Willis Kern | WGLT

Willis Kern

Correspondent, Retired News Director

Willis is a Bloomington, IL, native. During his senior year at Bloomington High School, he finished third in the "Radio Speaking" division of the state speech contest, the only year he competed.

Willis began his radio career in 1975 at a now-defunct station in Normal. He worked swing shifts at WJBC in Bloomington while attending ISU. He served a 14-year stint as the nighttime announcer. Willis joined WGLT in 1993 and was named news director in 1997. He has won numerous awards for reporting and news writing and has been named Downstate Best Reporter four times by the Illinois Associated Press, once in 2004 and three consecutive years 2007-2009.

Willis volunteers at his church and is involved in prison ministry. He is married with two sons and loves the St. Louis Cardinals.

Pug50 / Flickr

Retirement is the ultimate career goal for many people. Some are fortunate enough to consider early retirement.

During Sound Money, Edgar Norton, director of Illinois State University's Institute for Financial Planning and Analysis said it's best to start early and save often if you would like to retire before age 62.

"Start saving as soon as you can. Hopefully, right out of college you'll get a job and even if you have student loans to pay back, start squirreling away a hundred bucks or so a month, and then increase that as best you can over time," Norton said.

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Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner called the just-concluded presidential election campaign possibly the most divisive in the country's history.

Renner was one of about a dozen elected officials in McLean County who spoke at an event organized by Bloomington Alderman Scott Black and broadcast live during GLT's Sound Ideas.

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Elected leaders in Bloomington Normal are calling for cool heads and reasoned conversation about public affairs.

Bloomington Alderman Scott Black said that's the point of a rally over the noon hour Tuesday at which local elected officials will emphasize how they cooperate with each other across ideological lines.

Bloomington aldermen will be asked Monday night to approve a liquor license for Crawford's Corner Pub, 610 W. Chestnut Street.

The location is the former site of Beningoes Restaurant, a four-decade plus staple of the west-side neighborhood. The license would allow the new owners, Bob and Amy Crawford, to sell alcohol seven days a week, closing at 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and at midnight Fridays and Saturdays.

Mennonite College of Nursing / Facebook

A legislative proposal that would allow community colleges in Illinois to grant four year bachelor's degrees in nursing does not have the the support of Illinois State University President Larry Dietz.

Ralph Weisheit / WGLT

Illinois State University President Larry Dietz has sent a message to the campus about the presidential election results.

Dietz acknowledged in an email that Donald Trump's election has "shaken the sense of well-being" for many people leaving some fearful. However, University Chief of Staff Jay Groves says some are taking to social media, spreading rumors of criminal hate activity and racial slurs.

Green Top Grocery / Facebook

Another appeal for loans is going out to owners of the $3.6 million grocery store co-op being constructed at 921 E. Washington Street in Bloomington.

Green Top Grocery had secured $1.3 million in owner loans through two campaigns late in 2015 and earlier this year. But a $300,000 gap remained between the amount raised through owner and bank loans and construction costs.

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The president of Illinois State University says shared governance --the input of faculty, staff and students into the way ISU operates-- is strong.

The concept was called into question late last month when some 50 faculty members signed a letter opposing some ideas they say the Education Advisory Board touts that conflict with the tenets of a liberal arts education.

McLean County Government

Editor's note: Kimberly Pfeifer did not respond to repeated requests by GLT News for an interview.

McLean County Board candidate Dave Selzer says he agrees with the county's move into mental health services.

Judi Jacobs / Children's Home and Aid

Children's Home and Aid, a Bloomington-based social service education agency for young, at-risk children, is getting more $577,000 from the Illinois Board of Education to add and expand services.

Redbird Scholar

The biggest change to the downstate Illinois landscape over the past ten to 15 years has been the number of wind turbines that dot the horizon. Wind energy has grown to be a pretty big industry in the state.  

According to a recent study by the Center for Renewable Energy at Illinois State University, wind farms as they are called bring in about $6 billion to the local economy over their life span.

The center is the result of collaboration between ISU's Departments of Economics, Technology and Agriculture. It's headed up by David Loomis, an economics professor at ISU.

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An Illinois Wesleyan political science department survey of some likely Bloomington voters shows an unusually high number--20 percent--remain undecided about who to vote for president.

Students in Tari Renner's Elections and Research Methods and Statistics classes polled 421 likely Bloomington voters over three days last week. IWU student Robert Perez served as the lead research assistant.

Staff / WGLT

All 150 employees at Connect Transit received layoff notices Monday in accordance with a federal law requiring public agencies to alert staff of a possible looming work stoppage.

General Manager Andrew Johnson said he remains hopeful state funds will be transferred to the agency in December, averting the need to keep the buses garaged. He said, in a worse case scenario, a handful of employees will keep working.

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State of Illinois employees have always had a pretty good package to rely on as they consider retirement. But that may no longer be the case.

During Sound Money, Edgar Norton, director of Illinois State University's Institute for Financial Planning and Analysis said there are ways employees can guard against the effects of a possible bankrupt State University Retirement System (SURS).

