Part 59: Classroom critters and Baboon Hall

Part 59: Classroom critters and Baboon Hall

This being the year the UI celebrates birthday No. 150, we caught up with graduates from across the globe who have gone on to big things. Every Tuesday throughout 2017, Editor JEFF D'ALESSIO will tell their tales. Today in Part 59: The glamour-less life.

With UI trustees set to vote this week on a plan that calls for renovating 50-plus buildings in the coming years, the days of students roughing it in century-old classrooms will soon be distant memories.

That means no more ...

— Classroom critters, like the shifty squirrels that added a touch of drama to lectures inside Lincoln Hall.

The one that made a home there during PAUL SILVER's freshman year was a particularly nimble little varmint, able to dart back and forth across the stage before Econ 101 Professor Werner Baer could turn around to see what all the students were pointing at.

"Another time," says Silver ('89), a former Barack Obama adviser and now San Francisco entrepreneur, "I got to an early afternoon lecture about 30 minutes beforehand and saw a smattering of students throughout the auditorium, some eating their lunches. A woman just a few rows in front of me was about to start on a sandwich when the squirrel bolted out of nowhere, ran up her back, jumped off her shoulder and stole half the sandwich in a swift movement. It was impressive."

— Residences with nicknames like Baboon Hall, the affectionate alias for the "run-down" house at Romine and University that Dresser-Rand Global Sales Director JOHN RICE ('80) called home for three years in the late '70s.

"This was well before Beckman Institute or the new north engineering campus replaced everything in the area," Rice says. "Across the street, our house faced the left field fence of the UI baseball field. Every spring when the weather would turn nice, we would take our large speakers out onto the front porch and play rock music for the team during practice. The coach didn't seem to mind as it energized his players.

"Song requests from team members would be considered, and often rejected. The first hitter to launch one over the left field fence during batting practice was awarded DJ rights for the remainder of practice."

Just one rule: no disco.

— Pigsties like The Daily Illini newsroom circa fall 1989, when Mayo Clinic Senior Editor JENNIFER WARNER ('83) was on staff.

"This was an old-school, open newsroom strewn with piles of newspapers and notebooks stacked in corners — on desks and any surface available. There was a constant hum of keyboards clicking and ringing phones. These were the days before Google and working remotely. Your desk phone and your feet were the reporter's most important research tools."

And she was hooked. A favorite assignment: "to accompany a mummy recently purchased by the university's World Heritage Museum on a trip to Burnham hospital for a CT scan and MRI. That sparked an interest in medical and health journalism that's taken me from the DI to ABC News in Moscow, where I helped cover President Boris Yeltsin's secret heart surgery; to launching one of the first health news websites,, which was later purchased by WebMD; to now managing health information at the Mayo Clinic."


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