Part 41: From A to Z

Part 41: From A to Z

With the UI celebrating birthday No. 150 this year, we caught up with hundreds of graduates who have gone on to big things. Every Tuesday throughout 2017, Editor JEFF D'ALESSIO will tell their tales. Today, in Part 41: An A-to-Z trip down memory lane.

A is for ...

... the ARMORY rooftop, which now-Nike global sportswear communication director JERED THORP ('01) discovered offers a late-night view like none other.

"Disclaimer," he notes, "this probably isn't legal and isn't necessarily safe.

"The roof of the Armory is something that changed my entire perspective of campus. A buddy and exceptional ROTC leader showed me a 'secret' hatch in a top-floor classroom, which will remain unnamed for safety sake. Once through the hatch, a short scurry up the curved roof led to a flat lookout that was a 360-degree view of Illinois' finest university. Coming down is more challenging.

"Nowadays, kids are climbing skyscrapers in Dubai for the perfect picture for Instagram; we just wanted to see what the Morrow Plots looked like from the air. This view is probably easier gained from a drone."

B is for ...

... BOSL, the acronym for a club that met a couple times a week for some R&R at R&R Sports Grill.

"It stood for Burned Out Student Leaders," says JENNIFER CUASAY WALDINGER ('95), then-president of the Illini Union Board and now COO of the Illinois Department of Central Management Services. "We were a very tight-knit group and many of us are still close to this day. The group included State Senator CHAPIN ROSE ... and others who have gone on to doing great things."

C is for ...

... a CONFESSION, which Germany-based Bayer CropScience wheat expert MIKE KERNS ('98) feels he owes his former professor, JOHN DUDLEY, after all these years. When Kerns and classmate ARIAN DIJKHUIZEN used to tell their teacher they had to leave early to go to "the library," they weren't referring to the one with wall-to-wall books.

"Dudley always looked at us a bit queerly, trying to gauge our nerdiness," Kerns said. "But the Library was a bar where we played pool, drank pitchers of beer and ate platters of fries covered in mayonnaise. Arian was Dutch and turned me onto the habit. To this day, I don't know if Dr. Dudley connected the two or just thought us diligent."

D is for ...

... the DAUNTING terms of membership of a club future Expedia business intelligence manager BRIAN WESSELMAN ('85) and fellow Friday-night regulars at the White Horse Inn invented on their own: "To keep everyone from leaving to eat, (the bar served) $1 hot dogs, which triggered a competition we had, called the 10/10 club. Membership required drinking 10 beers and eating 10 hot dogs" in a single sitting.

E is for ...

... the "unbelievable" EXHIBIT at Krannert that helped pave JUDY PEISER's career path. It arrived around the same time Peiser ('70) did for her freshman year and featured ANDY WARHOL's 'MARILYN MONROE' series. In the years that followed, Peiser sat in on lectures about the Vietnam War, watched jazz band practice and "realized that there were ways that media could make voices come alive." Two years after graduation, she and a friend founded the Center for Southern Folklore, still a staple of downtown Memphis.

F is for ...

... the FARMING industry, which TODD ATKINSON ('89) knew was for him when he left his freshman dorm in the fall of 1985, wondering where the loud music was coming from across campus. He eventually made his way to Memorial Stadium, site of the first Farm Aid concert.

"I scrounged up a precious few bucks from my pocket to buy a ticket from a creepy-looking scalper, walked onto the field and spent the rest of the afternoon into the evening listening to famous musicians calling public attention to the American farm financial crisis," says the former director of external affairs for the USDA Farm Service Agency. "I remember thinking how appropriate that the University of Illinois, given its agriculture leadership, was the host, at a stadium which memorialized the alums who died in World War I, and these big-city stars were coming together to help their rural neighbors from losing their farms."

G is for ...

... Japan House Professor Emeritus KIMIKO GUNJI, who had a lasting impact on Centennial Charger-turned-Google Culture Evangelist CLIFF REDEKER ('04).

