In my early days as a reporter, I met someone who would ultimately help my change my journalism career.
That person was Marlene Hunt.
I was a rookie reporter at the former Lakeland Newspapers at the time, covering Mundelein. Each week, other newspapers' reporters and I would converge upon the Mundelein Police Department to meet with one of the officers, who gave us the crime reports. Right from the start, Marlene struck me as a friendly but aggressive reporter. Despite our age difference (she was in her 60s at the time, though she never revealed her true age to anyone), we quickly became friends.
Marlene worked for Pioneer Press at the time, covering Libertyville, Mundelein and Vernon Hills. When I was closing in on a year at Lakeland, a job opened up at Pioneer, and Marlene encouraged me to apply. I still remember telling her that I didn't think I had enough experience to get a job there. But Marlene, in her motherly, encouraging way, urged me to apply anyway. She must have seen something in me that I didn't yet see in myself.
I applied for the job, but someone else ended up being hired. When that person left just a couple of weeks later, Marlene encouraged me to call the editor, Sheila Richard, and inquire about the position. Within a couple of weeks, I was there working for Pioneer Press alongside Marlene.
I ended up staying there for nearly 12 years, and Marlene was there for most of that time. She became a really dear friend to me. She was always someone I could talk to about so many things, work-related or not. In her side job as a real estate agent, she helped my mom find a house. She lived in the same Gurnee neighborhood as my grandparents, so she would always tell me, "I ran into your grandparents yesterday. They always tell me how proud they are of you."
Marlene always kept all of us laughing with some of the things she said and did. One of her favorite things to say was, "Lord love a duck." I still don't know what that means, but it always makes me laugh!
After Marlene left Pioneer Press, we still kept in touch. She'd often call to check up on me, and I did the same with her. One day when my friend Angela and I stopped by, Marlene was quick to bring out a spread of food for us. She loved to entertain.
Marlene passed away on Dec. 23. The world lost an outstanding, dedicated, award-winning journalist. And I and so many others lost a great, caring friend.
I'll never forget you, Marlene. Thank you for your encouragement. Thank you for being a great example as a fellow journalist. Thank you for your friendship.