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Slonoff, Etheredge Leave Indelible Mark on Northern Illinois Newspaper Association

BY ROGER RUTHHART, NINA Board

One of the advantages of being the old-timer on the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association board is that I’ve gotten to meet a lot of amazing people and seen many hard-working board members come and go. Sadly, along the way many have passed away or left the business altogether, but not before leaving an indelible mark on the organization.

Two perfect examples are John Etheredge and Jim Slonoff, who both retired from the board in January. Both, not surprisingly, are graduates of the journalism program at Northern Illinois University. I’d say both have more than repaid their dues.

John Etheredge was “prodded” into NINA service by Jeff and Kathy Farren, former NINA board members who were owners and publishers of the Record Newspapers at that time. John eagerly joined the board in 1992 and has never looked back. As the calendar page flipped this past month, John marked his 40th year with the Record Newspapers, now part of the Shaw Media Group.

John Etheredge

“As an NIU graduate with a degree in journalism, I was interested in serving on the NINA Board due in part to the organization’s strong ties to the university. It was a personal kick to return to campus — especially Reavis Hall — for NINA events because it provided an opportunity to catch up with some of my former j-profs and fellow j-alums.

“Soon, however, I found that serving on the NINA Board provided an invaluable opportunity to meet, get-to-know and network with other editors and reporters. Big paper, small paper, daily or weekly, so many of the challenges confronting our industry are the same, and it was great to be part of an organization that actively promotes and advocates for our profession,” Etheredge said.

John Etheredge will always be remembered for his dedication and providing the drive behind the annual High School Journalist of the Year scholarship program.

Part of NINA’s strength is its ties to high school journalism programs as well as that at NIU. Each year the Education Committee, which John headed for many years, selects a deserving future journalist to receive a $1,000 scholarship.

As John recalled, board members Lonny Cain, Rick Nagel, Cheryl Wormley and he were instrumental in formalizing the scholarship criteria and launching the program. Over the past two decades NINA has received over 585 scholarship applications and awarded just under $30,000 in scholarships to talented student journalists.

“I will always enjoy the memory of watching as the mom of one of our scholarship recipients broke down in tears of joy as I handed her son a scholarship check at Naperville Central High School. ‘See, aren’t you glad I told you to apply?’ the mom told the son,” Etheredge recalled.

Jim Slonoff is another seemingly life-long board member who has served as treasurer of NINA for as long as I can remember. If you’ve never been involved with trying to manage the finances of a not-for-profit organization, that’s not an easy task. Changes in the newspaper industry have made it even more challenging.

Jim Slonoff

Jim is a 1980 graduate of NIU who served as a photographer, photo editor and managing editor of The Northern Star student newspaper. After graduation he joined the Hinsdale Doings, where he worked from 1981 to 2006 as photographer, production manager, associate publisher and publisher. In August of 2006, he and another former NINA board member, Pam Lannom, started The Hinsdalean, which is delivered free to the 6,500 home in Hinsdale – the only community it covers.

He has been co-owner and publisher there for more than 14 years. He and his newspaper have received many awards from the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association Illinois Press Association and National Newspaper Association.

Jim has also been active for many years on the board of the Illinois Press Foundation, where he currently serves as vice president. He is also former president and current board member of the Illinois Press Association, in addition to his service to NINA. He is also past president and current board adviser to the Hinsdale Chamber of Commerce.

“NINA was one of the first professional boards I was invited to be a member of. I was honored to a member of the organization and its board and look forward to its continued success,” said Slonoff. “The members of the board have a deep caring for the profession and do their best to support the industry. Our member newspapers provide a vital link to the communities they serve. NINA helps build stronger journalists to help further their mission.”

Other long-time NINA board members will remember the days in which awards for the annual contest were part of an almost day-long NINA convention at NIU. Traditionally, the board met for business, dinner and drinks the evening before. As treasurer, Jim Slonoff was always the one to pick up the check. Sadly those days are now only part of NINA history, and Jim will no longer be around to pick up checks.

When I was talked into joining the NINA board in 1986 by the late Marx Gibson, editor in Kankakee and Joliet, I never expected to cross paths with all of the amazing professionals I would meet at NINA meetings over the years. However, few served as long and with such a commitment as Jim Slonoff and John Etheredge. The organization is better for their service and will greatly miss their presence. 

I hope and suspect they will continue to turn up from time to time and support NINA in the years to come.