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Celebrate the new year by revisiting GLT's most-read stories, best photos, and top local music picks of 2018.

State Farm Leads GLT's Most-Read Stories of 2018

State Farm agent speaks to customer
State Farm
It was a big year for changes at State Farm, the largest employer in Bloomington-Normal.

For many news sites, the most-clicked stories aren’t always the most important ones. 

We’re proud to report that WGLT.org bucks that trend.

The Top 10 most-read stories of 2018 on WGLT.org include some of our most impactful, important reporting from across the community. They’re about people in Bloomington-Normal dealing with changes in our local economy, facing great tragedy, or overcoming obstacles to the life they want to lead.

1. Changes at State Farm

It was a big year for changes at State Farm, the largest employer in Bloomington-Normal. A major reorganization lead to hundreds of job cuts and relocations. GLT’s reporting on the competitive landscape facing State Farm identified many of the reasons behind those changes. We also reported on the departure of State Farm’s top PR executive and $1,000 bonuses given to employees. All were among our most-read stories of the year.

Charlie Crabtree
Credit Unit 5
Charlie Crabtree, 72, served as a scorekeeper and public address announcer for the Normal West girls basketball team. He was killed in the Dec. 5 crash.

2. Normal West Bus Crash

Word spread quickly on social media on a Wednesday night in December, as rumors swirled about a bus crash on Interstate 74 involving a Normal West girls basketball team. Hours later, authorities confirmed that two adults were killed in the crash, but that the students were largely unharmed. That was welcome news for a Normal West family that’s lost several students and former students in car accidents in recent years. Unit 5 officials later said it was a “miracle” that there were not more causalities in the head-on, high speed bus crash on I-74.

3. Bloomington Mom Shares Heroin Heartache To Help Others

Rickielee Benecke opened up to GLT’s Colleen Reynolds about the loss of her son, Keegan, to an accidental overdose from heroin laced with Carfentanyl, a lethal synthetic opioid. Her story was published in January, just as McLean County was reckoning with startling statistics from the coroner’s office showing over 40 overdose deaths in 2017. Stories like these prompted local authorities to launch several new initiatives aimed at curbing opioid abuse in McLean County.

4. Central Illinois Small Animal Rescue Facing Shutdown

This story, reported by one of GLT’s student reporters, resonated with readers in a different way. It was about the closure of the Central Illinois Small Animal Rescue (CISAR) in Colfax. Last spring, the shelter was looking for homes for its furry tenants ahead of the closure, which was prompted by the retirement of its owners. By March, CISAR said all of its animals had been adopted or placed with a different rescue.

5. Tree Removal Causes Stir In Bloomington's Founders' Grove

This odd story sparked a lot of interest, especially in the Founders’ Grove neighborhood in Bloomington. Community members expressed concern about why a once-healthy tree mysteriously died near the historic Grey Ledges property. The owner had asked the city to remove the tree previously, apparently to make space for a new driveway. The city declined, and the tree later died. Police said the soil under the dead tree reeked of gasoline or diesel fuel. With the tree gone, the driveway was eventually finished.

Isabel Molina
Credit Stephanie Roberts
Isabel Molina, 16, took her own life earlier this year after struggling to get a youth psychiatrist appointment.

6. Lack Of Child Psychiatrists Poses Threat To McLean County Youth

In a two-part series, GLT’s Mary Cullen explored McLean County’s shortage of psychiatrists available to see troubled young patients. She told the story of 16-year-old Isabel Molina, who took her own life a little over a year ago. Her mother says their inability to find psychiatric care was a factor in her death. These stories were quickly followed by news that McLean County’s Center for Human Services would no longer accept new psychiatric clients, as a result of funding cuts.

7. Bloomington Pastor McSwain Remembered As ‘Dynamic, Kind’

Bloomington-Normal lost many influential community members in 2018, including Frank McSwain Sr., the longtime pastor of Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church. McSwain was also involved in multiple community efforts outside of the church. Moving forward, Dec. 8 will now be recognized as Rev. Frank McSwain Sr. Remembrance Day in Bloomington. This fall GLT also reported on the deaths of well-known local artists Harold Gregor and Ken Holder.

8. Frontier Airlines Returning To Central Illinois Regional Airport

Many Bloomington-Normal residents were happy to see new nonstop service to Denver and Orlando announced in June. Frontier previously offered service at CIRA, but that ended in 2015. “Anything that increases capacity or the number of seats available is good because it offers a higher number of low fares, which helps attract passengers to CIRA,” said Airport Executive Director Carl Olson.

9. Children of Skilled Indian Workers In B-N Face Uncertain Future

The Trump administration’s approach to the U.S.-Mexico border made many headlines in 2018, but the immigration issue is much broader than any one country. GLT reported last winter about the uncertain future for some children of Indian workers in Bloomington-Normal—their lives on hold because of a 70-year green card backlog for workers from India who want to make their stay permanent. GLT’s Charlie Schlenker talked to those teens about how that’s impacted their lives.

Brittney Mikesell
Credit David Proeber / The Pantagraph
The Pantagraph
Brittney Mikesell in McLean County court in April. Mikesell faces murder charges in the death of her boyfriend, Cullen Hedrick.

10. Fatal Attraction: How A Young Couple's Dark Journey Led To Murder

This story was the first of two cooperative investigations between GLT and The Pantagraph into local crime. GLT’s Ryan Denham and The Pantagraph’s Edith Brady-Lunny explored the troubled relationship between Cullen Hedrick and Brittney Mikesell, which came to a violent end in late 2017 at a south Bloomington trailer park. Hedrick was killed by someone acting in self-defense, and Mikesell was charged in his murder. Her case is still pending.

People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in Bloomington-Normal. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.

Stories, music, and more from the GLT staff.