A digital special section of | Subscribe

University of Illinois | 150 Years


a colloge of drawings representing the University of Illinois

A milestone birthday deserves a special gift. This is ours.

Over the past year, Editor Jeff D’Alessio has tracked down more than 1,000 former students, faculty and staff who’ve done the University of Illinois proud. The mission: to get them to share personal stories about the places, spaces, people and programs that had the most profound impact on them.

You’ll find the memories of astronauts and ambassadors, color barrier breakers and history makers, Olympians and Paralympians, those who’ve been honored with prestigious prizes — Nobels, Pulitzers, Oscars — and many more.

You’ll find 100 special video messages we received from alumni across the globe. Among them: singing judges, a Red Cross worker in hurricane-stricken Puerto Rico and the CEO who became the first African-American billionaire.

You’ll see some of the most famous and favorite spots on campus, as hand-drawn by Lyncoln Delporte, accompanied by more stories.

And we’re just getting started. We’ll be adding to the site throughout the year — and beyond — so let us know what you think, or would like to see, by emailing jdalessio@news-gazette.com.

People

Places

Illinois Alma Mater
drawing of the U of I Alma Mater statue

Illinois Alma Mater

We say Alma, Google software engineer Shivani Singh says ... goosebumps.

“It’s 12 p.m.,” she says. “The intersection of Green and South Wright streets is bustling with activity — students running between classes, squirrels hopping in snow and cold winds gusting through Green Street.

“All of a sudden, the majestic bell tower next to the Alma Mater commences its noontime chime — ‘Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee’ — and orchestrates chaos into music.

“I have crossed this intersection several times, and even today I can replay this scene before my eyes.”

The Alma Mater is also where ...

— Fifty years ago, Global Gun Safety Gary Witt can confess now, he and a pal pulled a prank that made local headlines.

“In the winter of 1967,” Witt says, “my roommate, Rex Seifert, and I had the bright and literary idea of sticking a big scarlet letter A on the chest of the Alma Mater statue, which we did one snowy midnight, amid lots of laughing and looking out for cops. Then we called the Daily Illini — anonymously, of course — to let them know.

“We made the front page above the fold — or rather, Alma Mater did, sporting her big red A. No one ever found out who did it until now.

“Of course, this won’t mean as much to readers who never had to read ‘The Scarlet Letter’ in high school.”

— Economist Vipin Arora recalls passing one fine fall day as a freshman after class. “It intimidated and inspired me at the same time. And still does. I’ll never forget how majestic that statue looked: brown leaves littering the sidewalk, sounds from Altgeld Hall’s bell echoing in the air and the students rushing to make class with the chilly wind in our faces — all in front of that timeless monument.”

— Energy company CEO Tonise Paul found her happy place.

“If you look at most any picture of Alma Mater, you will see the gorgeous backdrop of very old trees. My favorite place on campus was a spot under those trees between the Student Union and the statue. I used to study at the Union as I loved — and oddly, could concentrate — being surrounded by the motion and din of happy, frenetic student activity.

“After studying, I would head toward Alma Mater. Halfway there, I would sit in this spot on the grass and gaze up at the trees. It was an incredibly peaceful place for me to pause and seemed to be located right between my present and my future possibilities. I always visit that spot whenever I return to campus and can even remember many of things I pondered there.”

Altgeld Hall
drawing of Altgeld Hall

Altgeld Hall

We say Altgeld Hall, former AT&T President John Zeglis says ... tradition.

As much as he loves Alma (“the ‘happy children’ engraving says it all — still”), it’s the building behind her that Zeglis cherishes most. “Altgeld Hall is where my father went to law school and kicked off the success-through-education theme that the family still abides by, almost religiously,” Zeglis says.

Altgeld is also where ...

— One Sunday afternoon in late April of her senior year, future Kohl’s director Sarah Ryan averted a near-disaster while cramming for the CPA exam, just days away.

