Rachel Otwell

Reporter/ The Scene Blog

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Read Rachel's "The Scene" blog.

Rachel's reports focus on the arts, community, and diverse culture. She produces WUIS' original program, Illinois Edition. She also hosts The Scene, which airs on Fridays and features cultural happenings in the central Illinois region.

 She's a 2012 graduate of the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois Springfield. While working toward that degree she spent a session covering the state legislature for WUIS and Illinois Public Radio with a focus on fracking. Rachel also holds degrees from UIS in Liberal & Integrative Studies, Women & Gender Studies, and African-American Studies. She's tutored Rwandan refugees in Ohio, volunteered at a Kenyan orphanage,  served as an activities assistant at a nursing home, and volunteered at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand. 

Rachel started a career in public media in 2011 when she interned for the National Public Radio program Tell Me More with Michel Martin in Washington, DC. Her reports have also appeared on NPR's Weekend Edition, NPR's All Things Considered, NPR's Morning Edition, WorkingNow.org, and 51%.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Ever walked around an art gallery and marveled at the works you know you would never be able to afford? Well, here's your chance to get a piece of art for free. Judah Johnson and Brad Balster are both local artists with a flair for nostalgia and screen printing.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

With five hopefuls throwing their name in the ring to be Springfield's next Mayor (current Mayor Mike Houston, Sangamon County auditor Paul Palazzolo, city treasurer Jim Langfelder, activist Sam Johnson, and Ward 2 Alderman Gail Simpson), WUIS is reaching out to hear from each candidate on why the desire the role.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

The holidays can bring out the compassionate side of people. Some might be inspired to donate to charities or take on volunteer work. For one local man, helping the less fortunate is something he does on a daily basis. But it wasn't always that way.

Donna Lounsberry

WUIS is partnering with actor and renowned Abraham Lincoln impersonator Fritz Klein, the enduring and creative local director Phil Funkenbusch, and treasured Illinois playwright and author Ken Bradbury for a unique and engaging evening celebrating the arts. And you're invited!

springfieldnaacp.org

It's been about a week since the decision was made not to indict police officer Darren Wilson after the shooting death of Michael Brown. Reactions to that decision are still resulting in protests, prayer vigils, and round-table discussions across the nation.

In Springfield, Teresa Haley who heads the local chapter of the NAACP has been at the center of much of the events concerning issues like racism and police brutality -- issues that Ferguson has brought to the forefront of many peoples' minds.

Listen to our interview with Haley, here: 

http://www.hrc.org/campaigns/municipal-equality-index

Same sex marriage took effect in Illinois earlier this year, and while our state has joined the ranks of others that offer an increased amount of rights and protections to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, cities differ in laws and policies that promote equality. A report that was released a few weeks ago looked at cities from around the country - seven of which are in Illinois.

Courtesy of the Springfield Choral Society

You can hear The Springfield Choral Society perform Handel's Messiah on Saturday, November 29th at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (524 E. Lawrence Ave) at 7:30 pm.

 Choral Director Marion van der Loo joined us for this interview about it: 

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

 

Dozens of people gathered last night at the Union Baptist Church on the east side of Springfield for a prayer vigil. It was held in response to recent news out of Ferguson, Missouri.  

 

Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis Public Radio's Rachel Lippmann has been covering the situation in Ferguson, MO since it started back in August. She was at the announcement made by Prosecutor Bob McCulloch on Monday night that a grand jury chose not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.

In this interview, Lippmann tells us about the reactions from Brown's family, protests and riots, and more:

It's the 28th year for the family-friendly New Year's Eve event. The Springfield Area Arts Council is hosting a 5K run the Sunday before December 31st.  An optional buffet dinner is also back for a second year. And First Night's Laura Vaught highlighted a new participant: 

Courtesy of SIU School of Medicine

This week is "Get Smart about Antibiotics Week." It's meant to address the fact that a large amount of antibiotics are used inappropriately, which can lead to what are known as "super bugs".

Christy Bennett is a Springfield native who now lives in Chicago where she heads the band Fumée Gypsy Project. Bennett sings and plays accordian. The music they play is called “gypsy-jazz”, made popular by artists like Django Reinhardt. Bennett stopped by the Suggs Studio at WUIS with band mates Casey Nielsen (guitar) and Nate Baker (mandolin).

Luca Casarteli/Wiki Commons

November 20th is known as "Transgender Day of Remembrance." It's an acknowledgement of those who were the victims of violence caused by their gender identification and presentation. Unlike the rest of the words in the acronym "LGBT" - transgender is not a sexuality. It is an umbrella term used for those who feel the sex they were born as is not an accurate depiction of the gender they feel themselves to be. 

fumeegypsyproject.com

Come see Fumée perform and be interviewed by Rachel Otwell at noon on Wednesday, November 19th. That will be at WUIS, on the campus of University of Illinois Springfield (in the WUIS building.)

