DANVILLE — The late Myrtle "Louise" Johnson Robinson was a trailblazing teacher who was loved by students and helped open doors for future generations of black teachers in Danville.
Julius W. Hegeler II was a successful businessman who helped start a company that, at one time, was the world's largest contract packager of chemical specialties and one of the largest employers in Vermilion County.
Both have long been known for their philanthropy as much as for their professional successes. And both are the latest inductees to Danville High School's Wall of Fame.
Hegeler, a 1946 graduate, called his inclusion "quite an honor."
"It's something you just can't believe when it happens," said Hegeler, who credits his alma mater for providing him with an "excellent" foundation in life.
Robinson — a 1933 graduate who passed away in 2002 — "would have been so ecstatic," said her cousin, Tammy Derrickson-Moran. "She just loved teaching, and she loved kids."
This year's honorees were selected from among a number of outstanding nominees, longtime Chairwoman Jane Dobbles said. They will be inducted at a ceremony next spring.
After attending Danville schools, Robinson earned a teaching certificate after completing a two-year program at Indiana State Teacher's College, which was typical for the time. When she began teaching at Jackson School in 1935, at age 18, she was one of the first two black teachers in the Danville district.
According to news reports, Robinson was told by then-Superintendent Clarence Vance that he would hire her as an experiment, Dobbles said. If she did well, he would hire other "colored" teachers.
"Clearly she was successful," Dobbles said. "Within a few years, there were a number of African-American teachers in the district."
Robinson, who taught first and second grade, was known for being strict and having high standards and expectations. She also took groups of students on field trips to Chicago museums, paying for them herself.
One of Robinson's students was retired Danville schools Superintendent and Illinois State Board of Education member David Fields, a fellow Wall of Fame member. He remembered his former teacher as "a tremendous lady and outstanding teacher."
"My love for education and schools came from teachers like Louise Robinson," he said. "When you run into teachers that really care about you, you have a tendency to work harder to please them. That's what she got from us. She not only knew what she was doing, but she cared about us and that was a great motivator. She was always very upbeat and friendly and she really cared."
Dobbles said Robinson had to resign in 1943 after marrying, as married women couldn't teach in Danville schools then. She and her husband moved to New Jersey, where she earned a master's degree and doctorate in education at Seton Hall College, and then continued teaching for many years.
Dobbles said Robinson and her sister, Vivian Goins, established the George and Nolia Johnson Scholarship in memory of their parents. One of the many recipients was DeMarko Wright, principal of Garfield Elementary.
Hegeler attended Roselawn School and then Danville High, where he particularly enjoyed manual-arts classes like drafting and mechanical drawing.
"I took everything they had to offer except for aircraft mechanics and auto mechanics. I think those courses, more than anything else, helped me throughout my life," said Hegeler, who fondly remembers his teachers, Paul Smoot and James Hawkins, and many others. "I never had a bad teacher."
Hegeler attended the University of Illinois for three years, then transferred to Millikin University where he earned a bachelor's degree in business administration in 1950. Faced with the military draft, he joined the Air Force, and as a fighter pilot, flew in 70 combat missions including the final mission of the Korean War. He was decorated with the Air Medal, the Oak Leaf Cluster and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
After his discharge in 1955, Hegeler, his brother, Edward, and three other partners founded Peterson Filling and Packaging, Dobbles said. Hegeler oversaw the physical plant including production and building expansion. The company later became Peterson-Puritan Inc., the world's largest contract packager of chemical specialties, and had plants or affiliates in four states and several foreign companies. It employed as many as 1,000 workers in Vermilion County.
When the company was sold to Corn Products Co. in 1966, Hegeler served as vice president of facilities planning until he retired in 1978.
Dobbles said Hegeler established the Julius W. Hegeler II Foundation in 1992. It has donated millions of dollars to numerous local agencies and projects focusing on historic preservation, health care, the arts and improving the lives of children.
Hegeler also has served on many boards of community agencies and organizations.
Some of the projects that have benefited include Provena United Samaritans Medical Center's Women's Health Center and Cancer Center, Danville Area Community College's Garden Gateway and new greenhouse, the Danville Art League building, the Heron Park boardwalk, Kennekuk County Park's pioneer village, AMBUCS Playground for Everyone, the Vermilion County War Museum, the United Way of Vermilion County, the Boys and Girls Club of Danville, the Danville Symphony Orchestra and the Danville Public School Foundation.
DHS Wall of Fame
Danville High School's Wall of Fame honors graduates and former students who have made distinguished achievements in business, arts, entertainment, sports and community service. It aims to promote pride in Danville and its public school system and provide role models for students.
Since 1991, there have been 46 inductees, including 2011 inductees Myrtle "Louise" Johnson Robinson and Julius W. Hegeler II.
Past inductees include Medal of Honor recipient Maj. Kenneth Bailey; award-winning performer Dick Van Dyke; astronaut Joe Tanner; retired state Rep. Bill Black; humanitarian and Tostan founder Molly Melching; Pulitzer Prize winners Scott Shaw and Kim Crockett; Dr. John W.D. Kay, a pioneer in the detection of HIV; and pathologist and philanthropist Dr. Ron Gillium.
For a full list of inductees, go to http://www.danville.k12.il.us .