Mark Kiesling, longtime staff writer and columnist for The Times, died Thursday afternoon.
"Northwest Indiana has lost its voice of conscience," Times Executive Editor William Nangle said. "Mark always told it as it was, favoring no one, but holding up those who did good."
The 56-year-old journalist informed and amused Northwest Indiana for nearly three decades with solid reporting and incisive observations about the region's pageantry from its most exalted government officials down to the axle grease of its motorcycle clubs.
A friend who was with Kiesling on Thursday said he suffered a seizure. He was rushed to St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago, where he was pronounced dead.
Kiesling's peers in the Hoosier State Press Association judged him the state's best general columnist in 2004 and 2008. He was regularly honored over the years for feature writing, community service and investigative reporting.
Kiesling graduated from Munster High School in 1974 and Indiana University in 1978. He worked for the Lansing-based Sun Journal newspaper and the Daily Calumet in South Chicago before being hired by The Times on June 10, 1985, as a staff writer.
He was a prolific writer of the events of the local courts, police stations and the halls of civil government.
Bill Bero, who was a co-worker of Kiesling for more than 30 years, said, "Mark remembered everything. He used to keep a journal of crazy quotes from Chicago politicians who obliterated the English language. He wasn't afraid to tackle tough stories.
"He had a sense of humor. He drew cartoons at the Sun Journal and for his friends. He was a big Blues Brothers fan. He loved classic cars. I'm going to miss him," Bero said.
Kiesling, a motorcycle enthusiast himself, provided the area unrivaled coverage of clubs like the American Bikers Aimed Toward Education.
He received a statewide award in 1996 by a national motorcycle rights organization for stories on efforts to improve motorcycle safety.
His investigation of the Lake Superior Juvenile Court system in 1990 uncovered evidence that then-Judge Darlene Wanda Mears routinely forced personal staff and employees of the juvenile detention center to do her personal errands. "She used us like her servants," one former employee told Kiesling.
His stories triggered a state police investigation. Voters removed her from the bench during a 1992 referendum. A Lake County grand jury indicted her on charges of theft and ghost employment, although a jury acquitted her after a three-week trial.
A decade later, his investigation about delayed justice caused by then-Criminal Court Judge Joan Kouros' disorganized paperwork eventually led to her departure from the bench, too.
Kiesling took up the columnist's pen in the summer of 2004, moving from his objective role to a position of subjectivity, and his colorful narration made the area's more pedestrian events sing.
"The Dutchman has pulled up a big fish this time, maybe the biggest he's grabbed in his six years as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Indiana," Kiesling opined in 2007 after then-U.S. Attorney Joseph Van Bokkelen's indictment of Bobby Cantrell, a former region sports star-turned-political ninja for the Democratic Party.
"Bobby Cantrell has never held public elective office, but his indictment Wednesday on 11 federal felonies is going to rattle more cages than if U.S. Attorney Joe Van Bokkelen had indicted the mayors of every city in Lake County. You've heard about the guy who 'knows where the bodies are buried?' Well, he's your undertaker," Kiesling wrote.
Kiesling also volunteered as a baseball and softball coach in youth leagues in Munster and Hammond's Woodmar neighborhood.
He is survived by sons David and Nicholas, a daughter, Abigail, and a sister, Nancy. Funeral arrangements are pending.