As with any job, DUANE NORTHRU said, being Champaign County’s coroner-elect comes with its ups and downs.
To deal with the latter, the 17-plus-year-old veteran needs a personality trait that’s critically important to anyone aspiring to serve on his team.
“My employees need to have a sense of humor,” he says. “On their toughest days, humor helps relieve stress and get through the day.”
Northrup speaks from experience, having just emerged from one of its toughest years on the job — a year marked by a wave of deaths from gun violence, fentanyl overdoses and COVID-19.
A native of Rantoul, resident of Muhammad and a graduate of Parkland College, he worked in the coroner’s office for 21 years and was elected as its head in 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2020.
The former News-Gazette paperboy took the time to answer questions from editor Jeff D’Alessio in the 126th episode of our weekly speed read spotlighting the leaders of organizations large and small.
If I could swap places for a week with any other businessman in town, I wouldn’t mind switching with… my high school friend, Steve Kaufman, owner of Bud’s Bar in my hometown of Rantoul.
I could tend the bar for all my friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances and reminisce about the good old days. Oh, the beautiful stories we could tell.
On the walls of my office you will find… plaques, photos, awards, framed certificates and a close-up poster of a wolf’s face with the word “Focus” underneath.
My business model is… the average small business owner Joe who shows up early, stays late, does whatever it takes to keep the business going, pay the employees, and support his family.
My all-time favorite moment in this job was… the day (October 2020) I received DNA results identifying our victim of the 1995 Jane Doe homicide as Keri Lyn Wyant.
My philosophy on meetings is… be brief and precise. Office meetings at the Coroner’s Office are usually short and stick to the agenda item due to my staff working on-call rotation and day shifts.
It is rare for all staff to be present at a meeting. So I often meet with small groups of staff at different times to cover points.
When it comes to the one thing I can’t live without… I would have said Mtn Dew but, four weeks ago, I quit cold turkey and lived to talk about it.
So I guess there’s nothing I can’t live without right now.
The hardest thing about being a leader is… having to make tough decisions and taking ownership of those decisions knowing that not everyone will be happy with every decision made.
The three adjectives I hope my staff would use to describe me are… dedicated, funny and knowledgeable.
I’m thrifty in this… I do most of my auto repairs, appliance repairs, and home repairs myself.
I relax after work by… working out and then watching a show with my wife, Christine, before going to bed, weather permitting.
The last luxury I gave myself was… buying a $600 DeWalt 12″ wood planer and $300 dust collector for my garage woodworking shop to use when I pursue my hobby.
The most beneficial college course I took was… an electrical wiring course at Parkland College years ago. I have personally built two houses in my lifetime and used the knowledge from this class to wire up my entire first house.
I am up and to them by… 5:30 a.m. daily. No thought of sleeping when you have two golden retrievers lying on your body nudging you with their noses to get you up, let them out and feed them.
My exercise plan is to… 30 minutes on the elliptical machine three times a week and training with free weights three times a week.
Unfortunately, my sporadic 24/7 schedule doesn’t always allow time for this workout plan.
As for the worst job I’ve ever had… I sincerely believe that when it comes to work, you get out of it what you put into it.
I am very lucky to have enjoyed every job I have ever had, from delivering The News-Gazette as a young boy to being a coroner now.
I have to thank the three best bosses who taught me so much about hard work and what it takes to be a good boss.
I wouldn’t be where I am today without Joe Murray of Rantoul, Marshall Huls of Gifford and Roger Swaney of Philo.
On a scale of 1 to 10, the impact of the pandemic has been a… 10 — for many reasons. We have seen a dramatic increase in cases during the pandemic, including breaking all previous records of deaths handled by the coroner’s office.
We have experienced the highest staff turnover in a single year. We have been exposed to many people who have died positive for COVID-19 and/or their family members. We adopted disaster contingency plans, adjusted staff work and office hours, and addressed ever-changing rules and regulations from local, state, and federal agencies.
We have done all of this and more while continuing to provide the services required by law.