"Together with the Campus Honors Program, Professor Gunji's lessons have led me to a Rotary Goodwill Ambassadorship in Yanai, Japan, a lunch with Senator JOHN GLENN, and a career building goodwill and kokoro for Google's invited speakers, clients and guests," he said. "To this day, I still seek out the astringent taste of fine matcha in the Google microkitchens."

H is for ...

... HIGH Street in Urbana, where Grammy-nominated conductor DONALD NALLY unknowingly rented a quiet apartment with no heating in the kitchen or bathroom, "bringing a Bohemian sensibility to my studies."

"I had a lot of squirrel friends — both in the apartment and out — and I read hours a day there, thought hours a day there, dreamt of things that have come true and those that haven't, lived and loved there ... and drank a lot of sake there, in my very own little sake glasses purchased at Lincoln Square," he said. "It was perfect."

I is for ...

... the INTERMEZZO Cafe inside Krannert Center, which served a fluffy white iced cake that CHUCK PELLETIER ('86) still craves.

"Years later," says Princess Cruises' director of main stage productions, "I would sit in a seat at the John Golden Theatre in New York City and watch 'Avenue Q,' and the song 'I Wish I Could Go Back to College' would bring up the image of that Intermezzo dessert," he said. "With age comes wisdom and doctors telling you your cholesterol is high, your metabolism is low, your blood pressure is borderline, and it would be best if you could work toward subsisting on alfalfa and bean spouts. It made me wish I'd gone to Intermezzo more when I had the chance."

J is for ...

... JAPAN, which Nike marketing director PETER IVERSEN ('99) now calls home. Nowhere to be found: Anything resembling the country roads of central Illinois, where he spent countless hours doing his best ROBBY BENSON in "Breaking Away."

"Something about an unobstructed horizon meeting the road helps shed perspective on the rapid learning, in and out of the classroom," he said. "Never have I felt the freedom and liberty of those days out on country roads on a bicycle — I can still smell that farmland air."

K is for ...

... KENNEY Gym, for which there is no equivalent in Houston, where ExxonMobil research manager JOHN KUZAN ('86) now calls home:

"I now use a gym that has a cute juice bar and a small boutique where you can buy wicking sportswear," he said. It's no Kenney, which "had the look, the feel and especially the smell of a gym that was serious."

L is for ...

... LOVE, which JAMILA REEVES ('05) found on the sticky grounds of Kam's, of all places.

"Yes, the smelly, infamous campus bar," says Teach For America's New York City-based managing director of regional communications. "I met my now-husband there when he bought me a $1 beer, and it's been true love ever since."

M is for ...

... MAIZE in Campustown, where JASON CHRISTENSEN ('13) bought so many of the carne asada burritos, "it became pretty embarrassing — I could call, place my order and they would ask if this was Jason," says the military aide to the assistant secretary of the Navy.

N is for ...

... the Bruce D. NESBITT African American Cultural Center — or, as it was known to then-doctoral teaching assistant TONY LAING ('14), "The Black House." Now the director of the Men of Color Initiative at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, he misses "my home away from home, where I not only assisted the director with social and educational programming for undergraduate students, but met with the Black Graduate Student Association. I could go there to relax, take a nap and study. I met some of my closest friends there."

O is for ...

... the ORCHARD Downs family housing complex, where future GE and Johnson & Johnson VP FRANCINE PARHAM ('91) arrived as a single parent, with baby in tow, pursuing her master's: "Orchard Downs wasn't that spectacular. It was pretty sterile and basic, but the community of families, their backgrounds, their home countries and their experiences were amazing and so rich to learn from. It was truly a community before the word 'community' became popular."

P is for ...

... PBR — served cheap and cold at Urbana's Rose Bowl bar, just the way future Ace Hardware VP/general counsel HOWIE JAPLON and his late-'70s UI Law School buddies liked it.

"On weekends, it featured a band called the Texas Playboys," he says. "Great place."

Q is for ...

