I heard today the sad news that a friend and former co-worker Kurt Van der Dussen had died after a long battle with lung cancer.
During his many years as a reporter at the H-T before becoming a copy editor the last couple of years, Kurt primarily covered county government, the justice system, the state legislature and auto racing.
But in a career that spanned 32 years at the Bloomington newspaper, he also tackled more than a dozen stories that involved the South Central Community Action Program. In 1989, for instance, Kurt wrote about a change in which SCCAP’s former Project SAFE got a new name, the Energy Assistance Program, that it still has today.
He wrote in 1991 about the early years of the program in which WRTV Channel 6 in Indianapolis gives fans to SCCAP to provide to needy elderly and disabled persons in the summer.
In 2000 and 2001, Kurt wrote stories about the rising cost of fuel in the winter and the challenges for SCCAP’s Energy Assistance Program in trying to meet the increased need to help clients with their fuel bills.
He wrote other similar stories over the years, pointing out the problems and dangers faced by the poor and the elderly, and letting them know help was available. Provided below is an excerpt from the 1989 story that I mentioned earlier.
“It’s a cruel truth,” Van der Dussen wrote. “As temperatures plunge, heating bills skyrocket.
“For the poor and elderly on meager fixed incomes, that can force a miserable choice between financial disaster or homes that are teeth-chattering chilly and therefore unhealthy – maybe deadly.
“We’ve got people huddled in houses freezing to death this time of year,” frets Jewel Echelbarger, director of the Area 10 Agency on Aging which serves Monroe and Owen counties.
“They needn’t be. Financial assistance with winter heating bills under the old, well-known Project SAFE program is continuing under a new name, the Energy Assistance Program.
“And now it’s open on a reduced scale to low-income young people as well as the elderly, according to Cathy Brown, an official with the South Central Community Action Program, which serves Monroe, Morgan, Brown and Owen counties.
Brown says that as of last week, the program was helping 905 households in Monroe County alone.”
There are probably few organizations in Monroe and surrounding counties that Kurt didn’t write about at some point. In doing his job with enthusiasm and care for so many years, he touched and helped, if even in a small way, innumerable people and organizations.
He also touched those who worked with him at the H-T. Sometimes a little gruff on the surface, he was exceptionally kind and decent underneath that. He often encouraged me as a young reporter, going out of his way to tell me he liked a particular story I’d written and the job I was doing, sometimes right after a reader had chewed me out on the phone for writing something he or she did not like. I feel for my friends at the H-T because I know they have some sad days ahead without Kurt.
The H-T’s first story about Kurt’s death is available on his racing blog, where it was posted this afternoon by reporter Chris Korman.