A digital special section of | Subscribe

Sally Smith

Sally Smith

Former Alaska legislator, 1977-83 | Juneau mayor, 2000-03 | Class of 1967

We say Illinois, Sally Smith says ... Prehn’s on Oregon.

From 3,127 miles away, the former mayor of Alaska's capital city of Juneau and state legislator from the Class of '67 writes: “Given that two generations of Illini tradition preceded me, I was challenged to establish my own experience when I entered university life. No problem. Different era.

“Near my housing was a wonderful nook named Prehn’s. At the cashier, you placed your order, paid for it and then picked it up at the kitchen window. From there, you seated yourself in a dark room ringed with high-backed booths.

“One dim light graced each cubby, but no one minded if you brought your own bright bulb so you could study. Prehn’s quickly became my personal tradition.

“Excited to show it off, I took my Dad there after the Dad’s Day football game of 1963. Oddly quiet in the long line, he stood mute when he reached the cashier while she, with her head down, waited to hear our order.

“Impatient, she glanced up, and for a moment stood still as she breathlessly whispered, ‘Claude Smith, I haven’t seen you in, what ... 30 years? Will it be the usual?’

“Once time resumed, Dad introduced me to Marie Prehn, who, for the next three years — until Prehn’s became Treno’s — helped me to connect with the previous generations.”

A Pekin product, Smith wound up pursuing a career in politics shortly after moving from C-U to Fairbanks in 1969, but it was music education that she studied at Illinois.

“In the mid-1960s, the School of Music recognized only opera as musical theater. As a music education student, I didn’t feel bound by this restriction, so I became a regular in Illini Union musicals. Each production triggered a bit of pushback from music faculty.

“One afternoon, the theater department called. Faculty Players was producing ‘Spoon River Anthology,’ which features about 20 folk songs. Due to open in four days, their female singer had fallen ill and it was hoped I could take her place.

“With great support from Jim Stevens, the male singer, we managed two successful shows that weekend. Though my voice teacher wasn’t thrilled, my conducting professor offered, ‘I saw the performance this weekend. You can actually sing.’

“Despite the appearance of rigidity, the music faculty prepared us well for a life in community music. Along with great skills, they emphasized respect for others’ time, interests and life’s other demands. Here in Juneau, Alaska, a town of 31,000, we boast an amazingly rich cultural menu, and at one time, three Illini music graduates led the charge.

“Near the end of my time at Illinois, as I watched Krannert Center for the Performing Arts rise, I knew that Illinois was broadening its musical base to serve both the artist and the public.

“Here’s to Alma Mater.”