Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

September 11, 2013

RAY MOSCOWITZ: He hangs tough with Alice and Will

Death knocked, he didn't answer -- twice.

MC Weekly

---- — His near-fatal events evolved from health problems that afflicted him starting in his early 20s while he worked at the Peru Tribune.

Acid reflux. Ulcers. Gall bladder removal at Dukes in 1997. The surgeon told him, “I don’t think this is the end of your troubles.”

The surgeon was right.

He was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in November 1998. That was not surprising. There was a family history of digestive diseases — colitis, diverticulitis.

He was in remission for almost 12 years, but the disease returned with a vengeance in February 2012. He was having dinner with his wife and son in a Michigan City restaurant, enjoying a hamburger, soaked in barbecue sauce, and potato chips. Suddenly his vision blurred. He blacked out.

He regained consciousness a minute or two later on the floor. Soon EMTs were transporting him to a hospital. En route, he passed out again.	“That was the start of a long, grueling journey,” he recalls. “Crohn's … had zeroed in for the kill.”

There have been “two bowel resections and one incisional hernia procedure that stemmed from the second surgery,” he notes.

“If someone had told me then that 2012 would involve eight trips to the hospital and two surgeries, I would have replied, ‘No way. Not me. Not at 42.’ But that's precisely what happened.”

Andrew Tallackson — as popular with people he worked with and people he covered in Miami County as anyone I have seen in some 50 years of journalism — has endured it all with courage, laughter, a religious transformation, a devoted wife and a precocious little boy.

“I suppose I could be depressed by all this, but the thing is, I’m still here,” Tallackson says. “I have amazing family and friends who help me get through it, and I have my faith, which is a constant strength. When people say ‘life is too short to sweat the small stuff,’ I get it.”

I met Tallackson in Spring 1992, when he attended a job fair at DePauw University, where, as editorial director for Nixon Newspapers Inc., I was recruiting people. I sensed Tallackson had the goods. I gave him a solid recommendation to the NNI editors.

When an opening for a reporter at the Peru Tribune occurred in the summer, I told Managing Editor Alan Blanchard I would call Tallackson to see if he was still available.

I didn’t expect him to be. But he was, working part-time in a law office two blocks from his parents’ home in the Miller Beach area of Gary. We scheduled an interview.

The Tribune wound up hiring a guy loaded with ability and a semi-sardonic, semi-neurotic, tonic personality that draws people to him.

“It ended up being the best experience you could ask for,” Tallackson says about his Peru years. “Learned how to be a reporter in the best sense of the word by getting out in the field, meeting people and learning to ask the right questions. I covered everything from county government to police to the Peru School Board.

“What made it an amazing experience is that you can make mistakes in a small town and be forgiven for them, not only by your employers, but by the community. You learn and you grow from your mistakes. Peru, without question, was a nurturing environment to start my journey as a journalist.”

The journey’s seeds were sown 43 years ago, when Andrew Peter Tallackson was born in Chicago to Stephen Tallackson, then working for Amtrack, investigating employment complaints, now retired and a part-time teacher at two Purdue satellite campuses; and Judith Tallackson, now retired after teaching elementary school in Chicago schools for more than 34 years. A brother, Erik Michael, came along four years later and is now a freelance photographer.

Movies and music. They captured Tallackson early on.

As a student at The Emerson School for Visual and Performing Arts in Gary, from which he graduated in 1988, Tallackson hoped to study at the noted University of Southern California film school.

At Emerson, Tallackson majored in piano and violin, performing on the piano in numerous shows, such as “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Guys and Dolls.” He also worked his junior and senior years for the Post-Tribune in Gary, reviewing movies from a teenager’s perspective.

“I loved the escape [movies] offered, the journey into another world or someone else’s life that in many cases was entirely foreign to you,” he said.

One night he walked into the living room and saw his parents watching famed film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel reviewing “Star Wars,” which, he says, was his all-time favorite movie at the time.

