The man behind the paper: Rodney Lowe retires after 31 years


Michael Colton and Harrison Witt

He sat in his favorite chair against a blank wall once filled with posters, certificates of excellence and past Evanstonian covers, singing along to his favorite song “Loveland” by Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band; it was almost as if you could see 31 years of memories flashing through the mind of the man behind the paper: Rodney Lowe.

Born and raised in Gary, Indiana, Lowe pursued marching band and tennis in high school.  He enrolled at Valparaiso University in 1977 where he discovered a passion for journalism almost accidentally, as he dropped “a painful math class” in the engineering school in exchange for a class in communications. It was this class that created Rodney Lowe the journalist, prompting him to become a summer instructor at the Indiana University High School Journalism institute in 1981.

Lowe served at Indiana high schools between 1982-1986.  He worked at Memorial High School in 1981-82 before transitioning to Castle High School in Newburgh, Indiana.  He worked for the Evansville Courier at night, writing obituaries. Lowe credits this time with teaching him the importance of deadlines and proofreading, as well as the weight that journalism can have in showcasing the lives of everyday citizens.

Lowe then moved back to his hometown where he jump-started the newspaper and yearbook programs at Gary High School, a task he undertook “for the challenge of it all.” After a couple of years in Gary, he received an unpassable opportunity in 1986: a job at Evanston Township High School to be the next staff adviser of The Evanstonian. He has held that position ever since.

According to Lowe, Evanston stood out from the beginning as a completely different environment than he had previously seen.

“I really did like the diversity [at ETHS],” Lowe says. “I came from one school that was mostly white, and one school that was mostly black, so [ETHS] just had a different feel.”

His first year, 1987, was an eventful one. The year’s Hazelwood Supreme Court ruling that permitted schools to limit the expression of student journalism prompted CNN to visit ETHS to speak to Lowe and his new Evanstonian staff. Lowe holds that clip on DVD as evidence of his beginnings as a charismatic, not-yet-bald teacher.

Lowe pushed the paper; the publication ultimately received recognition as one of the 50 best papers in the nation by the National Scholastic Press Association in 2008 and 2012.

“Nothing has been a staple at ETHS like The Evanstonian,” principal Marcus Campbell says. “[The Evanstonian is] award winning excellence.  That’s objectively clear.  Mr. Lowe has facilitated an award-winning newspaper many, many times.”

While Lowe takes great pride in his tangible accolades (top three at Sectionals from 2013-2015, State runner up in 2014, State champion in 2015), he is even more proud of the academic and professional accomplishments of past students.

“Seeing the successes of individual students really helped me with my own confidence,” Lowe says. He notes the careers of former students David Epstein (Sports Illustrated), Cassidy Hubbarth (ESPN) and many others as valuable evidence of his time in Evanston.

Lowe also accredits Lisa Oberman, Bob Workman, Fred Schenck and others within the English Dept. for inspiring him to bring a great passion to his job.

“When I met these teachers I thought, if I could be a quarter as good as these people, I’d be one hell of a teacher,” Lowe says. According to those around him, that goal was accomplished.

“I want to thank him for his passion for the paper and everything he’s taught me, all the support he’s given me throughout forming my own identity as a leader,” 2015-2016 Executive Editor Adele Gruner says.

Lowe currently lives in Northwest Indiana, caring for his near 90 year old mother. Each morning for the last 15 years, Lowe has driven over two hours to reach Evanston; however, according to colleagues, you would never hear a complaint from him.

Moving into retirement, he finally budges, noting that ending his commute is what he is most looking forward to in his future. When asked what he hopes to leave with ETHS, he answers in his classic, competitive nature: “I hope I raised the bar and made the Evanstonian one of the best publications in the state of Illinois.”

Students and staff agree that loyalty and extreme dedication to his job are Lowe’s most recognizable assets. Whether in moving his parents out of a dangerous neighborhood in Gary, always defending his staff at all costs, or assisting his colleagues, if you are a part of Rodney Lowe’s life, he will be there for you.

“He was the one who taught me early on how to navigate this school as a black man in the English dept.,” Campbell reflects.  “He’s always said ‘I got your back’.”

The last 31 years have seen the typewriters become computers, students become professionals and the Evanstonian become nationally renowned. There have remained few constants in Evanston, in ETHS and in S105 — one being Rodney Lowe: leader, mentor, and inspiration to all.

With an eye on the future, Lowe reminisces on his time at ETHS, “We don’t realize how much of a journey it is on this Earth. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized this journey.”