Fox Valley Labor News owner named WCC Featured Alumna

SUGAR GROVE—If there’s one thing Waubonsee Community College alumna Jennifer Rice has learned, it’s that things have a funny way of working out.

While taking a nine-year hiatus from journalism to work as a forklift operator was not Rice’s original plan, it was just the experience she needed to excel in her current role—owner and managing editor of The Fox Valley Labor News. Because of her hard work and persistence, Waubonsee is proud to honor Rice as its Featured Alumna for October.

Rice, currently a Romeoville, Ill., resident, was interested in journalism from an early age. She was on the school newspaper at West Aurora High School and wanted to attend Columbia College upon her graduation in 1990. However, she was working two jobs to support herself and so chose Waubonsee and its more
affordable tuition.

Once there, she continued her school newspaper career, earning a position as the arts and entertainment editor for “Insight,” Waubonsee’s student paper. Rice remembers the paper’s advisor and journalism instructor, Shirley Borel.

“Two nights a week, we’d be doing paste-up until 2 or 3 a.m.,” Rice said. “She usually stuck it out with us. She rarely went home.”

Rice also remembered how her high school clubs never seemed to get much coverage, and she was determined to change that.

“When you used to have to do paste-up by hand on a light table, there always seemed to be a 2-inch-by-2-inch space where nothing could really fit,” Rice said. “I tried to fill those spaces with as many club briefs as I could.”

In 1993, with her associate degree in hand, Rice could now follow her dream of going to Columbia College. She attended classes there for a while, but with the commute downtown, she was only taking one course at a time, and it was just taking too long to finish. Rice decided to wrap up her undergraduate days at Northern Illinois University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism in 1997.

Her first job in journalism was as a reporter for the Ottawa Daily Times, covering “cops and courts.”

“There was definitely a learning curve to understanding things like motions or continuations,” Rice said. “But the other things I had learned at Waubonsee—the late hours, the basics of asking people questions.”

Rice became skilled at the court beat during the three years she covered it. But in 2001, the Daily Times absorbed another paper in Streator, and rather than shift to general assignment reporting, Rice decided to look for a different opportunity.

Unfortunately, opportunities in journalism seemed hard to come by, and so to pay her bills, Rice took a job as a forklift operator at a local distribution center. It wasn’t a job she enjoyed, but it did offer her the flexible hours she needed while taking care of her mother, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

It was her mother’s death that ultimately gave Rice the encouragement she needed to continue to follow her dream. Around this time, Rice had been toying with the idea of going back to school for graphic design, but she didn’t have the money to buy a new Mac computer, especially when her PC was working just fine. Just as she was printing the last of the programs she had designed for her mother’s funeral services, her PC screen went blank; her computer was busted.

Taking that as the go-ahead sign from her mother, Rice soon bought a Mac loaded with graphic design software and enrolled at Waubonsee for the second time in her life.

“I was like a deer in the headlights at first,” Rice said. “Everyone else was so fast on the computer.”

Eventually, Rice started picking it up, and to this day, the words of Associate Professor of Graphic Design John Fu stick with her.

“I can still hear him say, ‘That’s too tight, that’s too busy,’” Rice said.

Rice was hoping to be busy in a new career after graduating with an Associate in Applied Science Degree in graphic design in 2009.

“I could now write and design, so I had an extra tool in my bag,” Rice said.

Ultimately, it was her ability to write that landed her a job as a freelance reporter at The Fox Valley Labor News in 2010. While she quickly became the publication’s only full-time reporter, the job wasn’t without its challenges.

“It was somewhat difficult, especially as a woman, to see the (inflatable) rat somewhere, walk up to the group of laborers and start talking,” Rice said. “Since unions are spread all over, some of them haven’t heard of the Labor News, but once I explain how I drove a forklift for nine years and have been in their shoes, it breaks the ice.”

Rice had worked her way up to managing editor when the paper’s owner/publisher Ed Richardson passed away this past January. When his family offered to sell her the paper, Rice had to decide between being a business owner or possibly being out of a job.

“I talked to my husband, and he said, ‘Let’s do it,’” Rice said. “Our mantra became ‘go big or go home.’”

The July 4 issue was Rice’s first as the paper’s owner, and so far she’s enjoying the freedom of being an entrepreneur.

“It’s so crazy how everything happens,” Rice said. “Sometimes I just have to stop and think about the fact that I’m a business owner and I have all the skills to do it.”