Rachel Otwell

Reporter

Hi! I cover local news including arts & culture and education. I'm a 2012 graduate of the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois Springfield. While working toward that degree I spent a semester covering the legislature for WUIS and Illinois Public Radio. In 2010 I graduated from UIS with degrees in Liberal & Integrative Studies, Women & Gender Studies, and African-American Studies (yes, that was a lot of studying!) Previous experiences of mine include tutoring Rwandan refugees, supervising children at an orphanage in Kenya, working as an activities assistant at a nursing home in Ohio, and lots of waitressing.

I cut my teeth in radio in 2011 while interning for the National Public Radio program Tell Me More with Michel Martin in Washington, DC. My reports have also appeared on NPR's Weekend Edition, NPR's All Things Considered, NPR's Morning Edition, and WorkingNow.org. 

Please feel free to email me with tips on potential stories going on in the Springfield area. Thanks!

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Black History
10:11 am
Thu June 13, 2013

“Juneteenth” Celebration In Springfield This Weekend

“Juneteenth celebration in Austin, Texas, on June 19, 1900.” – Wikimedia Commons

For two decades Springfielders have celebrated Juneteenth. It's a holiday commemorated in most states. It marks the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas in 1865, which came two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

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District 186
9:17 am
Thu June 13, 2013

Interview: Springfield School Board Member, Scott McFarland

  WUIS has brought you interviews with all the new Springfield school board members seated last month. Today we speak with Scott McFarland – he’s serving his second term on the board. McFarland recently saw the closures of multiple schools in his district on the north-east side of town. He tells WUIS about that as well as problems within the previous school board:

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District 186
11:26 am
Mon June 10, 2013

Interview: Springfield School Board Prez Chuck Flamini

The Springfield school board has four new members, they were seated last month. WUIS has brought you interviews with three of them, today we speak with the fourth – Chuck Flamini, who also is the new school board president. In this interview he tells us about his background with the district, the search for a new superintendent, the district budget, and more:

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Music & Community
10:57 am
Fri June 7, 2013

SOHO Showcases Local Music In Downtown Springfield

SOHO is in its 9th year of highlighting local bands with a downtown street festival. The festival begins tonight (Fri. 6/7) and goes through Saturday. There will be food and alcoholic beverages on site as well as a kids area on Saturday. Local art will be on display and for sale. The event benefits the Mini O’Beirne Crisis Nursery in Springfield.

Here's the interview with Eric Welch who is the founder of and heads the music fest:

 

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Bedrock 66
1:07 pm
Thu June 6, 2013

Marshall Crenshaw + Bottle Rockets

  Michigan native Marshall Crenshaw hasn’t stopped playing music since he rose to fame in the 1980s. It’s been a career that spans just over 30 years – he’s also been an author, actor, radio host, and music producer.

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Arts & Community
1:00 pm
Thu June 6, 2013

Local Band 'The Old Fashioneds' Serve Up Roots Music

Lorin Devine & Ryan Bishop are The Old Fashioneds
Credit Rachel Otwell

  Country music seems to be a genre that’s either loved or hated. But even country-lovers don’t always agree on which type is the best. Country roots music is bit of an umbrella label, including honky-tonk, folk, and rockabilly. It’s gained a foothold across the nation with artists like Pokey LaFarge and the Old Crow Medicine Show providing alternatives to Top 40 contemporary country offerings.

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District 186
3:45 pm
Thu May 30, 2013

Interview: Donna Moore, Springfield School Board Member

  We’ve brought you interviews with new Springfield school board members over the past couple days. Today we speak with Donna Moore about her background and goals for district 186:

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District 186
11:47 am
Wed May 29, 2013

Interview: Adam Lopez, Springfield School Board VP

Yesterday we brought you an interview with school board member Mike Zimmers. Today we speak with Adam Lopez, an insurance agent who was seated on the new Springfield school board earlier this month. Listen to the interview with Lopez about the budget, a school closure, and more:

 

This interview is part of an ongoing series, more interviews with District 186 school board members will follow. 

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District 186
9:31 am
Wed May 29, 2013

Time For Goodbyes At Capitol College Preparatory Academy

  School lets out for the summer today in district 186. That means the end of a three year run for a middle school thats closure was hotly debated in Springfield. As the school board took multiple votes on whether to keep the Capitol College Preparatory Academy, or CCPA, open – parents, teachers, and students showed up in droves to fight for their school. But the battle to keep the school that taught grades 6 through 8 open has been lost. Listen to the story:

 

Here’s an interview with a CCPA parent and PTO president, Robert Ogden:

TRANSCRIPT:

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District 186
11:42 am
Tue May 28, 2013

Dist. 186 Explores Existing Residency Requirement

  Some Springfield public school administrators are violating a policy that says they must live within district 186, according to a new board member. Adam Lopez is the school board’s vice president, he was seated earlier this month. He says he’s heard complaints from district 186 faculty that the policy is not being enforced. Lopez says it’s an issue that should be considered by the new school board, and either enforced or done away with. His personal opinion?

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District 186
11:36 am
Tue May 28, 2013

Interview: Mike Zimmers, Springfield School Board Member

Mike Zimmers worked in district 186 in a variety of roles – administrator, teacher, principal, coach… And now he serves on the school board. His win unseated previous school board president, Susan White. In this interview Zimmers tells us about his priorities for Springfield public schools, the search for a new superintendent, the closure of a middle school, and more:

 

This interview is part of an ongoing series, more interviews with District 186 school board members will follow.