“I left to get something to eat and when I got back, the building was locked,” she says. “I didn’t know they locked the building but found out it was locked at 5 p.m. on Sundays. I was able to look in a window into the classroom and see my books. They were so close but I couldn’t get them. I was panicked since the CPA exam was in early May.

“I didn’t think I could afford to not have my books for the remainder of the weekend and possibly lose them if I left them. I thought about different ways I could get in the building. I was lucky to find a policeman who was able to open the doors for me. He escorted me to the classroom and I grabbed my books with great relief.”

And yes, she passed the exam.

Mark Fera — then a young biomedical engineering major, now an executive with Ernst & Young — had his breath taken away when he walked inside for the first time: “It was grand. The ornate walls, intricate tile work, winding bannisters were all very impressive and inspiring. I spent a lot of time there, and it was one of my favorite places — save some very challenging classes — on campus.”

— Local legal giant Dick Thies celebrated graduation from law school ... six-plus decades ago: “I was a member of the last law school class to graduate from that beautiful building. We have an original painting of the building done by Judy Ikenberry that hangs in our law office. Regrettably, the current law school building built on the site of the horse stables just doesn’t have same character.”

The Armory
drawing of the U of I Armory

The Armory

We say Armory, Illini track and field legend Tonja Buford-Bailey says ... true love.

“My husband Victor and I met at the Armory,” says the three-time Olympian. “He was running track for Mizzou, and Illinois was hosting a meet during the indoor season. It was 1993 — we were both seniors at the time. I had just come off of an Olympic summer and he was preparing for the NFL draft. “We started dating the day we met and have been together ever since. I will always be grateful for the Armory. Not only did I run fast times there and train to be a three-time Olympian and 25-time Big Ten champ but I also met the love of my life there.”

The Armory is also where ...

— Future Air Force public affairs chief Nicole White became “captivated” by the building’s history the more hours she spent inside taking classes — regular ones and military ones.

“Not a lot of people know that it’s one of the oldest buildings still standing on the original campus,” she tells us from Honolulu, where she’s stationed, at the Pearl Harbor-Hickam joint base. “The U of I was one of the first institutions to host an ROTC unit from every branch — more than 2,000 cadets resided in that facility during World War I.

“Being an active duty officer today, we are constantly reflecting on those that served before us but I guess I got my military pride earlier at the U of I. I’m the first in my family out of 62 to become an officer and I can’t think of any better place to have earned my commission into the best Air Force the world has ever seen.”

— Now-Nike global sportswear communications director Jered Thorp found the most picturesque view of campus ... after scaling the roof. “Disclaimer: This probably isn’t legal and isn’t necessarily safe,” he warns, but “the roof of the Armory is something that changed my entire perspective of campus.

“A buddy and exceptional ROTC leader showed me a ‘secret’ hatch in a top-floor classroom, which will remain unnamed for safety sake. Once through the hatch, a short scurry up the curved roof led to a flat lookout that was a 360-degree view of Illinois’ finest university. Coming down is more challenging.”

Kiah Morris put on her director’s hat. The now-Vermont state representative recalls “many nights running rehearsals for ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ in classrooms on the top floor. Lots of pizza deliveries to that place. In fact, one night we cast one of the delivery people in the show when a member dropped out.”

The Daily Illini
drawing of a Daily Illini mug

The Daily Illini

We say Daily Illini, Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Ingrassia says ... Illini Hall basement.

The long-ago home of the student newspaper is where Ingrassia “first fell in love” in the late ’60s and early ’70s. “The romance with journalism burns brightly to this day.

“I can still smell the acrid, hot-lead linotype machines and hear the clanking presses that printed the paper every night. And remember returning to the office after yet another Illini football loss — the team went 0-10 during my year as sports editor — to write the story. And recall covering — in my last two years — the anti-war demonstrations and riots, a national story that we, as student journalists, reported first-hand. “After one riot, during my year as editor-in-chief, the Champaign police raided the DI office to confiscate the film of our photographers. But the negatives had been spirited away to the office of our attorney, who went to court and overturned the search warrant. The experience bolstered me for tough stories decades later: the bankruptcy of General Motors, the Arab Spring in Cairo and the midnight interviews with Vladimir Putin.”

