ROCHELLE — After earning an associate’s degree with honors from Kishwaukee College, Rochelle native Jeff Helfrich had planned to study business at Ohio State University. When Helfrich arrived on campus, he was instead drawn to writing. It was then that the talented 2013 Rochelle Township High School graduate changed career paths to focus to journalism.
Following graduation from Ohio State University and stints with the Rockford Register Star, Freeport Journal-Standard and Ogle County Newspapers, Helfrich has returned to his hometown, where he recently was named the managing editor of the Rochelle News-Leader.
“We are very pleased to have Jeff on board leading our editorial department,” Publisher Mike Feltes said. “He has a passion for covering community news and he will write impactful articles that will not only keep readers informed of what is happening in their town, but highlight many unique individuals and groups that make the ‘Hub City’ tick… We will be offering more online news as well as advertising products and services. We will rely on Jeff’s experience and expertise to appeal to a wider audience that gets its local news in different formats.”
Helfrich started his new role on May 6 and has spent the past two weeks getting acclimated and connecting with news sources in the community. In addition to writing for traditional print formats, Helfrich also specializes in digital media and video editing, both areas upon where the News-Leader staff plans to continue expanding.
“I’m looking forward to not only building relationships with members of the community, but strengthening the ones I already have,” Helfrich said. “Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any stories that you think need to be told… During my time in college and reporting around the area I’ve learned there are many different ways to tell a story. I couldn’t be more excited to put my skills to use in the town I grew up in.”
Feltes, who previously served as general manager of the Ogle County Life for many years, also began overseeing the News-Leader day-to-day operations in early 2020 after John Shank left that role to take over as chief operating officer of News Media Corporation, the parent company that includes more than 60 publications and 250 employees in eight states.
“Dealing with COVID-19 restrictions while getting my arms around this position has made it an interesting year to say the least,” Feltes said. “But as we start to see community events and businesses begin to ramp up again, I am excited about the direction we are moving here and look forward to providing our readers and advertising clients with quality products each week.”
Meet the staff
In addition to Helfrich joining the News-Leader staff, others have taken on new roles at the newspaper office as well. Russ Hodges, who has served as sports editor for the past five years, will continue in that role, but he was also named special sections editor. Hodges and Helfrich will team up to provide comprehensive local news and sports coverage in both print and online.
Former editor Jennifer Simmons now supervises the operation’s production department and will focus on advertising designs, page layouts and department work flow for the News-Leader, Ogle County Life, Ashton Gazette, Amboy News, Mendota Reporter and Clinton Journal. Simmons will work with longtime production staff member Rita Stanfa, head pressman Al Huhn, mailroom supervisor Laurie Kramer and her staff to ensure the quality and timeliness of the press runs that are printed each week in Rochelle for the entire Illinois newspaper group.
Kelly White and Maria Shank enthusiastically assist walk-in customers, field phone calls and complete a variety of daily front office duties. White and Shank also assist circulation manager Wanda Brimhall, her drivers and her carriers to assure on-time and faithful delivery of newspapers to homes or mail boxes, store racks and coin machines throughout the town.
“We are fortunate to have many experienced staff members who have dedicated themselves to producing a variety of strong products over many years,” Feltes said. “But there are also many new faces on the News-Leader and Life sales staff including Tiffiny Smith, April Price and Andrew Heiserman, who are eager to meet with our advertising clients and help them reach and attract more customers with our print, digital and social media options.”
As the News-Leader heads into its second century of providing valuable news and advertising vehicles for the community, the staff maintains its mission of chronicling the events that impact the lives of Rochelle area residents.
“Our industry has seen many changes over the past two decades since I’ve been here,” Feltes said. “But we have adapted to the needs of our readers and clients while remaining committed to being known as a thorough and credible information source. We appreciate the support of our loyal readers and clients, and we encourage all residents and advertisers to give us a try and take advantage of the special deals we are offering right now in this special edition.”