown’s leadership, it was always a top paper in Wisconsin and national high school newspaper contests.
We lost touch for many years, but reconnected in 2002, 25 years after I left high school. He had taken a job with Rock Valley College. We often ate greasy spoon breakfasts, talked about people, news, social media or our beloved Wisconsin Badgers.
Sometimes we talked about former students. Some became successful reporters, editors, news anchors and DJs. One worked in New York City as a network producer.
When I visited him Wednesday afternoon, I represented them all as I stood at his hospital bed. He was unconscious. I talked about the old days. His eyes moved under his lids.
I said goodbye, that I’d be back. I had a deadline to meet.
So did he.