Part 13: Hickory Farms' CEO, BET's co-founder, a 'Grey's Anatomy' actress and other women of distinction

Part 13: Hickory Farms' CEO, BET's co-founder, a 'Grey's Anatomy' actress and other women of distinction

Over the past eight weeks, we've shared Illini memories from 122 A-list alums and former employees. And we're just getting started.

With the UI's 150th anniversary just two days away, our year-long series continues here, with 10 female grads who went on to greatness telling us about the places and spaces that made the most indelible impressions on them.

DIANE PEARSE (BS '80)

Former Crate & Barrel CFO and Redbox senior VP named Hickory Farms' CEO in 2016

"My memory is one that I am sure is shared by thousands of Illini. One of my favorite electives was Professor (Richard) Scanlan's Classical Civ class. More than 1,000 students would pack into the Auditorium to enjoy his entertaining style of teaching.

"Fridays during football season were always the best, as Professor Scanlan would come out dressed as the Greek god of prophecy, Apollo, in a toga and laurel wreath. Upon his encouragement, I remember shouting I-L-L, I-N-I with my fellow students, and then he would predict an Illini victory. But, alas the predictions rarely came true, as the Illini football team wasn't very good when I was a student."

DEBRA WALKER (BA, JD '87)

Cook County circuit judge since 2008

"Some of my fondest memories were made on the intramural football fields just west of First Street. Having grown up with four brothers who played high school football, I had to wait until college to play on intramural teams. I spent my early undergraduate days playing receiver and scoring many touchdowns for the Garner Hall 4th floor women.

"In law school, I became captain and quarterback for the Women Law Students. We won the university intramural championship in 1985 and took second place in 1986. It was so much fun.

"Throughout my legal career, I kept 'Women Law Students football team captain and quarterback' on my resume. Why? I think it demonstrated my leadership, teamwork and organizational skills, as well as the ability to think fast on my feet. And, it was always a fun ice breaker for whomever was interviewing me — usually a man."

SHEILA JOHNSON (BA '70)

BET founding partner, first female African-American billionaire

"I think about the String Annex. As a music student, how can you not? I had my lessons in that building, practiced my heart out and took my juries.

"Next to that building, I could see the Tri Delta Sorority house. Miss America was a member of this sorority. I remember smiling with pride when I would see her. She was a true beauty."

DEBBY GOLDSBERRY (attended in late 1980s)

Co-founder, United Cannabis Collective; High Times' Freedom Fighter of the Year, 2011-12

"As soon as I moved from Carr Hall to an apartment, I got a bike and a quad dog, Cassidy. She would beg bites of lunch from other students, while I studied in the sunshine. . There were always a few other dogs running around, ready to play and distract us all from the days work.

"I remember a lot of long, cold walks across the Quad, going from one big campus building to another, or making the trip from Carr Hall to Green Street for food or fun. I surely never got used to the indignity of a slippery fall on winter Quad sidewalks, but would freely laughed if any of my friends went down for the same.

"Most importantly, I learned the importance of free speech and protest on the Quad. We set up cages, and imprisoned ourselves to highlight Amnesty International's message about political prisoners. We registered voters, collected signatures on petitions, and signed people up for our various student groups. We gathered for events, drawing attention to important causes, and honing the skills we need serve as individual custodians of our democracy.

"Personally, my cause was, and is, the legalization of marijuana. I joined the campus chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws at a booth behind the Union, and met Chef Ra, the beloved High Times columnist, there. When the police cracked down on the annual Hash Wednesday smoke-in on the Quad in 1988, I helped organize a legalization teach-in the next year in its place. National leaders of the fledgling anti-prohibition movement converged on the Quad that day, joining with us to form the Hemp Tour movement. This was a pivotal moment in the history of drug law reform, where advocates began organizing together to take determined and specific actions against the War on Drugs. I have been involved ever since, organizing for change and now directing medical cannabis dispensaries in California since 1999.

"Even today, I cross the Quad regularly in my sleep, dipping into the Union or passing through to get various places in my dreamscape. It is beautiful."

GRACE WOO (BS '05)

N. 85 on Fast Company's 2013 Most Creative People in Business list, the year she founded tech company Pixels.IO

"My best and most unique memories from Illinois are from freshman year: I was 16. I met my first love. I lived at FAR on one of the bottom floors dedicated to women in STEM.

