Both of her Daily Illini editors went on to become successful authors, one of them winning the American Book Award.
But it was another ex-DI editor who predated Monica Eng at Illinois that had the greatest impact on the five-time James Beard Award nominee and Chicago media star.
“Roger Ebert was my mentor since my childhood,” says the Class of ’91 alumna, who covers her home city for Axios. “He dated my mom when my siblings and I were kids and recommended me for my first job at the Chicago Sun-Times when I was in high school. He also strongly encouraged me to go to U of I and go to Quad Day and sign up to write for The Daily Illini immediately.
“I took his good advice and honed my writing under great DI editors, including Rob Loerzel and Dave Eggers — now both authors — who taught me to make my writing clearer, brighter and stronger and stop using those dang passive verbs.
“Roger would come down for homecoming every year and tour me around the scenes of his favorite memories. We visited the DI office in Illini Hall, the Steak & Shake, the Art Theater and Virginia Theatre and the Rose Bowl, although I was too young to get in.
“He also got us tickets to the homecoming game each year, which was my big chance to see what Illini football was all about.
“The first year I went, I thought that halftime would a great opportunity to go to the bathroom and Roger nearly flipped out, reminding me that this was, in fact, a great time to see the Chief. I didn’t make that mistake again. I know ideas about the Chief have changed over the years, but this was 1987 with a guy who had grown up with the Chief as a larger-than-life presence in his childhood.
“Now 37 years after my first professional byline, and almost exactly 10 years after Roger’s death, I know that I wouldn’t be a journalist or where I am today without his mentorship and friendship.”