Each week, we offer a Q&A with a local personality. Today, staff writer Paul Wood chats with MIKE MORAN, a C-U historian who grew up in Champaign and now lives in Texas. He is a frequent poster in the 'Champaign Urbana History' Facebook group, where he shares photos he has found with the help of people like the late Roger Ebert, T.J. Blakeman of the Champaign County History Museum and veteran CBS reporter Bill Geist, who grew up in Champaign. Moran graduated from Champaign Central High School in 1972.
Where do you live now?
I live in Plano, Texas, which is a northern suburb of Dallas.
How did you become so interested Champaign-Urbana history?
I grew up in an older part of Champaign east of the railroad tracks. I think the area is called Midtown now, and most of the houses of my youth have given way to student housing. Back then, my grandparents and great-aunts and uncles all lived within two or three blocks of my family, so I had a lot of exposure to stories about the “good old days.” My dad was also very interested in the roots of our family and the local area.
What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?
I grew up across the street from the Vriner’s, and my first job was working at their confectionery when I was 14 in 1969. Tyke paid me $1 an hour and gave me a 5-cent-an-hour raise every week.
Then you worked at another historical place in downtown Champaign, the Rialto. Did you find elements of theater history there?
When I started working at the Rialto in the fall of 1969, it was independently owned by John Russell. I hit it off with John and the Russell family and continued working there through high school and college and even managed the theater for a few years. The basement was full of movie memorabilia from the 1930s and ’40s. We had a projectionist, Paul Wills, who had been in the business since he started at the Park Theatre in 1913. I heard tons of stories from him about the days of vaudeville, the first talkie movies in town and even the opening of the Virginia Theatre in 1921.
Why did you leave Champaign?
In late 1978, The Rialto was leased to Kerasotes, and I left to attend graduate school. I got married during that time, and when I completed my degree, I went to work as a regional marketing director for General Cinema Theatres in Dallas. I continued in motion picture distribution/exhibition for various companies including Walt Disney and Paramount Pictures for the next 30-plus years.
Tell us about the beginning and the evolution of the 'Champaign Urbana History' group on Facebook.
The group was actually started by Glenn Pence, who lives in Champaign. We were both members of another very similar group, and we decided we wanted to go in a little different direction. Glenn proposed starting the group and asked me to be an administrator along with him. Now, seven years later, we have over 13,000 members. Many of our members are like me in that they no longer live in the area but still enjoy the history.
Do you have family in Texas?
One of my adult sons still lives in Texas, and my in-laws moved here about 20 years ago. My oldest son moved on to Colorado, but he is still a proud Texas native.
Where on Earth are you dying to go?
Probably the U.K. I would like to do the Beatles pilgrimage in Liverpool.
What would you order for your last meal?
My wife, Karen, grills a mean steak and makes the best twice-baked potatoes in the world. I’ll go with that.
What’s your favorite sports team?
Dallas Cowboys — I’ve been in Texas a long time.
Which historical figure do you admire the most and why?
Walt Disney. He built a business empire based on the visions of his imagination.