The Daily Illini is also where ...

— Future USA Today Editor Ken Paulson showed up one day while attending law school and found “a ramshackle, overcrowded and disorderly place full of free spirits and talented young journalists.”

Home.

“I’ve worked in seven different newsrooms, but the DI remains one of my favorites,” says Paulson, now the dean of the College of Media and Entertainment at Middle Tennessee State. “These were journalists who just happened to be students, and their collective attitude and ambition made this a very special place to be.

“They went on to careers at Newsweek, Reuters, USA Today and many of the nation’s most prominent newspapers and magazines. We still get together from time to time, and to a person we credit that funky newsroom with giving us exactly the start we needed.”

— Best-selling author Dave Cullen was manning the copy desk 36 years ago when the news broke that John Lennon had been shot and killed outside his New York residence.

“John had just begun his big comeback and was still beloved by our generation, and we tore up much of the morning edition to refocus it on him. Every few minutes, the night editor came by with a new stack of painful copy to stammer our way through and write ghastly but tasteful headlines, attempting to be poignant, but not too cute. It was too horrible to believe and no time to stop to emote, because we had to work, had to get it right, the one tiny gesture we could do for him.

“I’ve heard so many people say Americans lost our innocence on 9/11, but the last of mine went that night. Our sister station WPGU played all John all night, reminding us how sweet he was and how brilliant, and what an absurdly ironic target.

“We finished around 1 a.m., and our tear ducts were sucked dry.”

Foellinger Auditorium
drawing of Foellinger Auditorium

Foellinger Auditorium

We say Foellinger Auditorium, 90-years-young Chicago artist Leo Segedin says ... hootenanny.

The first time he heard the funny word, he was inside what was then simply known as The Auditorium, seeing Pete Seeger perform. The year was 1948. “I made friends, some of whom I still have contact,” he says. “They are in their 90s, like me.”

Foellinger is also where ...

Kristina Parsons would have the first of a number of cool jobs. Back in those days, the future assistant propmaster for Sony, Fox, Showtime and now Warner Brothers worked at Foellinger, “just making sure the building was open and lights were turned on for lectures, and closing up the building after they were finished.

“One of the perks of the job was getting to see some of the awesome events held at the auditorium, including concerts, a capella shows, step competitions, musicals and guest speakers, including Michael Moore. “And of course, being one of the few to climb up to the roof and see Foellinger’s famous dome up close.”

“Fall of 1993. It was my freshman year and first introduction into the glamorous world of accountancy. I found myself in Foellinger Auditorium, a majestic academic lecture hall seating hundreds for my first accounting course, Accountancy 101.

— It hit 18-year-old Victoria (Fan) Azalde: accounting isn’t dull at all. “I wasn’t entirely convinced I fit the mold of a stereotypical accountant,” says the now-assistant controller for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “I wanted to be creative, think outside of the box. “Then, one day, our accounting professor brought on stage two of her new pet ducks. She needed names for the ducks and solicited the help of the accounting students. We ended up naming the ducks Accy and Quacky. It was in this moment I realized that accountants are creative and fun.”

— The now-chief information officer for the city of Chicago experienced multiple college career highlights. Among them: taking Professor Richard Scanlan’s in-demand Greek and Roman Mythology class as a freshman: “Professor Scanlan brought the subject matter to life, often coming in costume, and always engaged us with the content he knew so well. He also led us in chanting I-L-L-I-N-I, instilling a sense of camaraderie and pride in our school.

“I also graduated in Foellinger, and remember taking those steps up after four years of hard work and growth to get my English literature degree awarded with highest distinction.”

Campustown
drawing of a Green Street sign with lightpost

Campustown

We say Campustown, Rini Krishnan says ... Wednesday night karaoke at White Horse.