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District 186
5:02 pm
Wed May 22, 2013

AG Says Springfield School Board Violated Open Meetings Act

 Former superintendent Walter Milton’s separation agreement with District 186 violated open meeting laws, according to an opinion by the state’s Attorney General. The previous school board decided to part ways with Milton during the winter before his contract was up. So, the members approved a severance plan worth over $175,000 and agreed to pay health and dental insurance.

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Education & Community
11:32 am
Tue May 21, 2013

Foreign Exchange Students Wrap Up School Year In Central IL

Chris Reid (right) with foreign exchange daughter, Kairi Kosaka

  Foreign exchange students who spent this past school year in central Illinois with their host families are bidding them adieu. At a recent dinner 14 exchange students from countries like Spain, Thailand, and Germany shared meals from their native countries as they prepare to return home:

 

Chris Reid is mixing up a crockpot full of bright colored noodles and meatballs, food she helped her foreign exchange daughter from Toyko cook for tonight’s farewell ceremony…

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Bedrock 66
9:49 am
Fri May 17, 2013

JP Harris & The Tough Choices

  JP Harris & the Tough Choices play at the Hoogland Center for the Arts in Springfield tonight (5/17) as part of WUIS’ Bedrock 66 Live Concert Series. Harris’s music has been called “real country” and Harris calls his music “Hank Williams with a Motorhead attitude.” The Alabama native and Nashville transplant shares his music and what inspires it in this interview:

 

CLICK HERE to get tickets to tonight’s show.

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Music
4:37 pm
Wed May 15, 2013

John Michael Presney To Play Acoustic Set In Rochester

John Michael Presney is a Rochester native who’s spent the last couple years touring the country as part of a musical production that he played rockabilly star Carl Perkins in. But 25 year old Presney has crafted a music-style all his own. And he has a new EP called ‘The Nighttime and the Dawn’ to prove it.

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Community
4:33 pm
Wed May 15, 2013

Third Springfield "PrideFest" On Saturday

  The third Springfield PrideFest is this Saturday. The all-day event celebrating gay pride includes food, drinks, and performances. The festival will be on Capitol Avenue between 4th and 6th streets downtown. WUIS’ Rachel Otwell recently spoke with Jonna Cooley about it, she’s the executive director of The Pheonix Center which puts on the event:

CLICK HERE for more info about the event on Saturday in downtown Springfield from noon to 9pm.

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Community
4:17 pm
Wed May 15, 2013

Garden Project Pairs Local Sponsors & Students

A local elementary school is teaching students about growing their own food with a hands-on project. Rachel Otwell recently visited the community garden across from McClernand Elementary School and spoke with instructors and students as they planted and tended to plots. She brings us this story:

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District 186
10:27 am
Fri May 10, 2013

Dist. 186 To Interview Search Firms Re: New Superintendent

 The Springfield school board decided last night it will begin interviewing search firms and may hire one to find a new superintendent for district 186. The district has an interim superintendent who took over for Walter Milton at the beginning of April. It’s been debated since then how to go about finding someone to permanently replace him.

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District 186
9:55 am
Tue May 7, 2013

New 186 School Board Starts Off With Tense Meeting

The new 186 school board is sworn in

Tensions were high at last night’s (5/6) Springfield district 186 school board meeting as the 

  new board was seated and a president and vice president were appointed.

The meeting started with goodbyes for the previous school board members.

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District 186
11:56 am
Mon May 6, 2013

Eastvold Concedes In Tight School Board Race

 A Springfield school board race that was too close to call is now over. Katharine Eastvold announced today she has conceded in the race for subdistrict five. She lost by one vote to Donna Moore. A partial recount found that votes had been counted accurately. Eastvold says she considered asking a judge for a full recount but did not find enough evidence to warrant that move. A supporter of Eastvold had used the Freedom of Information Act to uncover election documents. But Eastvold says those documents failed to turn up information to justify dragging out the contest.

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Community
10:15 am
Mon May 6, 2013

New Community Garden In Springfield

  Community gardens are cropping up in urban areas across the country. They’re a way for those without the yard space to grow their own food. Kemia Sarraf is the founder and president of the local group gen H Kids, which stands for Generation Healthy. She tells WUIS’ Rachel Otwell about how the group is bringing a new community garden to Springfield:

CLICK HERE for more information or email George@genHkids.org to register for a garden plot.

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District 186
11:15 am
Fri May 3, 2013

Eastvold May Pursue Full Recount For 186 Election

Katharine Eastvold

  Katharine Eastvold lost her run for Springfield school board by a single vote about three weeks ago. But she’s not quite done fighting for the seat. A partial recount earlier this week found the votes had been accurately recorded. Donna Moore was declared the winner by only one vote in subdistrict 5. But it’s not yet over. The next step says Eastvold is working with her lawyer to determine whether there’s enough evidence to warrant asking a judge for a full recount.

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Crime
11:07 am
Fri May 3, 2013

Donations Still Sought For Manchester Murder Victims’ Family

Scene near the Manchester murder site

 The funerals for five people murdered last week in Manchester are over, but donations are still being sought to offset those costs.

The victims were five family members, including two small children. Services took place at the Mackey Daws Funeral Home in the town of Roodhouse. Justin Daws is the funeral director there. He says the burials also occurred this week – though payments have yet to be made. Daws says the area in west central Illinois is tight-knit and he will wait indefinitely for funds from the victim’s family to come in:

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Community
9:23 am
Thu May 2, 2013

Central IL Foodbank Plans Big Move

  The Central Illinois Foodbank collects grocery items and gives them to charitable organizations in over 20 counties. The foodbank will be moving its Springfield location later this year to a new donated facility. Kaleigh Friend with the foodbank recently joined WUIS’ Rachel Otwell for this interview:

CLICK HERE for more information about the Central Illinois Foodbank.

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