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John Drury
1927 - 2007  Class of 2004  Media Arts
Born in Peoria, Illinois, on January 4, 1927, to Katherine (Jeffries) and Logan Francis Drury, John Drury was still a baby when his father, a service station auditor for Standard Oil of Indiana, moved the family to Aurora, Illinois. Later, Logan Drury would manage the bulk plant on River Street near the radio station WMRO, where his youngest son would take his first steps towards a distinguished career in journalism.

John began his education at Young School on the east side of Aurora, moved to Ottawa after the first grade, and returned to Aurora in 1940 as a seventh grader to attend Todd School on the west side. The family, including two of his older brothers, Phillip and James, lived near the school on Spruce Street. It was a neighborhood that later attracted fellow Hall of Famers Bruce and Claire Newton, who discovered that John had autographed a beam in their attic. “Oh, yes, John said. “Bill Foulke lived in that house with his grandmother and as difficult as it may be to believe, we used to play basketball up there.” He added with typically understated humor, “His grandmother was very hard of hearing.”

John advanced to West Aurora High School where he served on the student council every year and played football every season. In the classroom he had a flair for the English language. “Several of my English teachers encouraged me to write,” he remembered now, “most especially Mrs. Harschbarger, who was a great influence on me. My class has kept in touch with her and she would come to our reunions, as full of energy as ever.” Like many others from Aurora, he worked for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad. While in high school he had a weekend job restoring ball bearings using a small furnace. He also hitchhiked to Batavia to work at the Campana plant on Route 25, preparing tubes of balm for shipment to the military. He even dug ditches for a local plumbing contractor, the late Ken Swanson, who also became one of his best friends and a lifelong connection to Aurora.

During his senior year, in December, 1944, John joined the Navy, spurred to this patriotic service by the death of his oldest brother, Logan, who was killed in 1942 in the first American strike at the Japanese at Guadalcanal. While his parents were collecting his diploma, John was in basic training at Great Lakes Naval Base, and weeks later was on a troop ship heading for Pearl Harbor, watching the U.S. fleet steaming out in battle formation. For a year he served aboard a weather ship based at the tiny Pacific atoll of Eniwetok. The small craft would maintain station for a month at a time at an imaginary point called Bird Dog 3, monitoring the atmospheric conditions and prevailing winds. “The best thing about having Eniwetok as home base,” he remembered, “is that they had two 35mm film projectors there. You could watch an entire movie uninterrupted. On board ship, we had just one projector, a 16mm, and the movie had to stop every time the reel needed changing. I can’t tell you what a pleasure it was to watch Rita Hayworth in Gilda in one sitting.”

Honorably discharged in August of 1946, John returned to Aurora. He enrolled at Lyons Township Junior College and joined the Aurora Dramatic Club with friends like Tom Boyd and Dave Morris, who went on to a national career in the theater. His style and mellow voice convinced Carol Coffey, the wife of WMRO-Radio executive Vince Coffey, that he was a natural for radio, and John ran the station on weekends, also announcing and writing commercials.

After junior college, he transferred to the University of Iowa where he studied radio and television speech for two and a half years and worked at the student-run station, WSUI. His colleagues there included Milo Hamilton, later to become the voice of the Houston Astros, Bill Wolf and Hal Hart, and he considered the experience excellent training in radio. “I got a great education at Iowa, but when my GI benefits stopped I decided it was time to get out and get going on a career. Tom Brokaw did pretty much the same thing.”
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Moving on to a career meant finding transportation out of Iowa City and the ex-GI was running low on money. “I hocked a couple of suits,” he relayed, “to finance my first move.” He launched his career in Davenport, Iowa, doing the early and late news as well as a record show every night, but in a couple of months was on the rise, taking a job as a staff announcer at a station in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and then a job doing news at another station. In that era only the larger cities could afford to hire someone to do news exclusively, and the position of staff announcer, unknown today, was the core of broadcasting. It was while he was doing a benefit show that he caught the eye and ear of a radio and television station in Indianapolis and was hired to do news and staff announcing. He replaced Bob Bell, who later gained fame in Chicago as Bozo the Clown, doing the “National Tea News,” a fifteen-minute roundup. Bell was on the move to Cincinnati with another Chicago legend-to-be, Wally Phillips.

In 1955 John was hired by a Milwaukee television station to work as a staff announcer, but within weeks was doing the 10 o’clock news there as well as a Sunday Men’s Club interview show and a daily master of ceremonies stint from 3 to 6 p.m. with live musicians and a variety of content.

In 1962 he auditioned successfully in Chicago for WBBM-TV as a staff announcer. Within six months he was reporting, and substituting for Chicago legend Fahey Flynn. As he put it, “I never left the newsroom again.” “I was up to my neck in work, I was doing a lot of writing and I had a daily five-minute feature called the Drury Line which was run live and then rebroadcast later during the nightly movie.”

