Feb. 18 marks the silver anniversary of the first edition of the Evanston RoundTable.

The paper was the brainchild of Mary and Larry Gavin, longtime Evanston residents. “We contemplated doing something like this for years,” said Mary. “We just thought we’d do it when we were retired.”

Larry and Mary Gavin, founders of the Evanston RoundTable.
Larry and Mary Gavin, founders of the Evanston RoundTable. Credit: Evan Girard

But dissatisfaction with the way other publications were covering the city, ignoring the Black community and slighting the more significant challenges of the day, impelled them to action.

“The time was right, the kids were out of the house, so we covered up the pool table and started in the basement,” Mary recalled.

The couple recruited a few friends to help and spent six months putting together a business plan and finding a printer and distributor. Their first press run didn’t end until 2 a.m. Feb. 17, with Mary, Larry, writer/editor Al Manning and business manager Alan Worley hovering around designer Kathy Ade as she meticulously created each page.

The next day they called Dan Haley, publisher of the Wednesday Journal, who had been a consultant.

“We did it,” Mary said, exhausted but elated.

“Just remember, you have to do it again,” Haley replied.

“Our hearts sank,” said Larry.

Volume 1, No. 1

The inaugural issue was 16 pages long and contained several dozen news articles, plus two editorials, columns, a roundup of school news and a sports section.

An “aRound Town” section on page one featured brief summaries of top news stories. A photo on page two showed a smiling Mayor Lorraine Morton with Bob Herdrich, who was retiring after 35 years running Herdrich’s Variety Store on Central Street.

Mary and Larry Gavin examine the first issue of the Evanston RoundTable, published Feb. 18, 1998. The basement pool table was their first newsroom desk. Credit: Les Jacobson

The president of the Evanston Public Library wrote a column; another article marked the library’s 125th anniversary. A column offered advice on warding off squirrel and raccoon intruders (“Hot tip: City Varmints Can’t Stomach Sauce”).

The main article on page one was headlined “Voters in March Primary to Elect Democratic Committeeman.” Mayor Morton contributed a piece called “We Are a City.”

The lead editorial was titled, “Who Are We?” and stated the paper’s goal “to provide news that affects the daily lives of people who live and work in Evanston. It will provide insightful commentary and sharp analysis about issues that shape the future of our community. It will have features about what Evanston residents are doing at work, at play and in their civic activities.”

It went on to say, “As important, the RoundTable will provide a forum where differing ideas and diverse viewpoints can be exchanged.”

Some 15,000 copies were distributed to homes and another 3,000 to newsstands and other sites around the city.

RoundTable name

The paper was always (and remains) free.

The name RoundTable was picked to suggest inclusivity, a place where everyone could gather together, without rank or privilege, to address issues of critical importance. Longtime columnist Charlie Wilkinson said his wife, Kathy, came up with the name as “an invitational concept – that anyone could join in.”

“The goal was for a place where people could come together and discuss issues,” said Larry. “And everybody could contribute equally,” Mary added.

Larry and Mary Gavin, RoundTable founders, with Bob Reece at the Chessmen Club’s gala in 2022. Credit: Susy Schultz

“We wanted the paper to cover the important challenges facing Evanston – and there were a lot of them – without a slant, objectively, and to help people understand the issues and create discussion around them to help the city resolve its problems,” said Larry.

From the outset a strong focus was placed on District 65 and District 202, he said, especially urging higher standards and addressing the racial achievement gap.

“We also wanted to write about the good things people were doing, and to help bring the community together,” he said.

The good news from the start was “how gracious people were to accept us,” said Mary. “People would talk to us. The library trustee’s article and Mayor Morton’s guest essay gave us instant credibility.” Both Gavins had been involved in the city and “we knew a lot of people,” said Larry, which helped them gain access and information.

The bad news was how much time it took to get out each issue, 12 hours a day for almost the entire two weeks between issues. Another challenge was meeting expenses, especially after the Great Recession of 2007-8 and later, when advertisers started migrating to Google and other national websites.

“Al Worley kept the books,” Mary said. “He and the writers, sometimes as many as 20 in each issue, all worked for woefully modest wages because of their dedication to the purpose of the paper.”

“Encountering Evanston History” is available at www.evanstonbook.com and at selected bookstores and shops.

The paper launched its first magazine in 2006, which was “a good way to supplement our income,” Mary said. Altogether they published 25 RoundTable magazines about life in the city. The book Encountering Evanston History, based on RoundTable stories, was published in December 2022.

From the start Mary “spearheaded the paper” as publisher and manager, Larry said. He wrote articles while continuing to work full time as an attorney, specializing in commercial litigation at a Loop law firm. He retired in 2008 to devote himself to the paper.

Growth of the paper

With their combined efforts – aided by a dedicated staff of reporters, columnists, editors and designers working out of an office at 1124 Florence Ave. – the paper came out every other week for 21 years, growing to as many as 48 pages per issue.

In 2008 the RoundTable launched a website and in 2019 the print edition was replaced by a redesigned online site, where news was updated 24/7. In 2021 the RoundTable converted to a not-for-profit.