Earlier this decade, it was a “time-honored tradition” for the future director of operations for Fischler Hockey Service, “something that I will both never forget and never remember.”

“It was just a great little watering hole that bonded every man, woman and man-child with the power of intoxicating music and refreshments, alike. It had all the elements of an ideal Hump Day night out — cheap drinks, cheap dates, a giant American flag, a biker with a karaoke machine, clean bathrooms and a collective high tolerance for brutal renditions of Celine Dion. Also, $5 pitchers.

“That place was truly the epitome of my college experience. I don’t know what that says about me, but I’ll take it.”

Campustown is also where ...

— The future president of the Illinois State Bar dressed a little differently than she would later in life in courtrooms.

The ’70s dress code for cocktail waitresses like Paula Holderman at Chances R on Chester Street demanded it: “We waitresses wore very short red, white and blue vinyl miniskirts with knee-high white go-go boots. Before iPhones and even computers, we computed the tabs in our head and gave change from metal coin belts slung low across our hips. A regular group of Champaign police officers would get off the late shift and stop by the ‘back room’ to drink and flirt with the waitresses.

“Around 2 a.m., the bartenders, cocktail waitresses and an assortment of cops would head to an all-night greasy spoon truck stop on North Prospect for bacon and eggs.

“Thinking back on those days, I shake my head and wonder how we graduated and went on to have successful careers — but maybe that’s a life skill we learned at the U of I, too.”

Neal Doughty and the fellow founding members of REO Speedwagon spent an evening or three at the bars. On in particular. “The first REO album was practically written at the Red Lion Inn,” he says.

— Future Emmy-winning ABC News correspondent Steve Osunsami fed his addiction — vinyl.

“To this day, music is my stress reliever. And on campus, there was a great record store near the corner of Green and Wright streets, pretty close to the campus bookstore and next door to Zorba’s, where I tasted my first of many, many gyros.

“It was an old, dark record store with wood paneling and the place where I bought my first CD. In 1989, when I arrived on campus, the store was still selling mostly vinyl and cassette tapes. But that changed in the spring of the following year, when you could walk in, grab a set of headphones and pretty much listen to any CD before you bought it. By today’s standards, this was a stupidly inconvenient way of shopping for music, but I loved every minute of it.

“I spent hours in that store at least once a week, and even though my music world is now completely digital, I still have those first CDs from the Green Street record store.”

Kam's
drawing of Kam's

Kam's

We say Kam’s, 14-year major leaguer Darrin Fletcher says ... war.

One winter night in 1985, the home of the drinking Illini was the battleground of the snowball fighting Illini.

It started outside Kam’s, just before closing time, with a perfectly thrown strike from Fletcher to the pour soul who happened to exit the bar first. “Lo and behold,” Fletcher says, “the first guy out was Jack Trudeau.

“I let go of a perfect strike down to second base and delivered a nice blow to the shoulder and neck of the star quarterback. Needless to say, he wasn’t too happy and ran in and got some of his buddies to come out for backup. And thus began the epic snowball fight between the baseball players and football players.”

Kam’s is also where ...

— Ernst & Young’s Donna Ross Daniels experienced a sudden surge in popularity when she landed a part-time job tending bar.

“After my first year, having spent a fair amount of time at Kam’s, I was hired as a bartender there. My logic: I likely would be on one side of the famous square bar or the other, so why not get paid for it?” she says. “It was amazing how popular I became — certainly when I was inside the bar but also outside because many knew I was bartender there and would likely be able to order drinks faster from whoever was working. “Having returned to Kam’s several times since graduation, I noticed it still looks — and smells — the same.”

Rita Garman and future husband Gill met for “10 o’clock class,” as the future chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court called it.

“I met my late husband Gill in a labor economics class when we were juniors. The class met Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at DKH. We would walk after that 9 o’clock class to Kam’s for coffee.

