Judith Valente | WGLT

Judith Valente

News Reporter

After traveling the country for PBS-TV for the past 15 years, Judy Valente was looking for a new challenge. She is delighted to have found one WGLT as a member of the GLT news team, allowing her to grow here in Normal where she is planted. Judy is also an award-winning poet and the author of two poetry collections. She recently completed a memoir of her regular visits to Mount St. Scholastica, a Benedictine monastery in Atchison, Kansas, called "Atchison Blue: A Search for Silence, a Spiritual Home and a Living Faith." She is often invited to speak on how to slow down and live a more contemplative life.

In her free time, this New Jersey native likes to traverse the Illinois prairie and is a member of the Illinois Master Naturalist program. She enjoys theater, especially Broadway musicals and Heartland Theater's 10-Minute Play Festival. She is also a lay associate of the monastery in Atchison, having taken vows to live out the monastic values of listening, humility, hospitality, simplicity and stability in her life as a married woman – and as a professional writer and journalist.

Ways to Connect

Judith Valente

Although there were no violent clashes at Sunday's rally in Bloomington for Donald Trump, there were nonetheless some angry exchanges.

"Trump and Hitler," shouted one woman who held up a sign likening the Republican presidential candidate to  Adolph Hitler. Another protester called out, "Black lives matter." A Trump supporter shouted back at the two women, "That's racist. All lives matter. Respect the police, get a job , contribute to society, stop being a criminal. What's your problem!”

An attorney specializing in family law has been named an associate judge of the McLean County Circuit Court.

Amy L. McFarland is currently in private practice with Bloomington Legal Services, a firm that handles divorce, child custody and child support cases. McFarland has also worked as a mediator in family cases and as a court-appointed parenting coordinator.

Commonwealth Club / Creative Commons

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor became the latest public figure to lament the negative tone of the presidential contests. Without mentioning any candidate or party by name, Sotomayor suggested the candidates do more listening and less attacking.

Ralph Weisheit

High school can be a tough time for most teens. It is often even more traumatic for students struggling with their sexual or gender identity.

The rights of transgender individuals are fast becoming a new legal frontier. The Unit 5 School District, which includes Normal Community High School and Normal West High School, recently amended its policies to permit transgender students to use the restroom and locker room of their choice. 

Natural History Survey

Microscopes and specimen trays sit atop several long, rectangular tables in this windowless lab at the offices of the Illinois Natural History Survey in Champaign. A row of metal buckets lines the floor. Each bucket brims with what look like brown stones.

These are no ordinary stones. These jagged rocks are both precious and ancient. They contain amber-encased insect fossils, some of them as old as 20 million years.

Ralph Weisheit / WGLT

State Farm Insurance reported a $2 billion increase in net income in 2015, but much of that resulted from capital gains on stock investments State Farm has in other companies.

Net income for 2015 was $6.2 billion compared to $4.2 billion the previous year. State Farm spokesman Dave Phillips said the company benefited from its investment in the stock of companies that merged last year.

"Two mergers between four companies, specifically pharmaceuticals, and that helped with investment strategy and the investment profits of the company."

Tim Lindenbaum

Bird watchers are out these days looking for visitors from the Arctic and other far northern territories that are wintering in central Illinois. Those birds include snow buntings, Lapland longspurs and the horned lark. No winter bird is more sought after than the snowy owl, made famous by Hedwig, Harry Potter's trusty messenger bird. In another of our occasional series on Unknown Illinois,

Judith Valente

Several surprises await those who visit The Legacy Project exhibit  on view at Illinois State University's Milner Library until next Friday. The project pays tribute to the contributions of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender individuals throughout history.

McLean County League of Women Voters

Among those going to the polls during the March 15 presidential primary in Illinois will be a large number of first-time voters, many still in high school. A change in voter registration rules is allowing young people to vote in the primary as long as they will turn 18 by the general election on Nov. 8.

Phylis VerSteegh of the McLean County League of Women Voters has been going out to schools with other League members to register these young voters and listening to their comments on the long list of presidential contenders. 

Marko Vombergar/Aleteia / Creative Commons

Pope Francis is in the midst of his second trip to the Americas in less than a year. After touching down Friday in Havana, he has spent the past four days in Mexico. For many, the high point of his trip will be an outdoor Mass Wednesday near the U.S.-Mexico border. In a gesture expected to have widespread implications, the Pope will greet immigrants on the fence between El Paso, Texas and Cuidad Juarez in Mexico.

Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts

The Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts is staging a production of the award-winning Broadway musical, "Ragtime" on Thursday evening. Based on the popular novel by E.L. Doctorow, "Ragtime" blends fictional characters with historic figures and actual events.

Tina Salamone, executive director of the BCPA, says "Ragtime" deals with subject matter that could have been ripped from today's headlines and presidential debates.

Judith Valente

McLean County residents who receive their water from Lake Bloomington and Lake Evergreen believe they will likely face a water shortage as well as water quality issues within the next decade. They are split, however, on whether drilling for a new well, tapping into an existing aquifer, or constructing another surface reservoir similar to those two lakes is the solution.

Majeed Sayed

Earlier this week, President Obama visited a Baltimore mosque to signal he wants Americans to increase their understanding of Muslims living in the U.S. On Saturday, one of the three Twin Cities mosques will hold an open house where non-Muslims can join in prayer and ask questions about Islam.

Illinois Wesleyan University

It's not a public policy issue like immigration, trade or national defense, but religion is playing a prominent role in the presidential race. It's likely to become even more of an issue now that Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas won the Iowa caucuses largely through support from fellow evangelical Christians and is seeking their support in upcoming primary contests. Illinois Wesleyan University chaplain Elyse Nelson Winger says the religion factor in presidential politics is probably here to stay.