Earlier this year, SURS' Chief Investment Officer Daniel Allen said the state will run out of assets to pay retirement costs within ten years.

Staff / WGLT

Interest in converting dilapidated downtown Bloomington buildings into a potential hotel and conference center could be renewed now that the city has bolstered the area as a Tax Increment Financing district. 

art around / Flickr

A major conference on cultural diversity in an education setting is coming to Bloomington-Normal next week.

Illinois State University's Culturally Responsive Campus Community organization is hosting more than 500 people October 24th and 25th to discuss ways to bridge gaps both on campus and in the community. In a Sound Ideas interview, conference organizer Stacey Hardin said the group surfaced at the urging of students in the aftermath of high profile police shootings of African-American males.

Harry Pherson / Flickr via Creative Commons

The mother of all roads is turning 90 this year.  To celebrate nine decades of travel across the wide open spaces of America, Route 66 lovers are converging on the Twin Cities later this week.  The 2nd Annual Route 66 Miles of Possibility Conference is Thursday through Sunday, featuring a variety of speakers, historic tours and more.  

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There's another chapter in the controversial management history of Bloomington's downtown arena, the Coliseum.

VenuWorks has fired Curtis Webb, who had been serving as the arena's executive director since shortly after the Iowa-based firm secured management rights earlier this year. A statement released by the city indicates Webb used  a company debit card for personal purchases.

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One central Illinois state representative says he's confident Connect Transit will receive state funding appropriated to the bus system in time to avoid a shutdown of the bus fleet in January.

Republican Dan Brady of Bloomington spoke following a meeting this morning with Heartland Community College President Rob Widmer. Brady says he's puzzled as to why the $5 million appropriation hasn't been sent to Connect Transit.

Michael Hill / WGLT

With the precarious nature of state funding as a backdrop, Illinois State University President Larry Dietz said he is working to organize a coalition of local education administrators.

During Sound Ideas, Dietz said there are important areas besides funding totals that are of concern.

Emma Shores / Staff

Democrats could wrestle control of the U. S. Senate in next month's election.

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, the second in command among Democratic senators, said during Sound Ideas only a swing of four votes would do the trick, although he said five would provide some padding.

United States Naval Research Laboratory / Wikimedia Commons

Both Bloomington-based State Farm Insurance and Country Financial have mobilized catastrophe teams as Hurricane Matthew moves closer to the U. S. coast and gains strength.

Creative Commons

Both Vice Presidential candidates did their jobs in the debate Tuesday evening.

That's according to ISU political scientists Tom McClure and Erik Rankin.

Lauren Barker / Fix It Friday

One way to save money is to save things you own, like clothing.

"Fix It Friday," which is scheduled for Oct. 7 in Uptown Normal, is a cooperative effort at Illinois State University between Fashion Design and Merchandising students and the Office of Sustainability.

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Central Illinois Congressman Rodney Davis wants to give more authority to state and local governments when it comes to improving the country's transportation infrastructure. Speaking before boarding a Connect Transit bus in Normal, Davis said his house bill empowers localities.

"If I'm successful in this bill, it will create more of a local stakeholder committee to make decisions on awards to groups like Connect Transit. It allows people who are more familiar with out local mass transit needs to have a say on who gets awarded the competitive funds versus who doesn't," Davis said.

Illinois State University

A high school history teacher in Seattle who led a successful revolt against standardized testing under Common Core initiatives says the education system perpetuates racism.

Jesse Hagopian speaks at ISU Friday night, September 30. He says studies show standardized tests themselves fail miserably.

Illinois Department of Public Health

The McLean County Health Department reports two more birds have tested positive for West Nile Virus.

The birds which carried the mosquito-borne disease were reported from LeRoy and the 61701 zip code of Bloomington.

Health Department Director Walt Howe says, even with recent cooler daytime and evening temperatures, the risk for being infected with West Nile continues through mid-October.

The best way to prevent infection is to reduce exposure to mosquitos and wear insect repellant that contains DEET or other effective substances.

BN Economic Development Council

All of the three major economic factors considered for the quarterly event "BN By the Numbers" show positive signs of improvement.

GLT's Willis Kern finds out more in this interview with Mike Doherty, Senior Economist with the Bloomington-based Illinois Farm Bureau. Doherty gives the presentation at Thursday's quarterly event, which will be held during the noon hour Thursday September 29 at ISU's Bone Student Center.

Harvard Law Record

U. S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan has denied Bloomington physician David Gill's appeal to remain on the ballot as an independent candidate for Congress.

Kagan, who handles cases from the 7th U. S Court of Appeals, refused to allow the four-time congressional candidate on the ballot, after his spot was denied by the Illinois State Board of Elections.

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The long-time owners of McDonald's restaurants in the Bloomington-Normal area say they will retire early next year.

Bob and Julie Dobski have agreed to sell the ten restaurants they own to other owners by February of 2017. They will remain as owners/operators through January.

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