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Colleen Keough Wagner

Colleen Keough Wagner

Fiction author, editor | aka ‘Rumer Haven’ | Class of 1998

Her fellow finance majors from the Class of ’98 knew her as Colleen Keough.

But to the legion of readers who couldn’t put down “What the Clocks Know” or any of her three other books, she’s Rumer Haven — the UI-educated, Chicago-raised London resident with the catchy pen name and motto (“fiction with a penchant for the past and paranormal”).

True to form, the writer/editor’s favorite UI memory was written short story style, with a touch of drama and a heroic protagonist.

From the UK, she writes: “Two winters ago, I road-tripped with family to Champaign for an Illini basketball game. We deliberately arrived early so we could wander around campus a bit.

“The first place we stopped was Gregory Hall, where my dad, brother and I had all taken psychology in three different decades. Automatically, as if out of muscle memory, we each bee-lined to where we’d usually sit in the auditorium and took our respective seats. That was such an incredible moment of the past overlapping with the present, of our individual college lives converging to become one shared experience.

“But the lecture hall that gave me greater chills that day — and not because it was absolutely freezing outside — was Foellinger Auditorium. Something about seeing that specific building from a specific angle brought a rush of memories that made me almost so happy I was sad — the kind of bittersweet melancholy that comes with great nostalgia.

“Naturally, this grand domed structure commands attention at the Quad’s south end, making it an obvious university highlight. But despite the many lectures I attended there, Foellinger found its way into my heart for a rather small yet so very impactful reason — which happened during Professor Scanlan’s Classic Civ class.

“Now, Professor Scanlan is a U of I legend for tens of thousands of alumni for tens of thousands of reasons. If you didn’t have the privilege of taking his class, you just have to Google him to find out why we adored him in droves. His effervescence was for sure an inspiration when I eventually became a teacher. Yet for all his Greco-Roman theatrics, Professor Scanlan inspired me most with a single word: when.

“‘When you visit Rome,’ he’d say as he discussed assorted historical sites. Not if. When. He never said if.

“Now, this might not sound like a big deal these days, when studying and/or traveling abroad seems pretty much a given for undergrads. In the ’90s, international travel was still very much a big deal that not just anyone did. Even in my ambitious, idealistic youth, Europe was just one of those things I wanted to do before I died. Before I died! I seriously never thought to plan something like that in the near future.

“But Professor Scanlan saying, ‘When you go to Rome’ completely shifted my mindset. Europe was a reality to seize, not a pipe-dream to imagine. And sure enough, right after I graduated in May 1998, I backpacked with a few friends for several weeks all over Europe — yes, including Rome, where I’ve since been a few more times.

"Over thirty countries across six continents later, I now even live in Europe as a dual American and British citizen, having moved to London a decade ago with my husband, whom I met my senior year at Illinois.

“And all it took was a single word uttered on the stage of Foellinger Auditorium. One word, spoken by one great man. He may no longer be with us, but he lives on in my heart — as does the U of I as one of the most challenging, influential, crazy-fun chapters of my life.

“Hail, Alma Mater, and ... I-L-L!”