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The Special Edition

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

I have some good news and some bad news for Rock Islanders. The bad news is that Don Wooten turns 70 today, with all the creaks, groans and aches there to appertaining. The good news is, it's only on the outside. Inside, Don is still 21 or so, eager to leave Tennessee and see what life has in store.

"What is man that thou art mindful of him?" the Psalmist asks. Don's life has been a long quest for an answer to that question, often in places others would not think to look: in television, politics, radio, advertising, amateur theatrical performances. This quest for the human is what brought Don to the high school humanities classroom. In 1957, he founded the Genesius Guild. For the last 41 years in Rock Island's Lincoln Park, Don has conjured Shakespeare and Greek drama from muslin, paint and cardboard, and from actors and actresses who blossomed under his direction.

When I came to Rock Island in 1960, Don was a TV weatherman, in an era when TV stations had not yet gone to meteorologists. For Don, barometric readings and advancing fronts were part of the human drama.

Don Wooten moved from weather to Illinois State Senator for two terms, charting political stormfronts, honing his faith in humankind against the steel edge of political realities. He then turned to the task of turning Augustana's WVIK into a National Public Radio station of some renown.

Actor impresario, manager, director, fundraiser, politician, humanist, reader, father husband, friend, Don Wooten is truly a man for all seasons. The last renaissance man, some say, but that's an exaggeration; his swordplay is not always what it should be. Knighthood will have to wait.

Meanwhile, the bad news is that watching Don Wooten blow out the candles on his cake will be no fun. There are at least two Wootens per candle. The good news is that Don has lit dozens of candles around Rock Island that will keep burning bright long after the last crumb of cake is gone. Happy Birthday, Don.

Rock Island lines is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.