“Frankly, we did not notice the smell of stale beer or the stickiness of the floor. We loved the white ironstone mugs that the coffee was served in. Of course, we mostly loved the company.”

— Future Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Matt Cushing learned an important lesson. “I know everyone says you don’t go to a bar looking for love,” he says, “but I met my wife at Kam’s my sophomore year so Kam’s holds a special place in my heart.

“We spent many nights there since she worked as a bartender, celebrating everything from football wins — not enough — to her graduation. We just hit 18 years of marriage so I guess you can sometimes find love in a bar.”

Krannert
drawing of The Krannert Center

The Krannert Center

We say Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Oscar-winning director Ang Lee says ... inspiring.

“That’s where I started devouring western drama, which laid the foundation of what I do today. It changed my life,” says the Taiwan-born movie maker, the brains behind ‘Brokeback Mountain’ and ‘Life of Pi.’ Krannert is also where ...

— The future U.S. ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina found her place. “My first week on campus, having just arrived from far-away New Jersey, I was lost,” Maureen Cormack recalls. “When a neighbor insisted on dragging me along to an interview for ushers at the Krannert Center, I grudgingly agreed, having no idea what it even was. From that day forward, it took over my life.”

It was at Krannert, Cormack says, that she “learned the power of the arts to bridge divides, both at home and around the world” and “laid the foundation for all that has followed.”

— The Rev. Peter Donohue, president of Villanova University, once worked as assistant house manager. “While there were many fabulous performances, the best entertainment was from the undergraduates who worked in the ticket office,” he says. “They kept us laughing.”

— NBC News executive Bob Epstein saw Duke Ellington, Massachusetts university president Javier Cevallos caught Luciano Pavarotti, and future Grammy-winning jazz pianist and composer Jim McNeely began his road to glory.

— A self-described “wide-eyed, small-town” future actress and author had her breath taken away by “the sheer scope and grandeur of the place.” And when Dr. John Ahart cast Lorraine Devon Wilke in a role that would earn her a trip to the Kennedy Center as an undergrad, “it allowed me to see what was possible creatively, what could be brought to life, what could both entertain and educate.”

Lincoln Hall
drawing of a statue of Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln Hall

We say Lincoln Hall, the one-time chief speechwriter for former Attorney General Eric Holder says ... “oddly appealing.”

That was Riley Roberts’ initial takeaway when during a campus visit he went to check out the classrooms he knew he’d be spending a lot of time in. It was the mid-2000s. “The building was in a startling state of disrepair — this was before the renovation, when the floors were cracked and the paint was peeling in nearly every classroom — but the place had a musty, lived-in quality” that he took a liking to.

“Outside of class, I remember visiting my academic advisors and going to office hours on the building’s upper floors. I remember the strange, labyrinthine basement, where the university stored an assortment of skeletal stone fragments — pieces of sculptures, of friezes, of gargoyles, each carefully tagged — that had fallen off of, or been removed from, buildings across campus. Covered in dust, in the dim basement light, they were really quite eerie.”

Lincoln Hall is also where ...

— Pulitzer-winning reporter Leonora LaPeter Anton spent a lot of time on the fourth floor, home to the former World Heritage Museum and the woman who ran it, whom she knew simply as Mom.

Barbara Bohen “turned it into a special place with unique finds around every corner, from a spruced-up replica of the Parthenon Frieze to a real Egyptian mummy,” Anton says.

“I remember she once bought a massive ceramic classical Greek vase at an auction in Switzerland and booked it two seats on the plane under the name Mr. and Mrs. Vase.”

— Tech executive Eric Klinker found inspiration during freshman orientation. It was one part memorable, one part humbling, as he remembers the guest speaker who addressed Klinker and hundreds of fellow engineering classmates in the stuffy auditorium.

“His first words, simply and clearly spoken, set the tone: ‘The department you are about to enter saved my life.’ He went on to describe groundbreaking, almost magical sounding technology — at least to that young farm boy in the audience — invented on campus that would later go on to detect and treat his cancer. He was standing before us as living proof of the impact an engineering education at Illinois can have on the world.”

