BND Magazine

August 31, 2014

Reporter finally gets to write his own story

Taylor Pensoneau covered crime and politics as a newspaper reporter. He studied governors and gangsters as a book author. He represented Illinois coal companies as a lobbyist.

Now the 73-year-old retiree is telling his own story.

His self-published memoir, "Reporting on Life -- and People Along the Way," includes chapters about growing up in Belleville in the 1940s and '50s and starting his journalism career at the Belleville News-Democrat.

"Parts of the book were hard to write, like the two chapters on my brother," said Taylor, who lives in New Berlin, near Springfield. "But I wanted it on record."

His younger brother, Terry, was killed in Vietnam nine days before Christmas 1968.

Taylor was working at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by that time, covering the Illinois statehouse. He had just wrapped up a story on incoming Gov. Richard B. Ogilvie's administration when he got the call.

Friends and neighbors filled the front yard at his parents' house in Swansea. Family retreated to a bedroom for a private moment.

"That's the only time I ever saw tears in my dad's eyes," Taylor said. "And the first thing he said was, '(Terry) was a helluva guy.'"

In the book, Taylor also reminisces about Dutchman football at Belleville Junior College, journalism training at Mizzou, his days as a cub reporter, the editors who changed his life and stories that put him on the front page, including the Democratic National Convention in 1968 and Watergate in 1973.

He left journalism in 1978 to become vice president of the Illinois Coal Association, later serving as president and retiring in 2003.

Taylor released "Reporting on Life" earlier this year.

"I really enjoyed writing it," he said. "It made me think about some things, put some things into focus."

Taylor has written eight books, starting with a biography of former Illinois Gov. Dan Walker in 1993 (with Bob Ellis). He still keeps in touch with Walker, who served 18 months in prison for bank fraud and other charges not related to his governorship.

Taylor continued with biographies on Ogilvie, Illinois State Sen. W. Russell Arrington and U.S. Sen. Alan Dixon, of Belleville.

He self-published books on the Shelton gang and Black Charlie Harris, as well as a novel called "The Summer of '50." He operates Downstate Publications with his wife, Elizabeth, a retired editor of Outdoor Magazine.

"Both of the gangster books have been tremendously successful," he said.

"Reporting on Life" sells for $18.95 at downstatepublications.com. For more information, call 217-488-7709 or email downstatepublications@mchsi.

From "Reporting on Life"

A major turning point in Taylor Pensoneau's life was working as an intern at the Belleville News-Democrat in 1957, thanks to a recommendation from Lilian Jossem, his journalism teacher at Belleville Township High School.

"(Jossem) then informed me that the News-Democrat wanted her to select one of her students for a summer stint at the paper as a cub reporter.

"'You are the one I'm choosing,' she said. 'It will be a great opportunity for you, and I am confident you can do it.'

"I was stunned.My first thought was that this offered a legitimate reprieve from having to work in Dad's store. Then the bigger picture hit me.I actually was going to work at the News-Democrat!I was going to be a real reporter. For a real newspaper."

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