A lot can change in 50 years.
From writing on paper to a typewriter, from editing on a computer to laying out a publication, Fred Kroner has seen a lot in his 50 years as a journalist.
But one thing hasn’t changed: Fred Kroner still loves to write.
Kroner’s story begins on a rural Mahomet farm where he entertained himself as an only child.
Although Kroner, the now-retired Executive Sports Editor of the News-Gazette and Editor of the Mahomet Citizen, was interested in sports, his time on the field was limited as a child.
Kroner’s family only owned one car, which his mother used to get to work. His father was involved with the farm operation year round, so neither parent could commit to picking up Kroner after practice or to get him to games.
Although he couldn’t make it to every practice, he played Little League for two summers in junior high and tried to play basketball in high school.
“I wasn’t a great player at any of the sports,” he said. “Baseball was probably my favorite. Mahomet didn’t offer baseball until my junior year. And I really think that if they’d had it my freshmen year, I might have been able to convince my dad to let me go out.”
“By my junior year, he needed my help on the farm, and because baseball season comes in the spring when you’re preparing the field to plant, I didn’t even ask because I knew the answer would have been no.”
Instead, Kroner found another way to be involved in sports.
As a child, he passed his time in the field walking bean fields, removing weeds and corn stalks by listening to the Chicago Cubs day games.
“I had a transistor radio that I hooked to my belt. At the time, the Cubs were the only team that still played daytime baseball for every home game.”
With working parents and the closest neighbor with children a mile away, Kroner spent a lot of time reading sports magazines and watching games on television.
After listening to Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau announce the games, he would write a story, recapping the highlights of the event.
“I’d write two or three paragraphs about the game as if I had been there,” Kroner said.
As a middle school student Kroner read Mahomet’s weekly newspaper, the Sucker State, which covered high school games, but did not have anything about junior high events.
“I went in there one day and asked the guy, ‘Every week you have stories about the high school sports teams, but you never mention the junior high teams. Why is that, and can you change it?”
The editor explained to Kroner that the entirety of the publication was manned by two people, who did everything from writing to selling ads.
He told Kroner, “We don’t have the time or the ability to do anything more than what we are doing. However, if you or somebody wants to provide a story about junior high sports, we’ll make sure it gets in the paper.”
“I felt like I was hired,” Kroner said. “The next week I turned in a story on junior high basketball. That’s how I got started.”
Although Kroner never earned a penny from the Sucker State, he continued to write for the paper through high school.
Kroner’s writing career may have gone into a lull after high school had he not reached out to the Champaign-Urbana’s Courier Sports Editor Lon Eubanks during his eighth-grade year.
As part of a career-based project that year, Kroner wrote a letter to Eubanks, asking for more information about his profession.
“He wrote back and was very encouraging,” Kroner remembers. “He said do whatever you can to put yourself in that position.”
Kroner said he’d basically forgotten about the correspondence by the time he became an accounting student at the University of Illinois. But the summer after his freshman year, right after he switched his major from accounting to liberal arts without his parent’s knowledge, Kroner received a call from Eubanks.
Eubanks recalled the letter Kroner wrote five years prior and asked if he would be interested in being a score taker for local high school events in the fall.
“I said, ‘Yes! When can I start?”
Kroner had to wait until the events began after Labor Day. But for the next four years, he worked part-time at the Courier as he finished out his degree.
“And it’s all because of what I did in eighth grade,” he said.
From there, Kroner spent a few years covering sports for the Bloomington Pantagraph before returning home to Mahomet to work at the News-Gazette.
During his tenure, Kroner was one of the visionaries who changed the way journalism recorded a community’s events.
Prior to the late 1970’s and into the early 1980’s, sportswriters often attended games and wrote recaps of what happened during the game.
But Kroner thought about the type of story he was interested in reading. After years of reading newspapers and sports magazines, he was drawn to feature stories that told more about the players or coaches.
When Kroner approached the News-Gazette Sports Editor Paul Walsh about writing feature stories that highlighted local athletes, Walsh was a little hesitant but gave Kroner the creative freedom to pursue the idea.