Jeff Anderson found the love of his life — during one of those dreaded 8 a.m. lectures, of all times. “As fate would have it,” says the now-GM of the Game Show Network, “a cute blonde co-ed would come late to class every day and sit in the front row of the hall.

“Three years later, we were married and started a life together that spanned 25 years. She passed away last year from ALS, but the University of Illinois was always a source of pride and joy for both of us.”

Memorial Stadium
drawing of Memorial Stadium

Memorial Stadium

We say Memorial Stadium, two-time All-American wide receiver John Wright says ... touchdown.

It’s not a signal that refs given Illini football players as often lately as they did in Wright’s day. His 12 receiving TDs are still tied for seventh-best in Illini history, half a century later.

So it’s no surprise that his happy place on campus is “the exact same spot that both my father, Robert Wright, and my son, John II, would also choose, which would be the 4,800 square feet of turf that grace the end zone of Memorial Stadium after scoring a touchdown.”

Memorial Stadium is also where ...

— A former federal judge and deputy U.S. attorney general found inspiration. “I was always struck by Memorial Stadium,” Mark Filip says, “not so much as an athletic facility, but rather, as its name reflects, as a memorial to the many students from U of I who gave their lives in World War I in service of the country. Their names, almost 200 of them, are inscribed on the pillars at the sides of the stadium.

“It always was very humbling and almost sacred to think of what they gave so we could be able to enjoy all the opportunities that the university had to offer — academic, athletic, extracurricular and on and on, depending on your interests.”

— The future president and CEO of the San Francisco Bay Area Super Bowl Host Committee had a blast.

“When I was attending Illinois in the mid ’80s,” Keith Bruce says, “both our basketball and football teams were national powerhouses. I remember my walks with friends to the stadium to watch Illinois football on Saturday afternoons. This was before ESPN ‘College GameDay’ and all the other pregame hype.

“Big Ten football on Saturday was my break from all the classwork and the pressures of succeeding in college life. It was just pure college football and part of the college experience — whether it was going to games with my Sig Ep frat brothers, new girlfriends or even by myself a few times for those cold November games.”

Nesbitt Center
drawing of Nesbitt Center

Nesbitt Center

We say Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center, Doris Houston says ... home away from home.

In Houston’s day, “The Black House,” as it’s been affectionately known to regulars, came furnished with “a couple gently worn couches, a piano, television and lots of open space for students to gather, work on homework, and on the weekends, dance to the 1980s sounds of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Kool & the Gang,” says Houston (Class of’83), now the director of the Center for Adoption Studies at Illinois State.

“For many of us who were first-generation college students, the Black House was a place for us to fellowship, receive mentoring from ‘Uncle Bruce’ and the cultural center staff — Nathaniel Banks and Mrs. Harmon. Any day of the week, you might find a half-eaten pizza in the kitchen, or a few leftover snacks from a cultural event.”

The Nesbitt Center is where ...

— Then-freshman Eric Cox found himself lost on campus one Wednesday afternoon but happened to notice “a group of other African American students heading inside the aged edifice. So I went to see what the commotion was about.”

It would be the first of many visits to 708 South Mathews Avenue for the future St. Louis TV anchor/reporter.

“Once inside” that day, “I was soon part of a long line for food,” he says. “It was my first of many appearances at an event known as ‘Lunch and Learn,’ a weekly series where a guest speaker would stop by the cultural center and engage in thought-provoking dialogue with attendees during the midday meal.

“My initial positive impression of the Black House brought me back to the building on countless occasions to interact with the staff and other students that would frequently stop by during their daily routines.”

Tony Laing got a taste of his future. Now the director of the Men of Color Initiative at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, the 2014 alum recalls helping the director with social and educational programming, meeting with the Black Graduate Student Association and virtually everything else. “I could go there to relax, take a nap and study,” he says.

