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Meet the new Write Team

Since the Write Team began in 2001, more than 100 people have been part of this opinion feature. And starting Monday, the Write Team expands to the NewsTribune.

There are some returning faces, but even more newcomers to the next Write Team, which includes writers from La Salle, Putnam and Bureau counties. On Monday, their six-month rotation begins.

Here's a little background on the new team, whose columns can be found Monday through Thursday on the opinion page.

Crystal Balas

I am a wife, mother and grandmother from La Salle. I’m a life coach, speaker, writer and personal trainer. 

I have discovered through coaching that I love to think deeply about things and put my thoughts on paper. I am an INFJ on the Myers Briggs personality scale, which means I am an introvert who is hard-wired to think deeply. I love to learn new things about myself, my brain, my personality, my body, relationships, wellness, healthy living and more. I also love to encourage, motivate, educate and inspire others with the things I’ve learned so they can do it, too.

I am an avid reader of personal development books.

I have struggled with fear most of my life but continue to challenge myself to step through it and leap off of platforms that I find super intimidating. This particular platform of publishing still taunts me but I am determined to conquer it because I believe my voice in this world matters. 

I am ready for this challenge and look forward to the opportunity.

I write about overcoming the challenges of life by seeing from a different perspective.

Rick Brooks

My wife Sarah and I moved back to her hometown, Princeton, nearly five years ago. Several generations of her family lived here. We were married here in 1973 and returned year after year to see family and friends. This is definitely home. We love the culture of small town life, the corn and soybean fields and the beauty of 360 degrees of sky.

As an anthropology graduate of Beloit College, I devoted most of my professional life to teaching, youth and community development and public health. Although I grew up until the age of 12 in Wichita, Kansas, the decades since then found me in Asia, Latin America and Africa as well as Wisconsin and Illinois. My career involved bringing together people, resources and ideas to facilitate social change “from the bottom up.”

Towards the end of 25 years as an outreach program manager at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I co-founded the Little Free Library movement, from which I retired in 2014.  

Winifred and Martha Hoffman (mother and daughter sharing one slot)

Martha: I grew up on the family farm in rural Earlville, and the closeness with the land and livestock is just one of the thousand reasons I love agriculture.

I'm graduating from Northern Illinois University in December with a journalism major and marketing minor. After that, I want to make a career of writing and farming. I'm also planning for my upcoming wedding this summer.

On the daily commute to college, you'll hear me singing along to the classic country I was raised on and shifting through six gears in my little manual car, because I love the traditional way of life.

That's the same reason I love crocheting lace doilies like my grandmother did, cooking from scratch, blacksmithing and conserving heritage dairy cattle breeds (I have Dutch Belted and Milking Shorthorns — I'll have to introduce you to their personalities!).

I love the community we have here, and hearing from readers is such a highlight. I look forward to sharing life and continuing the conversation this Write Team season.

Winifred: I have lived in the area for 36 years on my late husband’s family farm where we raise dual purpose cattle, organic crops, sheep, chickens, vegetables, fruit and down-to-earth children.

I love learning and helping kids learn. I appreciate rural small-town life and am blessed to become more involved in the community now that my own children are grown.

When I’m not taking care of my cows, you might find me at the library doing the communal jigsaw puzzle, taking my young grandchildren for a walk, or firing off spelling words to my school-age grandchildren while they swing in my front yard.

I like to write because it connects us as a community and gives me a chance to muse on farming, family dynamics, history and universal themes of life.

Zack Krizel

I am from Utica and graduated from La Salle-Peru High School in 2008. I attended Illinois Valley Community College until 2011, when I joined the United States Air Force. I served for close to seven years — six years and nine months to be specific — in security forces. I started in nuclear security at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, then moved to nuclear/base defense operations at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey during the Syrian Civil War and subsequent beginning of ISIS hostilities.