He moved to WGN-TV in 1967, then to WLS-TV in 1970, and then returned to WGN in 1979. His last move was back to WLS-TV in 1984, where he remained top anchor until his retirement in 2002. A tenure that long, seventeen years, is practically unheard of in today’s television environment, which speaks to the respect and admiration offered him by his loyal audiences.

His wife of thirty-five years, Marjorie, died suddenly at the age of 54 in 1987. They had four children, Logan, James, Richard and Susan. His loyal friends Ken and Esther Swanson, collaborating with mutual friends Jack and Susan Moyer set John up on a blind date with Antoinette Guercio, an interior designer in Warrenville, and they were married a year later.

Only once did John ever consider leaving journalism. He toyed with the notion of entering the restaurant industry, and with the encouragement of Ed Schmitt, an Auroran and president of the McDonald’s Corporation, signed on for their training. He betook his famous face and voice to Janesville, Wisconsin, where he hoped to find some anonymity. While learning the drive-through protocols, however, his “Welcome to McDonald’s, may I take your order?” was just too much for the customers, many of whom suggested to him that he get a job in broadcasting. He decided they were right.

In pursuit of great stories, John Drury has ridden in airplanes, traveled in submarines, viewed the Apollo 17 shuttle launch, and moderated presidential debates. Some of his more impressive programs included interview sessions with Frank Capra, as well as both John and Robert Kennedy during a Wisconsin presidential primary. He spent an entire afternoon with Richard Nixon, who suggested the veteran journalist should ask him difficult questions. John complied.

During his years reporting for WGN-TV, John was once paid a visit by Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne and her entourage of public relations and cabinet officials. They suggested he had not reported the truth about the mayor’s use of public money for city festivals designed to promote her administration. John won the confrontation, and Jane left public office a short time later.

During this time, John received a dazzling array of honors. He was named Father of the Year in 1983. He was the recipient of four Emmys for individual stories - in 1982, 1988, 1989 and again in 2003, for “9/11/02 The New Homeland”. In 1989, he was presented with a Distinguished Journalism Award from the Better Government Association, an honor earned by journalists such as Mike Wallace and Brian Ross. In 1996, John was inducted into the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame and the Museum of Broadcast Communications. He also was recognized with the coveted Silver Circle Award from the Chicago Chapter of the National Academy of Broadcasting Arts and Sciences, and the Advertising Club of Chicago named him Man of the Year for 2000-2001.

In later years a resident of Wheaton, but John has never strayed far from his Aurora roots and returned for periodic visits with long-time friends. In the 1970s, John was invited back to West Aurora High School to give the commencement address, where among his youthful audience was a future colleague, Tom Skilling, the long-time meteorologist for WGN-TV and the Chicago Tribune. In a 20-minute documentary produced in the late 1980s entitled “Aurora, A Great Hometown,” John Drury narrated the story of the Aurora area’s early roots, growth, diversity, attractions, and future dreams for being the second largest city in Illinois.

He served on the committee that created the Aurora Veteran’s Memorial in the early 1990s. He was selected as Grand Marshal of the city’s Memorial Day Parade in 1998 and performed the same honors for the homecoming parade at West Aurora High School in 2002. He assisted with fund-raisers for such groups as the Fox Valley Symphony and the Aurora Exchange Club. His narration of a segment on Aurora’s radio history became part of the Millennium Moments project for Aurora Community Television, a project which indirectly spawned the development of the Arts Hall of Fame in 2000. Mayor David Stover declared May 16, 2002, as John Drury Day in Aurora.
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John Drury signed off the air for the last time as anchor newsman for the 10 o’clock news on ABC-TV, Channel 7, Chicago. On March 1, 2002 . He had, according to Bruce Dumont of the Museum of Broadcast Communications, been viewed by more people than any other Chicago newscaster.

To honor his lifetime achievements and dedication to news reporting, the City of Chicago declared his retirement day, March 1, as “John Drury Day,” and that was just the beginning of a surge of awards and honors. He received the Northern Illinois University School of Journalism Journalist of the Year award, the Chicago Press Veterans Press Vet of the Year award, and the City Club’s Excellence in Journalism Award. Also in 2002, North Central College established the John Drury Radio Award scholarship. The Three Fires Council of Boy Scouts presented him their Distinguished Citizen Award, to recognize his own scouting days and his distinguished career.

In an interview with reporter Benjie Hughes of The Beacon News on the eve of his retirement, John said he never regarded what he did for a living for 50 years to be work. His touchstones were to speak clearly, speak honestly and know what is going on in the world. He considered himself a nightly guest in the homes of his viewers, and they, perceiving his unfailing warmth, sincerity and trustworthiness, rewarded him with amazing loyalty. He has never said “no” to a request for an autograph.

John authored a feature story about his brother’s death during World War II, using entries from a recently-resurfaced 1942 diary kept by his mother, which was published on Sunday, November 2, 2003, by the Chicago Tribune. John died in 2007 from ALS.


© Nancy S. Hopp and Mary Clark Ormond
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 Earned four Emmys  A member of the Chicago Journalism Ha