"My life has evolved around newspapers," Galer said in accepting the award."I am grateful to the good Lord for settling me here in Hillsboro. My life would not have been the same anywhere else."
A graduate of the Hillsboro High School class of 1970, Galer returned to work at the then Hillsboro Journal full-time in 1972 and has held every job for the publication, from pressman to editor to publisher.
Galer thanked his family-"Sue, Mary and Johnny, I couldn't do it without you; you've been through it all."
He also thanked teachers and coaches he had through the years in the Hillsboro School District, including Earl Meier, Stan Horst, Jerry Babel, Mrs. Mildred Hoffman, Josephine Evans and Geneva Blankenship, and was moved by a card he had received in the past week from his fourth grade teacher, Audrey McCaw.
He described English teachers in the district as those who "really got me where I liked writing. I don't get to write enough, but I still love it."
He also credited his staff and those in the community who made a difference in his life and in his business, specifically a former pastor, a former businessman and newspaper ad rep Bert Brown, and his father, the late Phil Galer.
"My dad was an incredible businessman," the award recipient said.
In thanking the foundation, Galer said he was moved to be honored in his hometown.
"You know they say, 'you are never an expert in your own home town.' That is what makes this presentation so special," he said. "It comes from the people I hold dear and have such utmost respect."
The award was presented by Hillsboro Education Foundation Director and Treasurer Earl Meier, who introduced other foundation directors and officers present as well as county and city officials, Old Settlers Association President Mary Dagon, and past Distinguished Alumni Award winner Dr. John Lowe from the Witt High School class of 1960.
by Mary (Galer)
"This is really, really humbling," said John Galer of Hillsboro, the recipient of this year's Hillsboro Education Foundation Distinguished Alumni Award winner. "I have never looked at myself as someone who stands out. I just do what I do. To be recognized by my peers is a real honor."
A graduate of Hillsboro High School with the class of 1970, Galer will be honored at a reception during this year's Old Settlers celebration on Thursday, Aug. 4, from 2 to 4 p.m. at Gianni's in downtown Hillsboro. Earl Meier, a member of the Hillsboro Education Foundation, will make a special presentation at 3 p.m. In addition, Galer will be honored when he rides in the Old Settlers parade later that night.
"We went through a lot of choices when we were looking through the applications," said Hillsboro Education Foundation President Gene White. "We tried to narrow it down to one person. John is a very deserving person. He's very respected in his field and has done so much for our community."
Galer is the son of the late Phillip and Nancy Galer, longtime owners of the newspaper, and has been part of the newspaper business nearly his entire life.
In 1978, he married the former Susie Hutson, and the couple have worked together at the newspaper since then. The couple have two children, Mary (husband Kyle) Herschelman of Hillsboro and Captain John (wife Emily) Galer of Alexandria, VA; and one granddaughter, Grace Herschelman of Hillsboro.
Galer said that his time at Hillsboro High School really prepared him to go to college.
"I was probably just an average student," Galer said. "I got distracted easily, but I had some of the best teachers, especially in the English department. They were really a cut above. I loved learning, Hillsboro High School prepared me very well for college."
During high school, he played trumpet in the band all four years, took part in various high school operettas and played football for two years.
One of his favorite high school memories dates back to 1967 or 1968 when the St. Louis Cardinals were playing in an afternoon World Series game. Galer said his dad had given him a portable transistor radio, and he took it to school with him.
"I got caught with it in chemistry," he said. "The radio got confiscated and put on the teacher's desk. Then the whole class listened to the ball game. But we didn't get much chemistry done that day."
He also remembers meeting up with some of his friends before school in the old auditorium, which is now classrooms. His classmates remain very close, and many of them gather once a month for dinner.
After high school, Galer attended college at Eastern Illinois University, where he studied history. Although he never got to finish his degree at Eastern, Galer enjoyed the time he spent there, where he worked on the school's newspaper and was photo editor of the school yearbook.
"My first job in the newspaper business was as a carrier boy in junior high," Galer said. "In high school, I was kind of a trouble shooter for problems with the press and other things that came up."
During his college career, he was called home to work at The Hillsboro Journal as a pressman.
"My philosophy is that newspapers are all about community," said Galer. "The thing I enjoy more than anything is learning and knowing and being a part of so many things that happen in our community. There are times when there are tragedies you have to cover, and it's hard. But it's important to do a good job."
Galer said one thing that makes the paper special is coverage of local news, like weddings, anniversaries, births, obituaries, family events, sporting events and more, news that's just not available anywhere else.
One of his favorite jobs at the paper has been covering Hiltopper football over the years.
"I think I started with the 60-61 team that went undefeated," he said. "That's how I got my start getting excited about Hillsboro football."
He added that the two years in the early 2000s that the Toppers went back-to-back to the state finals.
"They were incredible. Topper football just has a special place in my heart," he said.
Over the years, Galer has worked every single position in the newspaper office, and still rolls up his sleeves to help with the press, drive a truck or repair broken equipment.
"My whole world revolves around newspapers," he said. "Community journalism packs personal life with professional life. I've always had a philosophy that I could make a difference somehow, and the paper can and does make a difference by letting people know what's going on in their communities."
In addition to his duties at the newspaper, which includes The Raymond News, the M&M Journal, the Macoupin County Journal, the Bunker Hill Gazette News, the Madison County Chronicle, Mt. Olive Herald, Southwestern Journal and Southwestern Advertiser, Galer is a past president of the Illinois Press Association, a current member of the Illinois Press Foundation and a regional director for the National Newspaper Association.
Galer is also involved at the Hillsboro United Methodist Church, the Hillsboro Sertoma Club, Imagine Hillsboro and is currently president of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation. He is a past president of the Litchfield Chamber of Commerce and has been a director with the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce.
In his youth, Galer earned the rank of Eagle Scout in Boy Scouts of America, and he continues to serve on the Eagle Scout Board of Review in this area. He was also a Scoutmaster in Hillsboro for many years.
"I truly believe that Hillsboro is a special place," he said. "That Montgomery County is a special place because of the depth of the people here. If they see a need, they try and find a way to fill it."
He added he was impressed to see the community come together in 1974 to build a new hospital, and just a few years later to pass a referendum to build Beckemeyer School.
"It's just what we do here," he said. "People care. They want to make the world a better place for those living here. It's pretty special."