'The day he gave me an A-plus on a paper ... was a big day for me'

'The day he gave me an A-plus on a paper ... was a big day for me'

Heading into the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation’s gala, we’ll catch up with five public school alumni set to be honored on March 30 at the I Hotel and Conference Center:

Right up there with becoming the first woman named permanent president of the UI Alumni Alliance is a less-famous feat JENNIFER LEWIS DILLAVOU pulled off four decades ago: First Centennial student to inspire a popular psychology teacher to go higher than 'A' on his grading scale.

Dillavou can't recall for certain the topic of the assignment she aced, but she'll never forget the feeling that came afterward.

"Everyone loved George Valentine. I'm not sure how old he was when we were in school — late 30s, early 40s? — but he was so hip, it was tragic. And wickedly funny and subversive without ever being disrespectful about the process of education," recalls Dillavou (Class of '77). "He took what he did seriously, but he didn't take himself seriously.

"The day he gave me an A-plus on a paper — and he made a point of telling the class he didn't give A-pluses but he was breaking his rule — was a big day for me. It meant the world."

Count on hearing more tales of favorite teachers Saturday, when Dillavou is recognized as one of this year's Distinguished Alumni award winners by the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation.

"We were blessed with some wonderful teachers and administrators at Centennial in the '70s," she says.

Dillavou is set to receive her second Distinguished Alumni award in under a month, after being similarly honored by the UI College of Education on March 8. Here's what else we learned about her Centennial days when we joined her for a spin down memory lane.

HEY, IT WAS THE '70S

"The summer before my senior year, the United States was preparing for the Olympic Winter Games and Dorothy Hamill was everywhere. With that hair. I had had long hair forever and decided I would go with the famous Hamill 'wedge' cut.

"That was the beginning of a long line of disastrous hair experiments. Thanks for that, Dorothy."

TEACHERS OF INFLUENCE

"There are so many — Elsie Engelhaupt, Wally Lehman, Stuart Jenkins, Caryl Willis, Al Davis, Nicole Storch, Lu Welch and Al Griggs. As to whom was my favorite, it's a coin toss between Keith Page and George Valentine.

"Mr. Page had a profound influence on my life and was easily the more impactful of the two."

NO PLACE LIKE ...

"The auditorium. My academic years were divided into thirds — fall play; Spectrum, the winter talent show; and the spring musical. Being a part of a cast — learning that one person is no more important than the rest, that you succeed or fail based upon everyone's efforts — was a lesson I was lucky to learn early and it stays with me today."

FAVORITE ACTIVITY

"Theater. And that's why Keith Page was the most impactful of all my instructors. As I just mentioned, I was involved in every production during my time at Centennial. Mr. Page did not accept half measures. And if that's what you were delivering, you would hear about it.

"Not subtly, either. If it happened to you once — and it did to me — you never wanted it to happen again. We all had so much respect for Mr. Page. You just didn't want to disappoint him."

ONE SHINING MOMENT

"When I was a senior, I played Adelaide in 'Guys and Dolls.' It was a big and talented cast. Some of my closest friends, then and now — Peter Bannon, Jim Creighton, David Neuman, Alan Stark, Brian Stone, Susan Brindley — were in that show.

"Peter likes to talk about the number 'Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat' and when it was over, he couldn't believe how long the applause lasted. He thought it might go on forever.

"I wasn't in that part of the show, but I did perform 'Marry the Man Today' with Susan. David has said — charitably, I'm sure — that to this day, despite having seen performances on Broadway and out in Los Angeles, it's his favorite musical performance ever.

"Champaign was smaller then. If people in the community came to a show and enjoyed your performance, they'd stop you in the grocery store and let you know."

OFF CAMPUS

"Every weekend, my parents told me not to go to campus and, having an oppositional streak a mile wide, of course that's where I went.

"Garcia's on Wright Street was the place to see and be seen. The Tomato Brothers — Ralph and Joe — were celebrities in this town."

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