The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, July 8, 2018

The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, July 8, 2018

Picking up where we left off two weeks ago, we asked 10 'townies' from Champaign County high schools to tell us about their favorite places and spaces on the UI campus. (They're among 1,290 former UI students and staff whose first-person stories you'll find on our continuously updated website,

Uni High grad now a violinist in Boston Symphony Orchestra

"One of my favorite hangout spots was Treno's, which was located right next to the old Thunderbird Theatre on Goodwin Street. Because of its proximity to the Music Building, it was a popular hangout for their pitchers of beer, video games and pinball.

"One could argue that mastering Ms. Pac-Man or Asteroids was beneficial for those fast-twitch muscles needed in Paganini Caprices.

"For sure, it was a great place to de-stress from lengthy practice sessions."

(Urbana High)
Google software engineering manager

"My greatest memory from campus, and certainly what I miss the most today, is going to Illinois basketball games at Assembly Hall with my dad.

"We had season tickets every year and it didn't matter how cold it was or how much snow was on the ground — we were there for every game, from the Lou Henson days in the '90s all the way through the Bruce Weber days in the late-2000s.

"Those frigid Tuesday and Wednesday nights in January and February were the best tradition: my dad and I would bundle up and brave the cold together, enjoy the game, listen to the victory song inside the stadium, and then break down the game on the car ride home, listening to the postgame on the radio."

(Champaign High)
Famed artist/sculptor

"The top floor of the old Architecture Building, with its large painting studios, is the place which had pivotal importance for me. I did not teach in these studios. I did not attend classes in this building. But they had everything to do with my becoming an artist.

"I was from Champaign and attended Holy Cross. When I was in third grade, the fourth-grade teacher, Sister Evelyn Marie, was completing an additional master's at the UI and asked my parents if she could paint my portrait for her thesis. This scenario consisted of my sitting for a portrait on Saturday mornings in the Architecture Building's top-floor studios.

"There was a method in her madness in that she was giving me the opportunity to follow the development and construction of the painting. It was a large painting consisting of me seated with a view of the room.

"And it didn't stop there. She convinced my father that I needed a full-scale professional paint box filled with the best oil paint and brushes. So, Follett's on Green and Wright and 610 on Daniel Street became necessary stops on Saturday mornings to buy more tubes of paint or the best French charcoal.

"After the portrait was completed, I continued painting on Saturdays, riding my bicycle to the Architecture Building. Often, the art professors, finding this little boy painting all alone, would offer me their crits."

(Uni High)
Oscar-nominated filmmaker best known for 'Hoop Dreams'

"My freshman year, I lived in a basement apartment at Fourth and Green in a house next to Abe's Red Hots. Rent was $75 a month — a great deal, except for the pipes and heating ducts I had to duck my 6-foot-5 frame under to walk around, and the one day when the house sewer system backed up and everything from the upstairs apartments came out of my lone basement toilet.

"Bless her brave soul, my best and dearest friend, Carole Dyal, helped me clean it all up.

"I was also across the street from Ruby Gulch — the best live music bar I've ever experienced, anywhere. Since I knew the bouncers, I could always get in for the final post-midnight set for free, and see some of the finest blues, jazz and rock performers around, not only from Chicago but from across the U.S.

"Since they had live shows almost every night, I was there often, making it all the more miraculous that I ever graduated."

(Urbana High)
Study director, Covance Laboratories of Indianapolis

"The Office of Minority Student Affairs at 610 East John was and continues to be a safe haven, a place for students to go and connect outside of the classroom.

"Back in the day, OMSA was the place to be if you wanted to talk to Greta about your financial aid, or to meet up with your graduate student tutor counselor. Established in 1968, it is one of the longest-running and most comprehensive support programs in the country.

"Added to that rich history, OMSA continues to provide a wealth of educational enrichment opportunities, such as academic mentorship, tutoring and federal-funded TRIO programs. It's a place of fond memories for me and many generations of students and alumni."

(Mahomet-Seymour High)
Executive director, Illinois Junior Golf Association

"One of my fondest memories: the tailgates. In those days, the lot behind the baseball field was open to the public and we would start early, and end up with a huge group of people.

"We always seemed to be situated next to the family of Juice Williams, and they were a blast. I think that is where my passion for event management began.

"I loved coordinating the tailgates and making sure we had all of the essentials, that no detail was forgotten and that everyone had a great experience."

(Centennial High)
CEO, Huffy Bikes

"I always remember those spring days on the Quad when it would be filled with students lounging, studying, napping or throwing a Frisbee around with their dog.

"I loved to go to the DeLuxe for a Friday fish sandwich and an Old Style. When you were done eating your fish sandwich with vinegar, you could put your quarter on the edge of a pool table to take on a game.

"I fondly remember trips to Allerton Park — especially to see the Fu Dogs and the Sun Singer.

"Champaign will always be home for me. My best friends are still there.

"Long live the Chief."

(Central High)
United Kingdom-based senior program manager, Microsoft

"The place that immediately comes to mind is the Computing Applications Building on Springfield and Sixth. Although the National Center for Computing Applications now has an amazing new building, back in the mid-'90s, NCSA's offices were in CAB.

"I was in high school then, and through some good fortune, I managed to wrangle a part-time job and internship at NCSA in the chemistry visualization group, which built friendly interfaces to computational chemistry software that ran on the Cray Y-MP supercomputer.

"It was an incredible opportunity that I was given, both to learn how to build software in a professional environment and also play with some of the most powerful computers ever built. And as a young computer nerd with this good fortune, I spent as much time there as I could.

"Of course, if I had spent more time in my classes when I finally became a student at UIUC, I might have actually finished with a degree."

(Central High)
Hollywood actor/producer

"It's worth noting that my great-grandmother started Shelton Laundry in Urbana during the Depression and worked with the U of I to house black students on campus long before they were ever allowed.

"So my experience and appreciation abides in a deep history between the community and the university, which used to be a bit stronger in my opinion. Long before people made college choices, mine was made for me.

"My dad worked at the Assembly Hall for a bit, so it was always cool seeing him and the friends he'd had since my childhood in the halls that I watched the Flyin' Illini capture imaginations in.

"But Aunt Sonya's is the spot I miss the most. I didn't even know there was more to the menu than pancakes."

(Centennial High)
Co-founder, S&G Tech Group of Baltimore

"The Mechanical Engineering Lab is where most of us (majors) were exposed to many fascinating ideas, met some lifelong friends, and made our design and theory into reality.

"I worked as a lab assistant for a 3D printing lab in MEL for many years. MEL is where I realized what my goals and career would be. I became obsessed with 3D printing, and eventually joined forces with my friends to open a 3D printing company.

"To this day, I am still thankful for my first job as that lab assistant, and to the professor who gave me this possibility."

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