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Eiler Rubjerg Jr., 81, Chicago Sun-Times news editor

Eiler Svend Rubjerg

Eiler Svend Rubjerg

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Updated: December 21, 2012 6:28AM

Eiler Rubjerg was just a kid when he would sit in a darkened cinema, watching the World War II newsreels even more raptly than the movies.

He listened to nightly news on the radio and devoured all the newspapers he could find.

“As a boy, he was obsessed with the war,” said his daughter, Lisa Willems. “He read the newspaper reports of battles and blitzes.’’

It seemed only natural he would enter the world of journalism. He worked at the Chicago Sun-Times from 1959 to 1992. Mr. Rubjerg, who rose to be news editor, was largely responsible for the look of the paper, writing headlines and helping to select what went on the front page and inside the paper. When he returned home from work, his forearms were stained with newspaper ink.

Mr. Rubjerg, who loved anything to do with words — Scrabble, the crossword puzzle, anagrams, reading — died Friday at 81 at ManorCare of Highland Park.

He grew up in Kenosha, Wis., the son of a Danish immigrant father, Eiler Rubjerg Sr., an accountant, and a Norwegian immigrant mother, Dagney Jacobson.

One of his least pleasant childhood memories occurred when he was about 6, said his son, Ross. After being bitten by a squirrel, he had to endure a series of painful anti-rabies shots, which at that time were administered in the stomach.

At 20, he married Marjorie Binninger. They were wed more than 62 years.

He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Mr. Rubjerg landed his first newspaper job in Downstate Freeport. He did it all: reporting and taking photos, and writing and editing.

More than a few of his Freeport stories involved collisions between vehicles and cows, said his daughter Lisa.

He worked at the Wisconsin State Journal before he was hired at the Sun-Times. “He loved the Sun-Times, and he was there whenever they needed him,” said another daughter, Susan Morgan.

Once, an East Coast paper wanted to hire him as managing editor, but after consulting with members of his family — who didn’t want to move — he turned it down.

Mr. Rubjerg’s self-contained, steady confidence made his oversight of the Red Streak a thing of beauty, other editors said. The Red Streak, an afternoon edition that repackaged news, required him to rip up the morning paper, write fresh headlines and add new stories and photos.

“He’d have to turn that thing around on a dime, because he’d always have so little time,” said Sun-Times editorial writer Tom Frisbie. “He’d come up with a great headline; get all the stories in. He would write the Page One headline.”

“He always made the right call for Page One,” said John McDonough, former assistant managing editor of the Sun-Times. “Sometimes it’s really easy to say what the story of the day was, but sometimes, it isn’t. He’d make the call, and when the competition came out, we had virtually the same headline. I couldn’t believe it. He was extremely fast and extremely thorough.”

“He always knew how all the stories should all be played,” said Paul Wagner, former Sun-Times copy desk chief.

Mr. Rubjerg was a cinephile. He admired the films of another son of Kenosha, Orson Welles, and he enjoyed introducing his children to movie gems. “I remember when I was 12 or 13, watching ‘The Wild Bunch,’ ‘Bonnie & Clyde,’ ’’ with him, said his son Ross.

“Casablanca” was probably his favorite movie. His daughter Lisa thinks that he bestowed her middle name, Ingrid, for the film’s radiant star, Ingrid Bergman.

And, knowing his love of language and puzzles, she suspects that her first name, “Lisa,” is an anagram for Bergman’s star-crossed character, “Ilsa.”

The Rubjergs raised their kids in Des Plaines and Deerfield. For 32 years, they always had a child in the house under 18. They took driving vacations to the 48 contiguous states.

Mr. Rubjerg was a big fan of the Green Bay Packers, and his favorite holiday was Christmas.

Though he lost his right leg several years ago because of medical complications after heart surgery, he got around with a walker, and he liked visiting Trax Tavern & Grill in Deerfield. A perfect night involved good conversation, a juicy steak, a wedge of iceberg lettuce, a baked potato and a Manhattan cocktail.

He also enjoyed Ric-
cardo’s, a beloved journalists’ saloon, where he could sometimes be heard singing.

“My father had a marvelous barroom voice,” his son recalled, which netted Mr. Rubjerg compliments from two professional opera singers.

Other survivors include his wife, Marjorie; another daughter, Marsha Shields; his brother, Dan; 13 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren. Mr. Rubjerg is to be laid to rest at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Sunset Ridge Memorial Park in Kenosha.

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