Judith Valente

Three months after the Mitsubishi automotive plant in Normal closed, many workers are still struggling to find fulltime employment. WGLT has been checking in periodically with some of the those workers, like former car assembler Mick Hannah. Hannah has now found part-time work with a private Internet firm that monitors student content on school computers. But that job will end when the school year is over.

Archdiocese of Chicago

The Archbishop of Chicago -- the leading Catholic official in Illinois -- is becoming a prominent spokesman among American bishops for stricter gun laws. In this wide-ranging interview with WGLT's Judy Valente, Blase Cupich talks about recent street violence in Chicago as well the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, and how people of faith should respond.

Pam Binder / Creative Commons

December twenty-first marks the Winter Solstice. It is the shortest day of the year, after which the daylight gradually begins to increase. Bloomington's Unitarian Universalist Church will be marking the event tomorrow evening(Friday December 18) with music and dance. Tonya Keach, one of the event organizers, says Winter Solstice has long been associated with spiritual introspection.

The Unitarian Universalist program begins at 6 p.m. and will include peace dances from various cultures, as well as a performance of ritual gong music based on an ancient healing service.

Princeton Public Library

'Tis the season for giving. How can you be sure your charitable donations are really being useful? Princeton University philosophy professor Peter Singer lays out a strategy for what he calls "effective altruism." His ideas are being hailed in some circles, but causing controversy in others. WGLT's Judy Valente first reported this story for PBS-TV's "Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly."

Orbis Books

For years, Tom Roberts edited Joan Chittister's columns for National Catholic Reporter. The two were friends and he says he thought he knew the Benedictine sister and spirituality writer well. That was before he began a series of lengthy and intense interviews with Chittister. Roberts' new biography plows some old ground, like Chittister's famous showdown with the Vatican over her support of women's ordination; her work on global human rights; her many books on monastic wisdom for contemporary readers, as well as her years as prioress of her monastery after the Vatican II reforms.

Courtesy of Benetvision

Joan Chittister, a Catholic sister and member of the Benedictine  monastic order, is considered one of the foremost spirituality authors of our time. She has written more than 50 books. Her latest book is about the men and women in the early church who retreated to the desert to seek God with an undivided heart. Chittister says the sayings handed down from them still resonate with people today.

Joan Chittister is a member of Mount St. Benedict Monastery in Erie, PA. Her new book is "In God's Holy Light: Wisdom from the Desert Monastics."

Clotee Allochuku / Flickr

The Bloomington-Normal chapter of Not In Our Town is taking aim at bullying, discrimination and hate talk in the public schools. The group, which promotes racial and cultural understanding, is launching Not In Our Schools with a series of training sessions for students at the high school and junior high levels. Camille Taylor, a retired educator and one of the coordinators, says Not In Our Town's wants to train student leaders who can tackle common social problems in the schools.

Judith Valente

It took 49 years, but Normal's holiday festivities this December will include the town's first official African American Santas. In 1966, NAACP activist Merlin Kennedy tried to ride a float in Bloomington's Christmas parade dressed as Santa. He was threatened with arrest. At age 89, Kennedy is getting a chance to rewrite that story's ending.

Kathleen Lorenz

Speaking to students at Community West High School in Normal today, Congressman Darin LaHood (R-Illinois) defended his recent vote to block Syrian refugees from resettling in the U.S. 

Students questioned the Peoria Republican about the backlash against refugees triggered by the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the Middle East.

Judith Valente / WGLT

In the months since Mitsubishi Motor Manufacturing announced that it is closing its plant in Normal, GLT News has been checking in with three longtime employees to see how they, their families and fellow workers are coping. On Tuesday, production line worker Mick Hannah will assemble the final Mitsubishi Outlander sport vehicles at the plant.

Daniel X. O'Neil / Flickr via Creative Commons

One of the framers of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act says that law ushered in many physical accommodations for the disabled, but failed in some ways to change society's attitudes about people with disabilities. Nationally-known advocate Marca Bristo told a Bloomington audience last night that educational and employment opportunities remain a challenge for the disabled.

James Yolkowski / Wikipedia

Within a four county region that includes McLean, Livingston, Ford and DeWitt counties, Life Centers for Independent Living helps thousands of people with disabilities obtain work and live on their own. LIFE CIL, as it's often called, recently signed an agreement with Connect Transit to help screen riders with disabilities to help determine the best transportation option. On Thursday (11/19), LIFE CIL celebrates 30 years of community service. The celebration coincides with the 25th anniversary of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. GLT's Judy Valente takes a look back -- and forward -- with LIFE CIL's executive director Gail Kear.

Demonstrator holds sign
Elvert Barnes / Flickr

The Immigration Project is marking 20 years of serving immigrants throughout central Illinois and parts of southern Illinois. To meet an increasing caseload, the group recently opened a satellite office in Champaign.

Flickr user tvnewsbadge

Attorney, author and justice advocate Sister Simone Campbell is best know for leading Nuns on the Bus tours across America to draw attention to the concerns of low income workers, immigrants and people with disabilities. She's known to many in McLean County too, having given the 2013 Jim and Gwen Pruyne Lecture at New Covenant Community Church in Normal.

Interfaith Worker Justice / WGLT News

Wage theft is the deliberate withholding or underpayment of wages by employers. On November 18, workers across the country will hold a series of events to focus attention on the problem. Interfaith Worker Justice is a Chicago-based organization that helps workers across the country who have been treated unfairly.