“In the early years there was some resistance,” Kroner said. “Parents would call and say, ‘My son did this, but didn’t get credit.”
“And I explained that we were trying something different.”
“After about two years, (Walsh) instructed the other writers to write their stories more like me.”
But not every writer approaches a story quite like Kroner.
“This may sound corny, but every feature story or profile that I write, I do so as if the subject is a family member,” he said.
“The reason is that I recognize how few times most people ever have a story written about themselves, and when that rare occasion occurs, they want the story to be special, memorable and do them justice.”
The stories Kroner wrote have made a lasting impact on his subjects.
In the early 2000’s a man came by the News-Gazette, looking for him.
The man pulled out his wallet to show Kroner a yellow, tattered clipping of a story he’d written in 1977.
“He said having that article in his possession helped him get through times of loneliness and homelessness when he could look back and remember when he had been someone.”
Telling those stories did not come without sacrifice though. After arriving at work at 10 a.m. every morning, Kroner often did not return home until after 11 p.m.
The 12 plus hour work days wore on his family and friends.
“My ex-wife made the comment once–which was absolutely true– “you spend more time watching other people’s children grow up and participate in their activities than you do your own.”
For 15 consecutive years, Kroner covered at least 150 basketball games per season.
“Think about the time away from family. Think about the car trips from here to there. I averaged driving at least 30,000 miles a year for work during my sports writing career; it wasn’t because I was taking long trips. I was going from Champaign to Watseka, Champaign to LeRoy, Champaign to Kankakee, Champaign to Mattoon, and all the points in between.”
“It was tedious travel, in all sorts of weather conditions, virtually as a solo passenger.”
After 34.5 years at the News-Gazette, Kroner decided to get off the “merry-go-round,” that felt like it was spinning faster and faster in 2015.
“Does it make any sense to love a job so much, to be told your good at a job for so long, that you sacrifice so much and wind up wondering where did the time go for the other things I wanted to do?”
Kroner couldn’t stay away from writing too long, though.
He agreed to write a weekly column for the Mahomet Citizen just to keep his habit happy.
Then when former Editor Amelia Benner resigned, the News-Gazette asked Kroner to step up.
“From the day I accepted the position as Mahomet Citizen editor, I was determined to put out a paper that I would want to read if I weren’t the person putting out the paper.”
With a sports writer on staff, Kroner was able to tend to a different breed of story. Covering everything from village and school board meetings to business openings to local interest stories, Kroner tried to produce a paper with something for everybody.
“I know every reader is different,” he said. “Somebody may be interested in reading this, and somebody else will be interested in something else. Not everyone will like every story, but if I have variety, everyone will have a story that is of interest to them.”
After an eight-month stint, Kroner stepped down as the Mahomet Citizen Editor last week, and has joined the Mahomet Daily where he will produce a few stories every week.
Kroner said it is now time to support his wife, Emily, who is the mastermind behind Lucky Moon Pies and More.
His days will be spent attending to customers at the register, making trips to the store and managing the bakery’s social media accounts while Emily does what she loves to do: bake.
“It’s important for me to help at the pie shop and be supportive because for 16 years Emily was there for me and was supportive when I worked what most people would consider abnormal hours (nightly until midnight) with limited availability for meals, family functions and raising children along with infrequent days off,” he said.
“I couldn’t have continued to have done what I enjoyed for so many years without this unwavering support.”
“I feel fortunate to have had 50 years doing the one and only job I ever really felt I wanted. I know the satisfaction that comes from that. Why wouldn’t I want someone else to experience the euphoria of those same feelings?”
While Kroner has set his ambition aside for a loved one now, at some point, he knows he will finally fully retire.
He hopes that one day he will be remembered like his grandfather and namesake, Fred L. Kroner.
Even 46 years after his grandfather’s passing, long-time Mahomet residents ask him if he is related to Fred. L Kroner, the dentist.
“There is nothing I have done, or nothing I will ever do, that makes me prouder than the knowledge that my grandfather is still remembered almost a half-century after his passing,” he said.