... the QUAD, where Mayor RAHM EMANUEL's hand-picked choice for Chicago city clerk — the newly sworn-in ANNA VALENCIA ('07), who was first in her family to graduate from college — saw "a whole new side of life.

"Sitting on the Quad, I could watch the whole world walk by. It is the one place on campus where you could see U of I's true diversity," she says "... And it wasn't just the people, it was the grandiosity of the campus buildings that surround the lawn. It made you feel like you were a part of something bigger, larger than yourself."

R is for ...

... Illini Hillel RABBI HIRSCH COHEN, who in 1960 played matchmaker for a grad student who'd just moved to town by way of New York.

"My intent was to ask if he needed ritual assistance for the upcoming Jewish New Year, but he had a different question for me," says Jerusalem-based consulting firm president and Times of Israel blogger SHERWIN POMERANTZ ('64). "He wanted to know if I had a girlfriend. When I said no, he said he wanted me to meet BARBARA RASHBAUM, the student president of Hillel, as he thought we would make a great couple.

"Well, he was correct, and we were married in Kansas City 17 months later and spent 27 happy years together until she passed away 28 years ago. That will always be my fondest memory of my 18 months at the U of I."

S is for ...

... the cozy SOFAS at the Illini Union, which were so popular in ANGIE RIEGER's day, they practically required a signup sheet.

"I studied, napped and hung out for entire Sundays on those sofas," says the Lands' End senior VP ('89).

T is for ...

... "THOSE girls," as WENDY LEVY ('85), now Midwest director for Vogue magazine, and her 10th-floor Bromley Hall neighbors were known by, "because we were always together." Among their hijinks: trying to catch a bat that had flown into a friend's room and the pre-Halloween pumpkin-carving that went awry.

"By spring, we had pumpkin vines growing out of our sink because the water from the faucet watered the pumpkin seeds that fell in," she says.

U is for ...

... UPS, which former Illini strong safety and now-Madison Square Garden VP MARC JACKSON ('03) uses "constantly" — to ship Papa Del's pizzas in from Champaign.

V is for ...

... Illini VICTORIES, which future San Francisco Bay Area Super Bowl Host Committee CEO KEITH BRUCE ('87) witnessed a whole lot of in the mid-'80s at Memorial Stadium: "This was before ESPN 'College GameDay' and all the other pregame hype. Big Ten football on Saturday was my break from all the classwork and the pressures of succeeding in college life. It was just pure college football and part of the college experience — whether it was going to games with my Sig Ep frat brothers, new girlfriends or even by myself a few times for those cold November games."

W is for ...

... WPGU-FM, the first stop on a media journey that's taken EMILY WEST ('00) to Clear Channel Chicago, Fox Atlanta and, since 2013, New York's WNBC-TV.

"I was a farm kid from southern Illinois, so heading to Champaign-Urbana was big lights, big city to me," she says. "Looking back, what an experience. We were college kids running a commercial radio station. I'd go to class in the morning, then be a DJ every afternoon."

X is for ...

... XXL, the size of the main delicacy at All-American offensive lineman BRAD HOPKINS' favorite place to take dates.

"What young lady wouldn't go for a burrito as big as your head? LaBamba never failed," swears the two-time Pro Bowler.

Y is for ...

... YALE, where former Illini walk-on ALLISON GUTH is now head women's basketball coach: "I remember some of the best nights at Irwin Academic Center, trying to grind out Professor (FRED) GOTTHEIL's Macro Economics course while living it up with my teammates and best friends on the softball team. It was the moments we would laugh so hard, we would cry in between trying to get our work done."

Z is for ...

... ZA'S, where 2004 grad and Singapore-based Google creative strategist TAE-YUN PAIK's long search for tasty Italian food ended: "Before UIUC, I had lived in Rome, Italy, which naturally turned me into a passionate Italian food fanatic. Before Za's, there weren't much Italian options at the campus. Olive Garden was too out of the way and Sbarro was too uninspiring. Za's was like a gift from God."

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