Roger Coleman, longtime publisher of the Kane County Chronicle, died the other day. Roger was a friend to many here, but even more than that, for over 20 years he was a driving force in the Tri-Cities communities. For those of you who knew him, but even more for those of you didn’t, I offer this small tribute to one of those rare good guys.
I met Roger as most of us did, through some community event or another. He had an outsized personality and one of the best laughs I’ve ever heard. And he used both to get you roped into helping out one of his committees or charities.
(It’s been a long time now, but I can still remember wondering, as I sat on a “dunk tank” seat at some charity fundraiser, just what it was Roger had told me that convinced me this was a good idea.)
Roger was the last of the old-style community newspaper publishers; he lived here, his kids went to school here, and he was totally committed to making his community a better place. He was proud of the paper and his role there (his license plate was “CHRON 1”), but what he really liked was that his position meant he could make a difference. I have no idea how many local boards or committees he was on, but I do know he rarely, if ever, turned down a request for help.
That was especially true if the help he could lend involved the newspaper’s resources. Roger understood the role of the Chronicle was to be a part of the fabric of the community, and that included free papers for high school classes, scholarships and student awards, ad support for worthy causes, media partnerships with literally dozens of organizations, and, as many of you parents will remember, press room tours by the score for all sorts of kid groups.
Roger and I knew each other professionally, of course; I had written for the Chronicle for a few years, then went to the Daily Herald before eventually returning. However, our friendship was really kick-started by the mold crisis at St. Charles East High School. For me and Roger, this hit home; we both had kids at the school, and we both thought the way the School Board was handling the situation was abominable.
At that time there were four papers serving the immediate area: Chronicle, Daily Herald, Republican, and Sun. All dedicated staff to covering the story, but Roger, as a resident and parent, really took the lead. One of my memories is him sitting on my back deck, taping a Chicago Tonight segment on the crisis. He was eloquent and measured, but what really came through was his passion about the situation; our community’s high school had been damaged through carelessness, and our children had been treated poorly, and he took it personally.
In September of 2001, Roger was replaced as publisher of the Chronicle in what can only be described as a misguided and tacky move. After 20 years at the helm he was treated shabbily, and, though I like Tom Shaw and owe him a debt of gratitude, I wish he had not listened to whatever voices convinced him this was a good idea.
As he moved to other jobs, Roger would always keep in touch with me and some of the other veterans like Dave Heun. Over the years he was asked by the Shaw organization to return several times, but in the end he was truly happy in upstate New York, running a small chain of dailies and weeklies. When he discovered his medical condition he did what was so typical for him; rather than talk about himself, he called all of us “men of a certain age,” and urged us to schedule screenings and check-ups.
When we first move into an area that is new to us, what we see there we assume has always been there. It isn’t true of course; what we see is the result of the hard work, dedication, and love of community by so many who preceded us. In the Tri-Cities we are fortunate that so many who came before left so much to us. And that, for those who knew him and those who never will, is the legacy Roger Coleman leaves. We are a better place to live because of his love and commitment, and he will be missed. Roger died New Year’s Eve. He was 61.
So long, CHRON 1. You were truly one of the good guys.