An Illini love story, by author, memoir teacher, NPR commentator and journalism alum Beth Finke:
“When I think of Champaign-Urbana, I think of trees.
“I fell in love with the twin cities back in 1976, during my freshman year at the University of Illinois. Nowhere to hike or canoe, and the campus was surrounded by — even included — corn and soybean fields, but to me, it was a vibrant place. I was caught up in the rush of 35,000 students hustling from class to class on weekdays — and from Boni’s to Treno's to Murphy’s to T-Bird to Illini Inn on weekends.
“Every bit as fond of the place when I graduated in 1980, I stayed in Urbana, found a full-time position at U of I, and started living the life of a townie.
"I’d met Mike Knezovich (’79) in a journalism class, and when he moved back to Urbana the two of us started dating. When we were married in 1984, I lived east of campus in a typical Urbana rental house, built in 1906 for a single family but converted more recently to an up-and-down duplex.
"We had the downstairs, kind of beat up on the inside — especially the kitchen with its hodgepodge of aging appliances — but even so, it had character. Best of all, like so many of the other houses in the neighborhood, it boasted a front porch swing.
“Champaign-Urbana may lack a striking natural beauty — it defines the word flat, and the creek that trickles through it, more of a drainage ditch, is known as The Boneyard — but what the two towns have, especially Urbana, is trees. Huge, magnificent old maples and oaks with an unearthly gift for turning brilliant scarlet and sunset yellow.
“A few white clouds set against a deep sky on a fall afternoon — we could watch them indefinitely from our vantage point on the porch swing. I reminisce about that porch swing — long gone now — every fall. On a splendid autumn afternoon in central Illinois, there’s nothing better than swinging back and forth and quietly soaking in the colors.”