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Olson: Better view from back of the pack

Hank Boer, 70, of Streator crosses the finish line at the Double Diamond Dash earlier this year in Toluca. It was a typical race for Boer. He finished last, of course.
Hank Boer, 70, of Streator crosses the finish line at the Double Diamond Dash earlier this year in Toluca. It was a typical race for Boer. He finished last, of course.

People active in the area running scene probably know Hank Boer – or at least have seen him if they’ve stayed around until the last runner crosses the finish line.

Boer almost always finishes last, and he’s more than just OK with it – he’s proud of it.

Boer, 70, of Streator, most recently walked the Corn Classic 10K on Aug. 24 in DeKalb. True to form, he brought up the rear, cane in hand.

“When you go to these runs, you generally see the same people all the time, and you develop some relationships with them,” Boer said. “Most everyone gets to know Hank Boer because I always finish last, and they’re always happy to see me, because that means they won’t finish last.”

When I asked Corn Classic Race Director Cindy Tucker about its final finisher this year, she knew who I was talking about right away.

“[Hank] has done our race for years, and he’s typically always our last runner,” Tucker said. “So we have gotten to know him a little bit.”

Boer has become so well-known to race organizers that last year, when he couldn’t participate, they still sent him a shirt and a medal, said Tucker, who has been race director for seven years since taking over for Alicia Cosky, who coordinated the race for 25 years.

Boer, a retired school superintendent who now teaches classes in education administration at Aurora University, said the Corn Classic is probably the best organized of the many races he does from spring to late fall with the running club Starved Rock Runners, Ltd.

“It’s outstanding. All of the people stayed till I came through, that’s one of the qualities you see when you’re coming in last,” he said. “All people at the timing stations stayed, all the monitors controlling traffic, water stations, the NIU cheerleaders manning one of the spots in the woods.

“It’s extremely well organized and well run.”

Boer said he was an active runner as a younger man. About 30 years ago, he was injured when he felled a tree that crashed down across his back. The accident left him with broken bones and nerve damage.

It took him years of rehab, but Boer, who studied physical education and taught biology, overcame the injuries. 

“As soon as I could get at it, I started walking, and then a little further, a little further, and then I heard about this running club, and I got involved in it that way,” Boer said.

Today, Boer is the man most likely to be bringing up the rear at 5K and 10K runs in the area. He appreciates the perspective from the back of the pack, he says.

“You get to see who picks up all of the road barriers, who picks up water stops, you get to see all the people that come down for a cool-down lap,” Boer said. “You get to talk to a lot of people toward the end that are walkers, and you hear their stories.”

Boer’s willingness to bring up the rear and walk through the races despite his injuries can inspire others to get moving, too, he said.

“They think, ‘If this old man with a cane can walk them, I sure can,’ “ Boer said.  “So there’s a lot of people running today that have looked at me as, if I can do it they can do it, too.”

Nothing is over: I wonder what the FBI has been doing since it hauled all seven years’ worth of police records out of the NIU police station back in March.

We haven’t heard anything from the feds about what they might have found among the mountain of data that they carried out of there in a highly public search last spring. But Bill Nicklas, NIU vice president for public safety and community relations, says the investigation is continuing and has to do in part with reporting of crimes.

News Editor Jillian Duchnowski’s story in Friday’s Daily Chronicle about the ongoing investigation included the interesting detail that NIU police sometimes have to call the feds so that they can retrieve documents they need for police work. This apparently happened during the pretrial proceedings for Billy Curl, who eventually was sentenced to 37 years in prison for the murder of NIU freshman Antinette Keller.

Does it hinder police in conducting investigations? Well, it sure can’t be helpful.

(Ex) cops in court: Then there’s former NIU Police Chief Donald Grady, who along Eddie Williams, the former NIU chief of operations, was the only person identified in the FBI search warrant for the NIU cop shop.

Grady was fired in February. He has said that race was a factor in his dismissal (Grady is black), but he has yet to take NIU to court over the matter.

It might be that Grady’s lawyer is busy at the moment. Grady is being sued (along with NIU and others) by former NIU police officer Andrew Rifkin. Rifkin says Grady and other officers intentionally concealed statements from witnesses that would have helped Rifkin defend himself against rape allegations leveled against him by a student in 2011.

Prosecutors dropped charges against Rifkin when the witness statements came to light in court. But then there was an election, and new DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack reinstated the charges.

To sum up: Grady says his firing is a result of racial discrimination, but he’s not suing NIU. He is being sued by Rifkin, who in turn is being prosecuted in a rape case that Grady was thought to have botched but now is once again worth pursuing.

Meanwhile, NIU has a new police chief in Tom Phillips, whose officers only sometimes have to call the feds and ask if they can have access to some of the records that were carted out of the police station six months ago. Phillips’ hire was announced this week; his first day is Sept. 16.

And somewhere there’s probably at least one FBI field analyst poring over years’ worth of NIU police records, no doubt taking copious notes.

Who knew a university police department could be the epicenter for such drama?

• Eric Olson is the editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841 ext. 2257, email, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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