"Specifically, I remember having to catch the 21 Illini bus every morning, which ran about every 10 minutes to get to Everett Lab, essentially on the other side of campus.

"I remember missing the bus one semester and showing up late on my bike to the final lab challenge in ECE 110. The extra-credit assignment involved getting an autonomous car to catch a ball while following a windy path using infrared sensors and TTL logic. With a great stroke of luck and a minor miracle, our car caught that ball in class and I still have the toolset we won with me today."

PAOLA BOIVIN (BA '82)

Past president, Association for Women in Sports Media; former sports columnist, Arizona Republic

"The back corner of the basement in Illini Hall, where the sports department of the Daily Illini gathered every day, was where I learned to write, play paper football, trade barbs, question authority and eat Garcia's pizza.

"I was surrounded by a group of fellow students and male colleagues who never once made me feel like I wasn't their equal. In the real word at that time, it was tough for female sports journalists. Not that in that room."

HOLLEY FAIN (BA '04)

Played Dr. Julia Canner on Season 8 of 'Grey's Anatomy'

"The most vivid memories I have all take place in one particular rehearsal room way back in the far corner of the underbelly of Krannert Center. I took so many important, formative classes in that room and one of my earliest memories from school took place there. Members of Anne Bogart's SITI Company came and taught a master class with us — it changed my life. The SITI Company. Teaching us. In the middle of the cornfields. What an opportunity.

"I remember the electricity I felt in that room. The collaboration and the focus and the joy and the reverence. I was 18 or 19 and got my first taste of the immense power that true theatre, true storytelling held. I also got my first taste of what it was to be terrified of something new and unfamiliar and to feel that terror and vulnerability completely and do it anyway. The best work often comes from that place, I think."

CAROL ROSS BARNEY (BA '71)

First female architect to design a federal building (Oklahoma City after 1995 bombing)

"With today's new and shocking political climate, I am reminded of some of the unrest and eventually protests of the 1960s.

"In September 1966, my first semester on campus, the U undertook an initiative to register more black students — it was called Project 500 — and I was proud to be in school when people were trying to achieve racial parity and justice. I had a pretty activist group of friends who wanted to change the conversation — i.e. talk about race, not rush.

"On one Sunday night, a group of us ate at a local pizza parlor. We decided that we would run for the student senate on a platform of change. The idea gathered a lot of support and our ticket won overwhelmingly. At the first meeting of the new Student Senate, we abolished ourselves. A pretty radical step but it reflects the energy on campus at that tumultuous time."

KRIS MCMASTERS (BS '78)

Former CliftonLarsonAllen CEO, first woman to lead a top 25 accounting firm

"One event I'll always remember was my junior year in 1977. I had an 8 a.m. accounting class — a class I would never miss considering my dedication toward my eventual career path.

"It was in the middle of winter, and I had a long walk down Green Street — from my apartment to David Kinley Hall. I got ready as normal, not paying attention to the weather. I started walking, went a couple of blocks and literally thought I was going to die. It was freezing — the wind was blowing me literally off the sidewalk, but I kept going, stopping in the doorways of some of the shops along the way to get a break.

"I was nearly to DKH and thought it was odd I didn't see anybody else on the street — including any cars — but I kept going. I had to get to class. All of a sudden, a car comes and it's my two roommates. They stop the car and yell at me to get in and tell me the U of I is closed today — the first time in the history of the university — because of the extreme weather.

"Now, that's real dedication, as well as stupidity."

DEB NEUBEK (BS '82)

Human Systems Engineering, NASA

"The one place that comes to mind immediately is Flagg Hall. This is where architecture students had their studio space. Since design is never really 'done,' we practically lived there, with some folks even bringing sleeping bags to put under their desks.

"I distinctly remember one gorgeous spring day when a couple of the guys were tired of being cooped up inside, so they took their enormous drafting tables and set them up in the green space between Flagg Hall and the dorm just north of it. As I recall, this was a women's dorm, whose residents seemed to greatly appreciate the young men out there with their shirts off. I can't say the same of the administration when they found out what had been done, but it definitely gave the rest of us a needed laugh."

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Rocky7 wrote on March 14, 2017 at 9:03 pm

The following should be included:

Margaret S. Leinen, Class of 1969, Now Director, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (Orld's largest oceangraphic institution).