CHAMPAIGN — When anonymous donors bought the naming rights to the second-floor education wing of the Martens Center, a new facility coming to Champaign’s north side, they didn’t have a particular honoree in mind.
But they did have a few criteria.
“They wanted it to be named after an African-American educator from Champaign who made a significant impact on the community,” Champaign Park District development director Laura Auteberry said.
Auteberry had a suggestion.
To the very end, Teretha Johnson, Champaign's first black teacher in a predominantly white school, didn't want anyone to make a fuss about her life — but that's hard to do when you're a teacher that no student forgets.
Teretha Johnson, who was Unit 4’s first black educator in a majority white school when she began teaching at Kenwood, was a perfect fit. After Johnson died at 105 years old in November, Auteberry directed the donors to a story in The News-Gazette about the impact she made on her students.
“When we shared this article with them, they were totally impressed and felt like Teretha would match exactly what they were looking for in an educator from the community,” Auteberry said. “When I proposed that, they said, ‘Please, yes.’ That’s exactly what they had in mind from an educator from the community.”
At December’s meeting, the park district board voted to move forward with the idea, which includes contacting Johnson’s family.
The Martens Center will be a multi-purpose facility at Human Kinetics Park on the north side of Champaign and will include partnerships with the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club, Carle Hospital, OSF and Head Start.
Auteberry said naming rights have been secured for a number of the wings, but plenty are still left. Naming rights for the two education wings were listed at $500,000 apiece.
Auteberry said the park district is looking to break ground next December, with an opening tentatively slated for March of 2022.
“I think the collaborations alone make it a really unique facility,” Auteberry said, “and its location in north Champaign is really going to offer that side of town some wonderful programming that’s much needed in the area. So we’re really excited about it.”
Johnson spent much of her career teaching at schools on the north side of Champaign, including the now-defunct Lawhead and Marquette, and Booker T. Washington Elementary, before heading to Bottenfield.
To Auteberry, having Johnson’s name on a wing of Martens Center is a perfect fit.
“She was obviously a tremendous woman and had a large impact on the community and on education overall in Champaign County,” she said. “We’re really tickled about being able to recognize her and want to be able to do that.”