Former SIUC Professor William Recktenwald remembered as “legendary reporter,” beloved teacher


Jayson Holland

William Recktenwald posed for a picture at the SIUC School of Journalism before his retirement.

Former SIUC Professor William Recktenwald is being remembered as a “mentor, friend and journalism trailblazer.”

He died at the Linda White Hospice House in Evansville, Indiana on Aug. 20, according to an obituary posted by the Vickery Funeral Chapels.

Recktenwald, 79, was renowned for his role in The Mirage Tavern investigation when he worked as chief investigator for the Better Government Association. He went on to become a “truly legendary reporter,” according to his friend and former colleague, SIUC journalism professor Bill Freivogel.


“I don’t use the word legendary lightly,” Freivogel said in a Facebook post. “Reck, as everyone called him, made journalism history as the bartender of the Mirage Tavern – the bar where the Chicago Sun-Times documented ubiquitous bribe-taking by city inspectors.”

The Chicago Sun-Times purchased a building with numerous violations, installed cameras and posed as the tavern’s owners while inspector after inspector came to the bar expecting to be paid-off to keep the place ‘in business.’ Recktenwald served the drinks. The investigation detailed how corrupt some city officials were and resulted in numerous charges and firings at both the city and state level.

Recktenwald came to the School of Journalism in 1998 after 20 years of working at the Chicago Tribune.

In a January interview with the Daily Egyptian, Recktenwald spoke about his retirement and recalled his first time interacting with students.

“I went for my first class and somebody suggested a textbook. I looked at the textbook and saw how it was structured out and I said ‘well, I’ll just tell them war stories,” Recktenwald said. “I had a 50 minute class and after 40 minutes, I ran out of things to say, so I said ‘dismissed.’”

Looking back on his teaching career, Recktenwald told the Daily Egyptian, “It was fun. I genuinely enjoyed dealing with students. I should spray paint ‘Reck was here’”

Tributes to Reckenwald can be found across social media. High school journalism teacher Tyler Dixon said his “heart is broken.”


“William Recktenwald is a huge reason why I am the person and journalist I am today,” Tyler posted on Facebook. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had a conversation about journalism where I didn’t mention Reck.”

Former Chicago Tribune Investigative Reporter John Chase, who is now director of investigations at the BGA, said Recktenwald was a trailblazer and a “great man” who “was beloved for everything he did.”

Photographer and SIUC instructor Jayson Holland called Reckenwald a “true gladiator of the written word.”

“His spirit will live on in the impact he made in my life and the lives of my friends around the world,” Holland posted. “Thank you for calling it straight, keeping ’em honest and breaking the rules when need be.”

The Chicago Tribune’s editor-in-chief, Colin McMahon, wrote on Reckenwald’s condolence page saying, “He saved my butt any number of times, I am certain. And he contributed to so many stories, way beyond his many, many published bylines. Mostly, Reck was good people. He will be missed.

A funeral mass will be held at 11 a.m. Aug. 23, at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Elizabethtown, Illinois. Memorials in his memory may be made to the church, according to his obituary.