Dana Heupel, who oversaw Illinois Issues for seven years, passed away Wednesday at his home in Springfield. He is being remembered for his professionalism, journalistic skills and kind nature.
Heupel, who was 68, spent 30 years in the newspaper business before he was selected to take over Illinois Issues in 2007. He served as executive editor for the monthly publication that focused on public policy and authored a regular column.
Heupel retired from Illinois Issues in 2014. He gave his send off in a column titled “A Retiring Newsman Looks Back.”
“It’s not that I don’t understand how government works; it’s more that I refuse to give up on the notion of how it should operate…. I leave with the belief I spent the last few years of my career doing something important,” he wrote.
Bethany Jaeger, who covered the statehouse beat for the magazine during Heupel’s tenure, recalled his passion for journalism. “That passion never faded through his retirement. It was as if his frustration with Illinois’ government intensified his long-held ideals of what government should be – and why good journalism is so important.”
“As an editor, he respected the writer’s voice and trusted his reporters,” she added. “He was a kind, genuine and good boss.”
After he retired, Illinois Issues merged with NPR Illinois and continued as a monthly magazine for a period before eventually becoming a digital/audio offering.
“As the leader at Illinois Issues, Dana cared about the journalism. His planning led to Illinois Issues growing its digital strength. He carried forward the focus on public policy,” said Randy Eccles, General Manager of NPR Illinois.
“Dana was a brilliant journalist, who wrote with passion, taught with patience and led with decency that made his community better. I will miss him,” said Maureen McKinney, an Illinois Issues editor who worked under Heupel at the magazine.
Prior to coming to the University of Illinois Springfield, Heupel spent time with Copley News Service and later Gatehouse Media – which included the State Journal-Register. He was a reporter, city editor and statehouse editor. His newspaper career also included stops in Fresno, California; Indianapolis; and Fort Wayne, Indiana.
“Dana was a good journalist and a good friend,” said Adriana Colindres, who worked alongside Heupel in the statehouse. “As bureau chief of what was then Copley/State Journal-Register State Capitol bureau, he had a lot to juggle – reporters with various styles and areas of expertise, interns who were eager to learn and the often-hectic atmosphere.”
“He earned our respect as a professional and, even more importantly, as a person. He was kind, with a good sense of humor and generous in sharing his knowledge,” she recalled. “He could be counted on to lend a hand in many ways. For example, after my job as a reporter was eliminated several years ago, Dana, by then at Illinois Issues, invited me to do freelance articles there.”
She added “Dana influenced many journalists past and present, in a positive way, and he will be greatly missed.”
Jamey Dunn-Thomason, who kept tabs on state government for Illinois Issues during Heupel’s tenure at the magazine, said he was a great teacher of journalism and writing. “He always offered these lessons with kindness and patience. He was a true gentleman with a passion for his craft. He will be greatly missed.”
Heupel won numerous awards, including the Illinois Associated Press’ Member of the Year in 1999 for coordinating a statewide open records project. He was a graduate of Indiana University with a degree in journalism.
Read his obituary here.
His wife, Kathie, posted the news of his passing on Facebook, mentioning he dealt for several years with diabetes and kidney failure. “He loved his guitars, fishing poles and golf clubs,“ she wrote. “He was a proud journalist.”