Part 48: The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, Sept. 17, 2017

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Part 48: The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, Sept. 17, 2017

In Chapter 48 of our yearlong series commemorating the UI's 150th birthday, we asked 10 grads who've gone on to big things to tell us about the Campustown places and spaces that made the most indelible impressions on them.

REGGIE BROWN ('01)
Former Bub's pizza delivery man now a comedian, Barack Obama impersonator

"You learn a lot about life in college, in and out of the classroom. When I was 13, my stepdad passed away from a three-year battle with leukemia, so for most of my life I was raised by a single mom along with my four siblings.

"The day after I moved into my dorm room on the fourth floor of Hopkins in the Six Pack, I remember waking up and not having to worry about anyone but me. 
 
"It was such an exciting and different time for me. Do I go to my 8 a.m. lecture? Maybe yes, maybe no.  
 
"I had no one to tell me what to do, what to eat or where to go. 
 
"I had to hold myself accountable for every decision that I made. It was a new level of self-sufficiency that I hadn't experienced before. 
 
"I quickly learned that in life, there is no one to blame for your successes and failures but yourself.
 
"As an actor and comedian, I am now one of the few, if not the only one, that manages myself as a talent. 
 
"From the first point of contact, to the script development, promotion, performance, bookkeeping and follow-ups, I do it all.
 
"I have traveled the world and have reached almost every goal I have set for myself.
 
"Connect your mind, body and soul and you'll be surprised what happens. Anything is possible when you know yourself in and out.
 
"Be self sufficient in life but not selfish.
 
"We are all put on this planet supplied with different talents and abilities and we are here to help each other out. 
 
"To this day, some of my best friends and stories have come from my time at U of I. From pledging a fraternity, barn dances, socials, late nights at Bonnie Jean's, drunken fights outside Kam's, signing up for my first credit cards at Quad Day — big mistake; don't do it — I've learned from every experience. 
 
"Who knows? All of it just may make it into a script one day."
 

JEANNE HARRIS ('75)
Business professor, Columbia University

"I spent a lot of time in the reference reading room at the main university library — a beautiful, old-fashioned space with wooden bookcases lining the walls, high windows and orderly rows of long wooden tables.

"One night, I was there just before closing time to meet a classmate who worked the late shift in the circulation department. He mentioned that we could 'shuffle off to Buffalo' as soon as he finished closing up for the night. I confessed that I never learned to tap dance, which led to an impromptu dance lesson. Others soon joined us, and suddenly we had a chorus line of librarians kicking their way across the reading room while loudly singing 'I Don't Care.'

"I still smile when I think of those supposedly shy and demure librarians, boisterously singing and dancing their way down the aisle."

GARY WITT ('68)
CEO, Global Gun Safety

"Guess I can confess this after 50 years. In the winter of 1967, my roommate, Rex Seifert, and I had the bright and literary idea of sticking a big scarlet letter 'A' on the chest of the Alma Mater statue, which we did one snowy midnight, amid lots of laughing and looking out for cops.

"Then we called the Daily Illini — anonymously, of course — to let them know. We made the front page, above the fold. No one ever found out who did it until now.

"Of course, this won't mean as much to readers who have never had to read 'The Scarlet Letter' in high school."

JOHN ARAVOSIS ('85)
AMERICAblog founder, Democratic consultant, cable news regular

"Two of my favorite memories deal with two huge influences in my life: the Internet and chocolate.

"I remember visiting the campus as a prospective student in 1980, and a friend took me late at night into the bowels of some computer science building. We sat in front of a computer in a dark room and played Dungeons and Dragons virtually with some kid located in South Africa. It was my first introduction to the Internet, and I was blown away. And now, my entire career revolves around the Internet.

"My second favorite memory is buying a 'brownie-under' — a brownie topped with ice cream — after every exam; first at a little shop east of the Quad, and then at a large coffeehouse right near Kam's. Chocolate and the Internet inspire me to this day."

JEANNE BLISS ('81)
Microsoft executive turned business consultant

"I was taking a lot of classes for my minor of apparel design, one of which happened to be nude drawing.

"That first day, when the male model walked in, just dropped his robe and sat on a chair really knocked me for a loop."

BRUNO BREITMEYER ('68)
2007 Psychology Distinguished Alumni Award winner

"The Thunderbird Restaurant — currently Timpone's — at 710 South Goodwin, where I worked as a waiter my last two years as an undergrad, brings back some of the strongest memories. I fell in love there with a waitress who eventually broke my heart. Boo-hoo.

"I was fond of listening to live performances on the top level of the Thunderbird given by students from the School of Music's jazz department. Afterward, we would hang out and celebrate their successful gig over brew that flowed copiously from the Thunderbird's bar.

"I can't forget to mention another favorite place — the Quad, where I liked to lie under a tree or in the open on warm days, relaxing, catching a wink between classes or watching the 'birds' walking by.

"I sound like I was a goof-off. Not true; I was a serious student and did well in my undergrad and postgraduate studies and eventually in my academic career."

WHITNEY BLAIR WYCKOFF ('09)
Assistant editor, U.S. News and World Report

"Parents' weekends let proud families glimpse at their co-ed's exciting campus life and bright future. But when I was a student, it gave me a chance to see my family's past.

"I had only been on campus for a few weeks when my grandfather and father came down for Dads' Weekend my freshman year, in 2005. My grandfather had been thrilled to return to a place that he loved so much. As a young man, he'd come to the U of I on the GI Bill, after marching through occupied France in World War II and receiving four Bronze Stars. In 1949, when he earned his bachelor's in mechanical engineering, he became the first person in the family to graduate from college.

"He marveled at how much the school had changed through the decades, but I think he'd also been surprised at what had stayed the same: Between the weekend's events, we found the Urbana house that he had rented with classmates. He recognized it immediately, and we got out of the car so my father could take our picture outside.

"My grandfather died several years later, in 2014, but it made him proud to know he could pass his love for the U of I down. In fact, he started a tradition in our family. My mom, journalism/1976; my brother, mechanical engineering/2013; and I, journalism/2009, all attended the U of I behind him.

"In many ways, that tradition started in that house, with him furiously studying his mechanical engineering texts so that he could graduate as quickly as possible and start his life."

RANDY KLIMPERT ('82)
Design director, Hasbro

"I saw a lot of great music while at the U of I but one show was particularly memorable — when I saw The Ramones play (Foellinger). They played for 30 minutes to a packed house, without stopping, no chit-chat.

"When I left, I couldn't hear for two days. Back at the dorm, friends asked how the show was and I could only see their lips moving."

DAVE EDYBURN
College of Education's 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award winner

"When my wife, Pam, and I lived in Urbana while I was in graduate school, we discovered this amazing place — Li'l Porgy's Bar-B-Q. It was a treat to go there periodically for lunch or dinner.

"Little did I know that those visits set the stage for my avocation. In 2012, I became a Kansas City CBJ (Certified Bar-b-q Judge) and in 2015 I earned my Masters CBJ. Traveling to judge competition BBQ is a wonderful experience that I can trace back to my U of I days."

TONISE PAUL ('80)
President/CEO, Energy BBDO, Chicago

"If you look at most any picture of Alma Mater, you will see the gorgeous backdrop of very old trees.

"My favorite place on campus was a spot under those trees between the Student Union and the statue. I used to study at the Union as I loved — and oddly, could concentrate — being surrounded by the motion and din of happy, frenetic student activity.

"After studying, I would head toward Alma. Halfway there, I'd sit in this spot on the grass and gaze up at the trees. It was an incredibly peaceful place for me to pause and seemed to be located right between my present and my future possibilities."

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