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In memoriam: Laurie Bielong, 2013 IJEA Educator of the Year, longtime adviser and advocate of scholastic journalism

The dynamic teacher and adviser who led award-winning journalism programs and inspired fellow educators died Jan. 7. For those who didn't get a chance to know Laurie, the video of her IJEA Educator of the Year acceptance speech (see below) will give you a sense of both her playfulness and dedication.

January 10, 2017

Laurie Marie Bielong, longtime teacher and adviser at Belleville West High School, died Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017, at Hitz Memorial Home in Alhambra, Ill. She was 59 years old.

I am so saddened to hear that she has passed away,” said former IJEA President Sarah Doerner.

“Laurie’s smile and the enthusiasm that she shared with us about life in general and especially about her teaching and the students she worked with and her efforts as a member of our IJEA Board will leave footprints on our hearts. 

“Her legacy will be in the student lives that she touched during her school-related work and the smiles that she brought to our faces.”  

Bielong taught at Sparta from 1979 to 1993 and at Belleville West from 1993 to 2013, and she advised student publications at both schools. Laurie served as the adviser for the Hy News, the Belleville West student newspaper, for 20 years.

In 2013, she was named Illinois Journalism Educator of the Year by the Illinois Journalism Educators Association. (The award has since been named the James A. Tidwell Award.) Her speech can be seen above and here.

She was a member of Southern Illinois School Press Association (SISPA), Illinois Journalism Education Association (IJEA), Illinois Association of Teachers of English (IATE) and National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). But calling her a member is misleading. She was the former director of SISPA, an IJEA board member and an IHSA Journalism Advisory Committee member.

Cathy Wall, SISPA director and former IJEA board member, recalled: “Laurie was also instrumental in helping to establish the Illinois High School Association’s state journalism series. With her background in speech and theater, she was able to share much about how IHSA contest series work.

“As we developed a draft of the terms and conditions for the contest, she more than anyone had insight into the proper language to make things run smoothly. During her final three years [of teaching], she served our region on the IHSA Journalism Advisory Committee, meeting with IHSA and making recommendations for the state series.”

Sally Renaud, IJEA executive director, recalled when she and board member Carol Smith surprised Bielong with the IJEA Educator of the Year Award in front of her peers at BWHS.

When we presented Laurie with award in front of about 200 Belleville West teachers, I was thrilled to see that she was beloved in her building by not only her division head but by teachers of all disciplines,” Renaud said. “What a great ambassador for our discipline! She has instilled in her fellow teachers the reasons high school is so vital to a school, and she has helped them recognize the role scholastic media can play educating all students. And clearly, her students loved her.”

Bielong graduated from Highland High School in 1975. She received her bachelor’s degree from Eastern Illinois University in 1979 and a master’s degree from Maryville University in 2000.

Memorials may be made to the Belleville West English Department Scholarship Fund, c/o John Lodle, 4063 Frank Scott Parkway West, Belleville, IL 62223.

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