In June of 2021, the Gavins stepped down as publisher and editor, though they each write occasionally for the news site. Looking back, publishing the paper “gave us a chance to explore the city and report on the wonders of Evanston,” Mary said. “And I think we changed a few things.”

Larry added, “We were able in some cases, over 20-plus years, to raise people’s consciousness about some of the big issues that faced the city.”

He cited as a particularly significant achievement urging School District 65 to adopt tougher college-readiness standards, the first district in the state to do so. He said the state eventually raised proficiency levels from the 22nd to around the 60th percentile of national standards in reading and math, “to help educate kids to a level that was meaningful in life.”

He added, “I think the paper has made a difference.”


The RoundTable has won numerous honors as a result of its extensive coverage of racial, housing and education issues.

(Front row left to right) Kathy Ade, Mary Gavin, Natalie Wainwright and Janet Messenger. (Back row) Larry Gavin and Charles Wilkinson.

Larry won a Lisagor Award from the Chicago Headline Club in 2012 for best education reporting and another in 2017 for editorials urging District 202 to adopt higher benchmarks for college readiness. Mary won a Studs Terkel Award in 2007 “for providing a platform for a voice of the voiceless.” A 2020 Lisagor Award named the RoundTable the best community newspaper in the Chicago area.

(As manager of the company, Mary joked, “I gave Larry a 10-cent raise every time he won a Lisagor.”)

In addition, the RoundTable has won more than 150 Northern Illinois Newspaper Awards, including 36 in 2021 and 41 last year.

Mary Gavin & Studs Terkel
Mary Gavin stands with the legendary Studs Terkel in 2007, after she received an award from the Community Media Workshop named in Terkel’s honor. Credit: DePauw University

In 2020 the RoundTable received the top NINA award, for General Excellence in the non-daily category. This was the third time the RoundTable was so honored by NINA, twice in print and once online.

Wilkinson, who wrote his “Room for a View” column for 22 years, said the paper “gave voice to all of Evanston, the voice of the people.” He called the RoundTable “the heartbeat of social justice in the city.”

Said Peggy Tarr, another founding columnist, who continues to cover issues of interest to the city’s Black community: “I was really honored when Mary Gavin asked me to write an article for the first edition of the Roundtable on Black History Month.

“I treasure writing for the Roundtable, a paper for which I have so much respect. I was and am happy to have Mary and Larry as advisors and friends.”

Added Victoria Scott, who wrote for the paper for many years, “The Evanston RoundTable was a gift not only to the community but to those of us who worked there.

“Like its founders, it was a place of high ideals and modest bearing, and the paper’s staff will be forever grateful for all we learned. The Gavins gave so much and asked so little; the credit goes to them.”

And this from Mayor Daniel Biss: “In this day and age, trusted local news is more important and precious than ever, and Evanston is beyond fortunate to have the RoundTable.

“The paper has been a pillar  of our community for 25 years, in hard copy form and digital, as a for-profit and as a non-profit, and under Mary and Larry Gavin’s extraordinary leadership and in transition. Here’s to the next 25 fabulous years!”

But as RoundTable co-founder and former publisher, Mary should have the last word. “Our mission was always, ‘To search for truth and the finest chocolate,’” she recalled, adding with a laugh, “We’re still searching.”

Les Jacobson

Les is a longtime Evanstonian and RoundTable writer and editor. He won a Chicago Newspaper Guild best feature story award in 1975 for a story on elderly suicide and most recently four consecutive Northern...

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  1. Thank you for starting the RoundTable, Mary and Larry! It’s always been my favorite paper (and I do miss the printed edition). Evanston owes you a debt of gratitude and heaps of fine quality chocolate.

  2. When I worked in District 65’s Business Office, I appreciated Larry’s knowledge, thoroughness and patience as he covered the district’s finances. Currently, his analyses of district issues, whether regarding budget or student achievement, continue to provide the citizens of Evanston information with clarity and depth. Thank you, Larry. And thank you to both Larry and Mary for your contribution to the city. (P.S. We show our appreciation and support by being Evanston Roundtable members.)

  3. Congratulations to The RoundTable, but especially Mary and Larry Gavin. They should be very proud of the publication they founded and the service they provided and continue to provide to ALL who live in Evanston. Their coverage of Evanston’s public schools is second to none. I was proud to have received their endorsement when I ran for D65 school board in 1999 and the support they provided as I advocated for equity in our schools. And while I no longer live in Evanston, I still read and value the new digital version of the RT. Thank you.

  4. My family and I have happily been Evanston residents for 18 years, and have enjoyed and been informed by “ The Evanston Roundtable” throughout that time. Until this article, I had not known about Mary and Larry and how much we Evanstonians owe them.
    As our family is Afro-Indigenous (African American and Native American of the Muscogee Creek Nation), we were particularly appreciative of the Gavin’s commitment to racial equity in Evanston.
    Thank you so much Mary and Larry. And may you find the ultimate chocolates very soon-you deserve them.