It’s 5 p.m. on a Sunday night, the Dinkmeyer Hall basement is filled with the sound of keyboards clicking and chairs rolling from one desk to another trying to finish that week’s production of the newspaper.
The editors start chatting about their stories, nibbling on some pizza, when they get interrupted by a high pitched beep notifying them that their locked door has been opened.
Not expecting any other editor, they look to the door and see him peer his head in and say, “Just what I like to see, a busy newsroom.”
Ron Wiginton has this entrance down almost perfectly, this has been his Sunday evening routine for the past 23 years as The Leader’s faculty advisor.
Wiginton decided in January that it was time for him to step back from The Leader, officially handing over the role of faculty advisor to Eric Lutz in June.
“One of the reasons I stepped down was because I’m a print [journalism] man,” Wiginton said. “It would be better for The Leader to have an advisor that does know that [social media].”
Lutz has been a student and friend to Wiginton for 12 years. The two first met in one of Wiginton’s literature classes where he recruited Lutz to join The Leader.
“My career in journalism would not be possible without Ron Wiginton, who has been a great teacher, friend, and mentor to me for the last 12 years,” said Lutz. “His work as faculty advisor of this paper has helped launch the careers of a lot of people in journalism and writing.”
Wiginton began his roles as advisor to The Leader in 1997, when he was hired by the English department to create and teach a journalism program for Elmhurst University.
“We wanted to build on a faculty predecessor's work by hiring an experienced journalist and writer to establish a journalism program, develop and teach the courses, and serve as advisor to The Leader,” said Ann Frank Wake, English department chair.
Before coming to EU, he began his career as a journalist at 18 years old for The Independent Florida Alligator at the University of Florida, where he was assigned to write about the UF marching band getting new uniforms.
He recalls this moment hooking him into journalism and becoming his life, which it did. Wiginton has been working 45 years within the journalism industry, seeing the industry shift from typewriters and copy boys to cell phones and websites.
“I’m old school running out of the coat room running to a phone booth and calling the newspaper and giving them my lede,” Wiginton says, laughing. “That was as big of technology we had.”
When he became advisor of The Leader in 1997, the first thing he did was shut the paper down for a semester.
“It was a house organ,” Wiginton explained, recalling the publication that once printed reworded press releases on four pages of cardstock.
During the semester where the newspaper was shut down Wiginton worked with the five students to rebuild The Leader.
“Me and five students created The Leader,” Wiginton said. “I call them the founding fathers.”
Laurie Rich was the first Editor-in-Chief under Wiginton in 1997 and Rich remembers the ambition Wiginton had for The Leader.
“He taught us to question authority, to look at finances, at crime on campus, at the real issues that were affecting student life,” said Rich. “He said we could accomplish the things that students at the biggest, most esteemed schools could do.”
Before Wiginton, Ted Lerud was the former faculty advisor to The Leader. Lerud remembers working with students who had former high school journalism training but he admits he did not have the training to bring the newspaper to the next level.
“Ron transformed the Leader from what was essentially a club newsletter into an actual award-winning organ of journalism,” said Lerud.
Throughout the past 23 years, Ron recounts working with about 20 different Editor-in-Chiefs and keeping in contact with most of them, checking in with them as the years go by.
The connection he builds with his editors and the reputation he has helped accumulate for The Leader is recognized by faculty on campus.
“His legacy of established relationships with students, alums, and regional media outlets has established a pipeline for those who want to be media writers and editors,” said Wake. “Ron's tireless work, including over many weekends and summers, has been instrumental in putting our writing program on the map and helping our students to enter the profession.”
Rich recalls how influential Wiginton has been in working with students and writers.
“Ron has lifted so many people up by teaching them well, entrusting them to be responsible and do good work, and then supporting them and singing their praises along the way,” said Rich.
Over the past 23 years, Wiginton says The Leader is his baby and that he has enjoyed the past two decades as advisor.
While he has no plans to return as advisor, he says he will always be around.
“I am never gonna close my chapter on The Leader,” Wiginton said. “The Leader is my baby.”