The Quad
drawing representing the U of I quad

The Quad

We say Quad, Engineering Distinguished Alumni Award winner Brand Fortner says ... look, up in the sky.

In 1974, it was neither a bird nor a plane that was headed in the direction of curious students assembled on the Quad.

“Streaking hit the university in 1974, and I vividly remember standing on the Quad, watching nude parachutists floating down south of where we were, and then witnessing one brave streaker climbing the flagpole in front of the Auditorium,” Fortner says. “I think at the time, we thought that this craziness would happen every year. Alas, it was not to be.

“Every time I walk by that flagpole, I imagine that brave boy shimmying up the pole, not a stitch on, hundreds of us — mostly clothed — cheering him on.”

The Quad is also where ...

— Legendary Sports Illustrated scribe Bill Nack spent a lot of quality time his famous former friend — Roger Ebert. “After drinking coffee at the Illini Union, (we’d) talk about literature, about F. Scott Fitzgerald and Albert Camus, about T.S. Eliot and Robert Frost, about Hemingway and Nabokov. Roger was the editor of the DI and I was his sports editor, and we shared a common vision about the world of words, about their rhythm, their poetry, that spoke to everyone.”

— Esteemed librarian Sarah Houghton walked for miles in the ’90s while pursuing bachelor’s and master’s degrees: “I had a go-to activity when I had writer’s block or was too tired to complete the work ahead of me. I would endlessly walk the Quad for hours at night — the perimeter, the cross-paths — stopping from time to time to chat with classmates or rest and once getting the automatic sprinklers turned on me full blast, but always working through whatever problem was in front of me.

“That quiet and dark space felt safe and helped me think. As the Quad is the center of the campus, it was also the center of how my brain worked on campus.”

— Architect Swapna Parab made herself at home when she arrived on campus for the first time, brought here by bus from Chicago: “I can still vividly remember myself standing there with a giant suitcase that I carried from India, an equally large bag, my architectural portfolio and dreams for my life.

“Seeing that sunlit porch and the enormous Quad made me so happy; realizing the fact that this amazing university is home to so many students just like myself. I forgot that I had come all alone to the United States and felt at home immediately. Believe it or not, I went ahead and sat under the tree as I was very tired from the travel, and before I knew it, I was sleeping right there under the tree with bright sun shining on face, reminding me of days from India. With my stuff right next to me, I must have slept for a couple of hours before waking up to hustle bustle.”

Illini Union
drawing of The Illini Union

The Illini Union

We say Illini Union, ’80s basketball point guard Bruce Douglas says ... Ms. Pac-Man.

When they weren’t shooting baskets or in class, odds were you could find the stars of Lou Henson’s NCAA Tournament teams of that era trying to dodge Blinky, Pinky and Inky at the Union’s most popular arcade game. “I think we became a better team during our Big Ten championship year because of the constant pressure we learned to perform under during those great competitive Ms. Pac-Man tournaments we held in the Union that carried over on the road whenever or wherever we could find a Pac-Man machine,” says Douglas, the basketball program’s all-time assists and steals leader.

The Union is where ...
— Future Google product manager Carey Radebaugh first met James Marchand, who ruled the pool hall when he wasn’t teaching Germanic languages and literature courses and was affectionately known to Radebaugh as ‘The Old Man.’

“He taught us how to play 3-cushion billiards, spun tales that had enough truth in them to keep us on the edge of our seat and warned of the dangers of playing against ‘sinister’ — or, left-handed — pool players. We formed a local league team and named ourselves The Old Man’s Illegitimates, made it to Vegas for the league nationals, with the Old Man inspiring us along the way, even if he would have surely disapproved of the game of choice for that league: 9-ball.

“I’ll never forget the jukebox, dropping quarters in there to play Ray Charless’ ‘Georgia on My Mind’ on a slow day, practicing cross-sides and straight-backs, hands blue from chalk, listening to The Old Man talk of Charlie Peterson and other greats.

“I miss those days. I miss that Old Man. I miss that pool hall in Urbana.”