“I asked my parents what they were watching,” Tallackson recalls. “My parents explained the concept of the show. I replied, ‘You mean they get paid to watch movies?’ Right then and there, I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I began writing movie reviews for my elementary school newspaper and through high school.”

His interest in the piano was sparked one Saturday afternoon as he sat on the living room sofa and listened to his mother sing and play.

“I want to play just like you,” he said. So before enrolling at Emerson, he started taking piano lessons.

During his junior year at Emerson, he visited the USC film school. The dean gave him “the best advice ever”: Get a degree in journalism at a first-class university and consider USC for grad school.

So Tallackson enrolled at IU, ending up as a double major in journalism and film.

“I was heavily involved in writing and editing at the Indiana Daily Student,” he says. I had nightly screenings for film classes two to three times a week.”

After he was graduated, he decided to seek a newspaper job.

“I was accepted to USC for undergraduate and graduate studies, but never went,” he said. “Too expensive. Back then, it was $20,000 a year. So, I figured, get the experience now in journalism, and maybe an entertainment writing position would open.”

The position the Peru Tribune offered him wasn’t for covering entertainment — that would come later at the Tribune’s sister paper in Michigan City, The News-Dispatch, in 1997 — but Peru was a start.

As the Internet was blossoming, so was Tallackson. I had taken on added duties as Tribune publisher and decided to create a key position for news online. I knew Jeff Ward, who had become managing editor, had an excellent mind for the job. I made Tallackson managing editor. The duo worked well together.

I eventually returned to being editorial director full-time, Ward left Peru for the Muncie Star-Press, where he now oversees the opinion page, and Tallackson moved to Michigan City.

But not before he met Alice Marie Hoffman.

“I had about given up hope of meeting someone,” he recalls. “A co-worker tried to fix me up with a woman. She said, ‘She isn’t too smart, but she makes great fried chicken.’”

A mutual friend introduced Alice and Drew to each other. He recalls, “I thought Alice was the most beautiful woman I’d ever met. … She quoted a line from ‘Airplane,’ my favorite movie, and I knew then and there I would marry her.”

Alice, who was raised in Flora, was teaching at the former Lincoln Elementary School. She had earned an undergraduate degree in elementary education from Purdue and a master’s at Indiana University Kokomo.

When the Tallacksons moved to Michigan City, Alice was hired by Purdue North Central in Westville to supervise student teachers. She now teaches second grade in the LaPorte Community School Corp.

Since moving to Michigan City, Tallackson has made a religious conversion.

“Alice grew up in a Protestant home, me in a Jewish home,” he says when asked about his transformation. “I can’t put my finger on it, but growing up, I never clicked with Judaism. Had nothing against it, was never embarrassed or ashamed of being Jewish.

“When problems with Crohn’s disease began presenting considerable threats to my well-being, I found strength through Christianity and was baptized in November 2003.”

He needed strength again a year later, when Alice suffered a miscarriage.

“We were convinced that we would never have children, especially because we were getting older,” Tallackson says.

But on Oct. 2, 2006, William "Will" DeVere Tallackson was born.

He’s an exceptionally bright 6-year-old whose sometimes bawdy comments on Tallackson’s Facebook page have created a cult following.

So what’s the future hold?

“I honestly thought after last year I would never work again,” Tallackson says. "The disease repeatedly kept rearing its ugly head.”

But after his latest surgeries he feels great, he says.

He was one of four producers on "Swan Song," an independent film shot this summer in Indiana and Michigan by Oscar-nominated John Hancock.

Tallackson has also returned to the newspaper business as editor of The Beacher, a weekly in Michigan City.

“I’m going to take each day as a blessing and go from there,” he says.

Amen to that.

Ray Moscowitz of Bloomington is a retired newspaper executive and former publisher of the Peru Tribune. Contact him at r.mosco@comcast.net.