Rodney Lowe spent 31 years at Evanston Township High School nurturing young journalists in his role as adviser to the Evanstonian, the ETHS newspaper, died on Aug. 25.
In 2018 he received a lifetime achievement award from the Journalism Education Association. Jonathan Baum, who was a member of the District 202 School Board at the time he nominated Mr. Lowe for the award, said then, “I know from conversations with other Evanstonian alums and their parents that what Mr. Lowe did for my children he did for hundreds of students over his many decades as a journalism teacher and the Evanstonian adviser: he helped them become the best they could be. … Rodney Lowe is a man of courage with an unsurpassed dedication to journalistic integrity and the role of a free press in our democracy, and he passes this on to all of his students.”
Mr. Lowe’s legacy is not only in the many awards the newspaper and its staff received but also in the students he guided and encouraged.
“Rodney Lowe was the first teacher who brought journalism to life for me, instilling in me the belief that reporting could help make the world a better place,” award-winning New York Times reporter and ETHS alumna Megan Twohey told the RoundTable.
Anne Randhava, ETHS 2007, said the news of Mr. Lowe’s death was “truly heartbreaking news. Mr. Lowe was such an important part of my high school experience, and we managed to stay in touch all these years. I don’t quite have the words for what a huge loss this is.
“I always knew I could go to his classroom or the Evanstonian office when I was having a tough day and he’d be there for me. And despite his long commute, he often stayed in the Evanstonian office with us until 10 or 11 at night, helping us reach our finish line and get the newspaper to print.
“While there’s so much to love about Mr. Lowe, including his wonderful sense of humor that kept us all smiling, he truly was a shining example of empowering his students, both academically and personally. He encouraged us to always think critically, always ask questions and relentlessly pursue the truth. These are lessons that have continued to serve me for the 13 years since I graduated from ETHS and are especially important right now. Mr. Lowe will deeply be missed but I believe he knew that his legacy would be carried on by the many, many students he profoundly impacted in 31 years of teaching.”
ETHS alums Abby, Eli, and Jessica Baum each benefitted from Mr. Lowe’s teaching and guidance. The siblings wrote, “On Aug. 25, 2020, the Evanston community suffered a tremendous loss. Rodney Lowe, long time ETHS teacher and former advisor to the school newspaper, the Evanstonian, passed away.
“Mr. Lowe served as a mentor, educator, and friend to countless students over his 31 years at ETHS, and we Baum children are fortunate to count ourselves among them. Writing an article in remembrance of his life is an honor. The three of us worked with Mr. Lowe on the Evanstonian for a combined ten years. “His role in our lives was immense, ranging from teacher to mentor to friend. We know this experience is not unique to us.
“In the classroom, Mr. Lowe worked every day to instill the values of good journalism in each of his students – to fight for the truth, ask the tough questions, think creatively, and write clearly – in ways that were effective and fun. His dedication to his students was demonstrated through his two-hour commute from Indiana, where he lived with and cared for his mother. He took time to get to know all of his students, both as learners and as people. He wanted to know their career goals, hobbies and interests, and even their favorite snacks so he could supply them for late-night editing sessions.
“Many of his students went on to careers in journalism, a testament to his teaching and enthusiasm for the subject. While we are not among those students, through Mr. Lowe, we were taught so many lessons that we carry with us to this day: Humor and laughter are effective tools to connect with others and can cure a bad day – even if this means laughing at yourself. Be authentic, let people see your true self. Hard work pays off; pour your heart and soul into everything you do. And if you aren’t listening to Taylor Swift or soul music, you are doing it wrong.
“Mr. Lowe’s care for his students and his work was magnetic – it is what drew students in to willingly work long nights and weekends to write, edit, and design a finalized – and often award-winning – newspaper. It is what brought so many students back to visit even years after graduation and why so many of us kept actively in touch via email or even Facebook.
“Through Mr. Lowe, each of us developed lasting friendships with other Evanstonian staff members. We learned how to be leaders, working with, learning from, and encouraging fellow students to write, illustrate, photograph, and design a final product we would be proud to publish. He encouraged us to face our fears, whether they be academic or personal, and challenge ourselves to always strive to put forth our best work.
“Knowing Mr. Lowe was a gift that we are so honored to have been given. Our lives have been changed because of him. Mr. Lowe made an unforgettable impact not only on our family, but on many others. Our world is brighter because he was in it. Mr. Lowe will be remembered on the printed page, on the digitally published page, through his students and their storytelling, and in the hearts of so many fellow Evanstonians – including in ours.”
In 2017, the Evanstonian published “The man behind the paper: Rodney Lowe retires after 31 years” (Executive Editors Harrison Witt and Michael Colton).
The article said in part, “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 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. …
“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 advisor of The Evanstonian.
“‘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.’”
In 2008 and again in 2012 The Evanstonian was recognized as one of the 50 best papers in the nation by the National Scholastic Press.
Asked by the Evanstonian what he hopes to leave the school, he said, “I hope I raised the bar and made the Evanstonian one of the best publications in the state of Illinois.”