The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, June 24, 2018


The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, June 24, 2018

Attending college in your hometown comes with its pluses (saving moolah) and minuses (mom and dad for housemates). Take it from these 10 C-U natives turned Illini townie success stories, who shared with us their UI memories, among the 1,285 you'll now find at

VP, Athene USA of West Des Moines, Iowa

"Since I was born and raised in C-U, I did the bar scene and frat parties while I was still in high school — the drinking age then was 18 so not as shocking as that might be today. My Dad owned the Red Lion Inn so our family was definitely immersed in that side of college life.

"When it came time for me to go to school, I chose to live with my folks and be a commuter kid. Ugh.

"I was as an accountancy major. I'm a morning person, so I took the earliest classes available, a full load, and when I got done by 1 p.m. every afternoon, I'd go to my job and work. I became extraordinarily skilled at finding parking spots and figuring out the timing of the meter maids, so I would escape the dreaded $5 tickets.

"Although I chose accounting as my major, my love was really for literature and language. I spent any free moments I could in the atrium of the English building, where I could escape my intense accounting classmates, and become somewhat anonymous. I always felt transformed and peaceful there, and adored all of my classes."

Google Search site reliability engineer in Mountain View, Calif.

"My father joined the math department in 1956 and later became a founding member of the computer science department in the mid 1960s

"He passed away suddenly in 1975, from a rare virus, at age 46.

"The university — specifically, the good people of the math department, including the head, Jerry Uhl — immediately hired my mother, at first to help typeset and edit the Illinois Journal of Mathematics and later, to run the Association for Symbolic Logic. This helping hand from the university absolutely saved my childhood, and I will be forever grateful.

"When my father died, within days, Professor Jurg Nievergelt of the computer science department gave me a free login account on the PLATO computer system. Every day, I would go to the Computer-based Engineering Research Laboratory to play games and explore the system.

"A year later, I bought a book from the third-floor desk at CERL and began teaching myself computer programming. I returned to UIUC in 1986 to get a master's and Ph.D.

"Now 40 years later, I help to run Google Search every day."

Minneapolis-based CEO, Pipeline Foods

"I never lived on campus, but was hanging out there even in my high school days in Urbana.

"I started pushing a broom at the ice rink when I was still in junior high and continued to work there seasonally until I graduated in 1983.

"I was the principal skate sharpener for the UI hockey team and the public skaters for 10-plus years, and drove the Zamboni all hours of the day and night. I was also the trackmaster in charge of the ice during the speedskating events. Used to pick little Bonnie Blair up off the ice after she crashed."

Chicago law partner

"I have had only two real jobs. During high school and college, I washed dishes at the now-demolished Dairy Queen on Green Street. Then, for the last 40 years, I have practiced law at the international law firm of Winston & Strawn LLP.

"When my practice as a commercial trial lawyer gets hectic, I often think of my more relaxed employment at the Dairy Queen with all the free ice cream that I could eat. And I think about the University YMCA, where we founded the Coalition For Voter Registration, aimed at registering 18-year-old students to vote, and fled from the National Guard during the Vietnam War protests on the Quad.

"I met my future wife Karen as a freshman undergrad student. My idea of a hot date was to drive around campus on my Vespa motor scooter with Karen on the back and distribute register-to-vote flyers.

"She married me anyway in 1974, joined me at the College of Law, became a lawyer and somehow remains married to me after 43 years."

Denver attorney

"I grew up on the steps of Krannert. When I was 9, I had a starring — hardly — non-speaking role in a two-season production of 'The King and I.'

"My fated singing ambitions eventually led me to more practical academic goals and Krannert became a safe haven from the vile and humming overhead lighting of the campus libraries and the just-too-noisy rumblings of the local coffee shops.

"I would study on the steps of the amphitheater when the weather was warm and in the café when it wasn't. And once, I dined on the steps in front of the Studio Theatre to celebrate my acceptance to the Civic Leadership Fellowship. It was fitting, therefore, that I would eventually walk across Krannert's stage to receive two separate degrees in political science, the capstone of my campus memories."

Anthropologie's district brand leader for Chicago and Milwaukee

"There is something incredibly peaceful about the Quad — flowers, fall leaves, snow, green grass ... a little bit of nature to slow down the rapid thoughts of a college mind.

"On those walks in between classes, sorority and business fraternity events, bars and coffee shops, I made plans so big and so small. I dreamed dreams. I laughed, listened and learned."

Founded Colorado data mining company

"I have many fond memories — as the daughter of Peter B. Shoresman, a former esteemed early childhood science education professor in the School of Education; as the stepdaughter of Edward Hynds, the chair of English Brothers, which built almost a hundred buildings at the U of I, including Zuppke Field; as a law student; and as a business law TA and faculty member in the College of Commerce.

"More specifically, my memories include my dad's office, as well as his lab in the College of Education; Krannert, where I played the violin in the CU Youth Symphony, attended numerous performances and graduated high school and law school; the other Krannert — the art museum, where I took classes as a kid and my mom exhibited her artwork; and Assembly Hall, where I saw my first concerts — The Carpenters, Helen Reddy, Barry Manilow and REO Speedwagon."

TOM SUN ('10)
Silicon Valley software engineer

"My dad is a research scientist at U of I, and our family moved to Urbana back in 2000. You'd think, having been living in the campus town for so many years, my favorite spot would be a peculiar spot unknown to most, but it's really just the Illini Union.

"The Union is the center of everything, and the division of the nerdy engineering side and the more fun business and LAS side. You see students of every personality and major there, and it's one place with a quiet study area like the presidential lounge, and the lively courtyard, and the fun basement with bowling and pool.

"My friends and I hung out there all the time; to study, relax, have fun, eat and get to know cute girls from the business side."

CEO, AccountabilIT of Phoenix

"I remember walking to the Union on a Friday evening, beginning the weekend of 25-plus hours of study for Accounting 208 — the class that separated the future CPAs from the wannabes.

"It was a crisp fall evening and I was wondering what the heck I had done transferring into the nation's number one accounting program and dreading the weekend of study.

"I was crossing the street to enter the Quad when I saw the line of cars of high schoolers cruising Green Street after the Friday night high school football games. One car caught my attention. It was driven by a friend of mine from high school. He was alone, apparently with nothing better to do than cruising alone. It was that moment I realized I had made the right choice.

"I was motivated and set the curve on that test."

Noise control engineer in Minneapolis

"I started playing in the Champaign-Urbana High School Clarinet Choir in ninth grade, and the U of I Concert band in 11th.

"Despite my engineering major, I was in the Harding Band Building at least four days a week.

"One semester, I started my week with a 7 a.m. private lesson, an 8 a.m. physics class, 9 a.m. quartet practice, 10 a.m. dynamics class and then symphonic band at 12:30. So, by 2 p.m., I'd made five trips from the band building to north of Green — or the reverse.

"I'd end my day by riding my bike to the band building to pick up my bass clarinet so I could practice at home."