Part 36: The spaceship on the prairie

Part 36: The spaceship on the prairie

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With the UI celebrating birthday No. 150 this year, we caught up with hundreds of graduates who have gone on to greatness. Every Tuesday throughout 2017, Editor JEFF D'ALESSIO will tell their tales. Today, in Part 36: the Assembly Hall.

It changed names, got $170 million worth of work done and has been a little less rambunctious than in its younger days, but to many alums, the building formerly known as the Assembly Hall is where any trip down memory lane begins, be it watching Bruce Douglas or Bruce Springsteen.

➜ It's where, long before moving to Texas, where she is now ExxonMobil's U.S. loyalty manager, KIMBERLY KEMPER (BS '89) cheered her lungs out from the Orange Krush student section during the 1988-89 dream season. She still has her game-day duds to show for it — "my Flight 13 Kendall Gill T-shirt," she says. "It's not in great shape, but I can't seem to part with it."

➜ It's where Chief Illiniwek XXI, MIKE GONZALEZ, now president of South Carolina's Secession Golf Club, found himself backstage one spring night in April 1974 at a J. Geils Band concert, "killing a half-hour" with lead singer Peter Wolf's girlfriend at the time — Academy Award-winning actress Faye Dunaway.

➜ It's where, on the afternoon of Nov. 30, 2004, the future director of minor league operations for the Los Angeles Angels and a friend showed up for the Illini's much-ballyhooed match-up with top-ranked Wake Forest — a good 27 hours before tip-off.

"Luckily," says 2008 grad MIKE LACASSA, "we met some fellow fanatics who opened their tents — and their flasks — to us." Bruce Weber took care of Wednesday dinner (hand-delivering pizzas), and his team took care of the Demon Deacons, 91-73.

➜ It's where a green WPGU reporter, who would go on to become NPR's senior digital director, got his first taste of coachspeak — but not the kind that Big Ten beat writers in JOEL SUCHERMAN's day were used to in a league with potty-mouthed Bob Knight and the combustible Gene Keady.

"I'll forever be grateful that coaches Lou Henson and Mike White treated me with the same courtesy that they did my more experienced media colleagues from Chicago and Champaign," says Sucherman (BS '86).

➜ It's where, 18 years after he left campus, Chicago Cubs VP ANDREW McINTYRE (BS '96/MBA '99) added a new favorite UI memory: "Bringing the 2016 World Series trophy to center court of the State Farm Center — Assembly Hall to me — during the Illini basketball game against Minnesota this year."

➜ It's where Framingham (Mass.) State University President JAVIER CEVALLOS spent several memorable nights while taking study breaks from his master's and doctoral work in the late '70s and early '80s.

"My department — at the time, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese — was one of the top-ranked in the nation, and we had so many distinguished scholars visiting all the time," he says. "But my favorite memories have to do with music, from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to Vladimir Ashkenazy to Luciano Pavarotti at Krannert Center to the rock bands at Assembly Hall — Bruce Springsteen, Linda Ronstadt and Emerson, Lake and Palmer."


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