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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.”