Sylvia Puente celebrated becoming the first in four generations of her family to complete college — in a way that few former Illini even dreamed of.

Working on the Union’s board of directors had its privileges, says the executive director of the Latino Policy Forum, including access to one of the best views in Champaign-Urbana: “I was able to get special access to the Union tower that faces the Quad. I remember the steep climb up the stairs and opening up a special bottle of spirits that I had been carrying around all day. As I looked out from this special view, I sipped on my bottle of tequila, reminiscing about my years of challenging moments and incredible opportunities as a student.”

— Three generations of Morrises did whatever the times called for. "My grandpa bowled in the Union. His son, my uncle, protested the Vietnam War there. His daughter, my mom — a proud graduate who has been a UIUC professor for four decades — has celebrated the graduations of thousands of her students and each of her three children at the Union,” says Jordan Morris (’12), now the communications director and senior legislative assistant for a New York congressman.

Angie Rieger knew to set her alarm earlier n Sunday mornings than most undergrads — so she could secure a spot on one of the comfy, and coveted, sofas. “I studying, napped, hung out for entire Sundays on those sofas,” says the Lands End’s senior VP.

Ash-har Quraishi realized the pre-med/bio-engineering track wasn’t for him — while in the east-end “vending room,” as he knew it. “It was open until 2 a.m., so it was a great place to meet up with a study group for some late-night cramming — which generally turned into late night snacking and socializing,” says the NBC Chicago reporter.

“For some reason, the heat was always a little high. So, falling asleep in the midst of studying organic chemistry wasn’t unusual. Of course, the unlimited supply of Doritos and Grape Fanta were probably contributing factors."

“The vending room was like a warm blanket — a great place to get away from your dorm and find some friends to sit down with when you needed to study but also needed to decompress. I loved that place. And every time I put my head down on my desk — while in the midst of a marathon news event — I’m taken back to my nights in the vending room.”

State Farm Center
drawing of the State Farm Center

The State Farm Center

We say State Farm Center, Texas Rangers communications coordinator Kate Munson says ... deadline.

“I decided to attend Illinois in the spring of 2005 as I cheered on the men’s basketball team,” says Munson, who landed the plum beat at The Daily Illini — men’s basketball — after proving herself while covering volleyball and softball in her younger years.

“It was such a thrill to be chosen for that beat in my junior year and have the privilege of covering the team for two years. I vividly remember furiously transcribing postgame audio in the media interview room downstairs after games, hoping like crazy that I could file an adequate story on deadline.

“Even though I’m on the public relations side of those postgame press conferences these days, I still sympathize with the reporters who are scrambling to change stories that have changed in the last at-bat and assembling the quotes from a manager who is late in coming in or a player who’s uncomfortable with the spotlight.”

State Farm Center is also where ...

— Elvis rocked, the Flyin’ Illini rolled and CBS funnyman Bill Geist went on his first date with his bride-to-be. It was Valentine’s Day 1968. “I took her to see Dr. Timothy Leary, the LSD guru, at the Assembly Hall,” Geist says. “If it was already State Farm Center, I doubt the insurance giant would have let him anywhere near the place. After seeing the good doctor, we went to the Red Lion, danced the gator to the Finchley Boys and were thrown out. Great date.”

— A wide-eyed Bill Hill was awestruck on his first of what would turn out to be many visits. He was 12 at the time and “awestruck.”

“It was an architectural wonder,” says the now-assistant managing editor for MLB.com. “I had never been inside such an impressive building, which was just two years old at the time.

“Eight years later, as a journalism student in the College of Communications, the Assembly Hall became my second home. For two years, I went there nearly every day as a student assistant in the sports information department. On many of those days, I would duck into the arena, and every time it would give me goosebumps. I saw so many wonderful events in that arena. The Illini basketball team wasn’t very good those two years — anyone remember Gene Bartow, who was replaced by ‘Lou Who?’ — but I loved being there.”