Grace dashes off: Beloved SVM food editor dead at the age of 81

September 25, 2018

FULTON – She was warm, funny, feisty, motherly, a talented journalist and a whiz in the kitchen.

Former Sauk Valley Media Food Editor Grace Whitten, author of the popular “Dash of Grace” food column, died Monday at Harbor Crest Nursing Home in Fulton. She was 81.

Grace started her 40-year career as a Quad-City Times correspondent in 1973, and retired from then-Sauk Valley Newspapers in August 2013.

In between, she single-handedly raised a boisterous family, pursued a degree in English at Sauk Valley Community College, boosted her skills and earning potential by learning about computers and copy layout with the help of a friend, and wrote, wrote, wrote.

Oh, and she cooked a bit, too.

In addition to the Times, she was a stringer for the Fulton Journal, the Clinton (Iowa) Herald, and the Rockford Register Star.

Suddenly divorced with six kids to raise and no insurance, she persuaded Herald editor Bill Baker to take her on full-time

She started out as the Herald’s farm reporter, then regional reporter, then regional editor. She tackled the cops and courts beat before becoming assistant editor.

In 1997, the Times hired Grace to be its Clinton bureau chief, then SVN managed to steal her away, making her its Morrison bureau chief 17 years ago, on Sept. 10, 2001, and putting her in charge of the Whiteside West publication.

When the Morrison bureau closed, Grace moved to the main office and started writing about food.

Thanks to her folksy, down-to-earth style, “Dash of Grace” developed a strong following, and in 2005, the newspaper put together a cookbook – a compilation of some of Grace’s favorite recipes – which, to our great delight, she often tried out on her salivating co-workers.

(We’re running her favorite, a jambalaya as spicy as Grace and her ruby-red lipstick, one last time. You’re welcome. Enjoy.)

Jim Dunn, editor of the Bureau County Republican and Sauk Valley Media’s opinion page editor, worked with Grace all the years she was with the company.

“I was really sad to hear about Grace’s passing,” Dunn said Tuesday. “She meant so much to our newspaper for the many years she was here.

“I can’t help but smile when I think about her wit and wisdom. When she got that sparkle in her eyes, you knew she was about to say or do something funny ... and she was about as versatile a newswoman as I’ve ever met.”

Over the years, Grace and SVM’s chief photographer Alex Paschal, who shot photos of Grace weekly for the food section, developed a close friendship.

“She was an incredibly caring person, always asking me about my family and whatever I was up to at the time and encouraging me to not get down at the stresses of work and life,” Paschal said.

“My favorite story involved Grace and her longtime friend Father Arnie. After returning from a doctor’s appointment she told me the nurse was going through a standard list of questions, one of them being ‘Might you be pregnant?’” he said.

“Well into her 70s at that point, Grace’s ‘no’ was met with the standard ‘How can you be sure?’

‘Cause my boyfriend’s a priest!’

“Grace was one of a kind ... one that will be missed and the kind that can never be replaced.”

Bosma-Renkes Funeral Home in Fulton will be assisting with arrangements, which the family is making Wednesday, and an obituary will be available later that afternoon at bosmarenkes.com.

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