Upon leaving Turkey, I was stationed at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, to support Air Force One security operations and work as a law enforcement officer. After leaving the military in 2018, I completed my bachelor's degree and currently work as an intern at the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. I will be starting law school in the fall of 2020 to study National Security and Constitutional law.

Richard Pugh

I keep telling people I am funny. I also keep having to explain my jokes. I sing out loud because how else would I sing? Most people would prefer I didn't. Besides being funny (maybe not) and singing well (definitely not) I reside in Ottawa and am enjoying the changes that are taking place — new restaurants, new stores and the growing festivals.

I have been a member of the Write Team a few times, and my columns range widely across topics and sometimes styles. Part of the fun I find in writing is allowing the process to happen. For me, this means what I originally believe a column is going to be about may not happen. I have no illusions this session will be the same.

Someday, writing may become what I do full time, but for now, 525 or so words every other week is it. One of my favorite things to do is debate current affairs with people who hold strong views on a subject. I find exploring the arguments on each side of a subject valuable, and I can be persuaded to modify my positions if convinced with logic and facts. I am quite friendly and easy on most days.

Hope Rutgens

I’m currently a college student at Illinois State University. I’ll be graduating a semester early in December with a degree in English under the Publishing Studies sequence. I’ve lived in the Illinois Valley my entire life, and the NewsTribune has always been a staple in our family. Whenever something big was happening in the town, we’d look to the NewsTribune for the coverage. Every high honor roll, sports game, and graduation article was carefully cut out and passed around town so my grandparents could brag to their friends.

When college would get too stressful, my aunt would send me pictures of the Sunday comics, and everything seemed a little bit easier afterwards. Even a section as sad as the obituaries helped highlight the lives of my grandparents' friends, and in some cases, the lives of my own friends.

I love writing for the same reasons that I’ve loved the NewsTribune my entire life: because writing helps get important information out there. You can write an article that changes someone’s previously hardened mind or inform them on a topic they’ve never thought about before. Writing bridges the gap in an argument, because it's harder to yell at a piece of paper and drown it out. When you read a letter or article, you have to take in the entire piece before formulating a response, so it allows people to get their point across when a person might otherwise shut them out.

I used to write my mother letters if I was mad at her or upset about something, because I found that writing was easier for me than talking. If I was given the time and space to write something out, I was able to convey my side of an argument, or just my general feelings on a subject, much better than if I had tried to speak immediately after getting upset. I write because it’s a way to communicate with people that’s always worked better for me than talking one on one.

Susan Tondi

I was born in Peru and have lived most of my life in the Illinois Valley except for short stints in Peoria and Metamora. I attended a small grade school in Cedar Point. My class included 10 children and we had two grades to a classroom. La Salle-Peru High School was my school for the next four years. I currently live in Standard — population 250. I am not much of a traveler, but I am an ardent reader and love to learn and explore from my home base. I consider a field of corn a beautiful view.

I have been married for 36 years and have two grown sons, one beautiful daughter-in-law, and one energetic granddaughter. I am a dog lover and currently live with two senior dogs, Simon and Callie.

I worked in the restaurant industry for 20 years before I began my career in banking. I am a mortgage loan originator and I love my job; except when I don't. Helping people finance their homes has been very rewarding and I have found many friend while I was doing business.

I am left-handed.

Paul Wheeler

My name is Paul Wheeler, of Ottawa. I’ve been a contributing columnist for The Times for several years now. I wrote my first op-ed at the age of 15 for the Southtown Economist in Oak Lawn. I was young and attempting to save a piece of forest property from development. It didn’t work out that way, but it was a valuable lesson in the ways of the world.

I have continued to write as my way of affecting the world even though, as when I was 15, those attempts often fail miserably. I suspect other writers might agree that writing is their way of getting something off their chest. Or to shine a light on something that has remained previously hidden. Or simply to report something beautiful or mystifying, or downright ridiculous.

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen our nation be more misguided, and I tend to respond to that need as well. Like most writers, I have a curious mind and hope I can share some of those curiosities with you. I hope you’ll be listening.

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