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Kari Bedford is a well-known photographer in the Springfield area. Her usual focus is on portraits and events like high school graduation and weddings, but she's decided to take her skills and apply them to an additional cause. She started the project "Girls In Focus" to diversify the stories that are told by and about young women through photography. How exactly? Well, Bedford joined us for this interview to explain her project and her goals: 

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

The group "Africans in Central Illinois" and  Grace United Methodist Church  are hosting an event on Saturday night at 5 at Southeast High School. It will raise funds for Doctors Without Borders  in the fight against Ebola and include dance, a fashion show, music, and a silent auction. We spoke with Munah Jallah and Braimah Kanu about it:

CLICK HERE for a piece about the event in the Illinois Times.

Javier Ortega // hankandcupcakes.com

The story behind the combo that goes by Hank and Cupcakes is a global one - one that brought a couple together through their mutual love of music and a stint in the Israeli army band. They are now based in Brooklyn and are on tour for their newest album, 'Cash 4 Gold'. Their music is hard to define - but it is heavily anchored in pop and electro sounds - though they manage to play without synthesizers or guitar.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

It's not all that often that a play begins at the end - but that's exactly the case for a new work by Illinois author Ken Bradbury. In the one-act, one-man play, titled The Last Full Measure - Bradbury explores what Lincoln may have been thinking near the end of the his life. The play premieres at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum on Thursday and runs through the weekend. It will be performed by actor Fritz Klein - one of the foremost Lincoln impersonators.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has fallen out of the media spotlight here in the US to some extent, but not for one local man named Mike Mheidze. He grew up in the former Soviet Union and has lived in Springfield for 20 years now.

https://www2.illinois.gov

Niurca Torres was born in Puerto Rico and lived in Miami where she worked as a real estate agent and ran a catering business. In 1995 she took the invitation to go on a road-trip with some new friends in an R.V. They were stopped by police in Henry County, and 1,100 pounds of cocaine were found to be along for the ride. The woman was convicted of trafficking a controlled substance and was ultimately given a 20 year sentence to serve. She's always claimed innocence, saying she did not know about the drugs

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Brighton Beach Memoirs is a play set in 1937 in Brooklyn, New York. It follows the inner-workings of a middle-class family. And it's a coming-of-age tale that mixes drama and humor, and focuses on a teen who is going through growing pains while also dealing with family conflicts.  We were joined by a few members of that production, director Missy Thibodeaux-Thompson, and actors Liza Torrence & Diamond Dixon:

   

JoAnn Verburg

A Decatur native and poet is making his way to Springfield this weekend to share his writings. Jim Moore now lives in between Minneapolis and Italy, which makes for a unique perspective in his writing. He recently joined us for this chat:

On  Sunday, November 9 at 2 p.m. Moore will read his poems as part of the “Poets in the Parlor” series at The Vachel Lindsay Home in Springfield (603 South 5th St.).

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

For some people, paying to watch one Power Point presentation after another might sound insane. But with interesting topics covered at a brisk pace, plenty of refreshments and a snazzy name - such events are becoming popular around the globe.

WUIS/Rachel Otwell

Today, we wrap our series of spooky stories by local authors in honor of Halloween. Listen to Springfield writer Jessica Hagemann read an excerpt from her story titled, 'To Have & To Hold':

You can read the entire story HERE. This story contains adult language and themes that could offend some readers.

Matthew Penning

Amazon has announced it will open facilities in Illinois, saying it will bring 1,000 jobs to the state. That announcement was made Tuesday. But what does it really mean for the state when it comes to jobs, as well as taxes for consumers? Illinois Issues' Jamey Dunn has been following the online retailer and its relationship with the state for years now (read a past report here). She joins us for this interview:

courtesy of Jill Barth

WUIS is wrapping up its series of scary stories, written by local authors and presented in honor of Halloween season. This second-to-last story comes to us from Jill Barth:

CLICK HERE to read the story.

courtesy of H.W. Devlin

H.W. Devlin sent us this story, which he recorded himself. Devlin says he, "...is a lifelong resident of Virginia, Illinois with three children, a dog and five sisters. He enjoys running, fishing, carpentry, gardening and coffee -- not necessarily in that order."

CLICK HERE to read the story.

WUIS/Rachel Otwell

Here's our latest in the scary story series, listen to Ted Morrissey read his piece titled, "Planes":

 

You can read the story, HERE.

WUIS/Rachel Otwell

Here's our latest in the scary story series, listen to Susan Vondrak read her piece titled, "The Diviner":

You can read the story, HERE.

Ferran Salat Coll/TNC

It’s been a long time since you could say there were bison roaming the prairie in Illinois. The last ones were thought to have died off here or moved to other places in the 1800s. And while bison have still been raised here on farms, there haven’t been efforts for bison conservation in the state. That is, until now.

Cody Considine is an ecologist for the The Nature Conservancy at the Nachusa Grasslands. He joined us for this interview:

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