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In celebration of their alma mater hitting the big 1-5-0, we've asked UI grads who've gone on to big things to tell us about their most memorable places sand spaces on campus. The focus of Part 19 of our yearlong series: unforgettable encounters.


A '79)

1970s football walk-on turned Disney Cruise Lines comedian, ventriloquist

"It's late autumn 1977. I'm in our end zone at Memorial Stadium with my teammates, going through warmups as we prepare to get bulldozed by the Buckeyes. I notice that the stands behind me are jammed with people sporting cherry red jackets and sweaters. Illinois has stuck the formidable Ohio State traveling fan base with the worst seats in our stadium.

"As I start stretching, the fans around me begin cheering. I look up and there he is — the legendary, fiery, antagonistic Buckeyes football coach. Woody Freaking Hayes. And he's 10 feet from me.

"He gets a quizzical look on his face. Eye contact. I detect disgust. He spits out these words: 'You're a Big Ten football player?' He gives a little cackle and walks away.

"I immediately say a prayer: 'Dear God, please, please, please don't let me in this game.' It worked. We lose by five touchdowns.

"Fast-forward to 1978. The Illini are in Columbus and we're getting shellacked — so much so that I get in. I read a play — a handoff — and chase the running back out of bounds on the OSU sideline.

"And there, clipboard in hand, is Coach Hayes. I make my move. 'Yeah!' I shout, 'I am a Big Ten football player.' I turn to run back on the field, and I can hear him shouting at me. He's livid.

"We lose by a lot. We're shaking hands with players from the other team and I just want to get to the locker room. A giant lineman from Ohio State named Byron Cato comes over to me. 'What did you say to Coach?' he asks me. 'He's crazy-mad.'

"A month or so goes by and I'm watching a bowl game with my dad in our TV room. Ohio State is playing Clemson and it's close. That is, until a Clemson defender picks off an errant pass and is returning it down the sideline for a TD that will seal the deal.

"And as I stare, open-mouthed at the little TV screen, Coach Hayes jumps off the sideline and tackles the Clemson player. It's epic and historic and way, way off the grid of acceptability.

"Coach Hayes was obviously at the end of a distinguished career. He had championships and friendships and notoriety. But he had gone off the rails by the close of '78, and I will always maintain that I, Taylor Mason, walk-on and laughable 'Big Ten football player,' had pushed him over the edge."



VP/General Counsel, Target

"One night in 1987, I was playing pickup basketball at IMPE. Somehow, I got myself having to guard the great Illini baller Nick Anderson. We both were from Chicago proper, but I was a 6-foot goalie on the men's soccer team and he was a 6-6, well, just about one of the best basketball players to ever play at Illinois.

"I am desperately trying to hang and in one sequence down the floor I am determined to strip him of the ball. Well, that was just plain dumb — as I went for the ball, he exploded to the hoop and we collided heads. I ended up with a split forehead, gushing blood on the IMPE floor and my gray soccer sweatshirt, and he dunked on me two seconds later. I ended up getting 17 stitches at student health.

"Funny thing is, a few years later I literally ran into Nick on the streets of downtown Chicago one day — he was getting ready for the draft and I was clerking at a law firm downtown. As I am just about to pass him, I say: 'Hey, we went to school together.' After a few seconds, his face lights up and he says 'Hey, how's your head?' No kidding."


Prized poet, Purdue professor

"I remember best the quirky things, like keeping track of the characters on the Quad, one of whom was a guy we called 'Jacket Man.' We never knew if he was a student or not, but he would quietly approach you if you were lying there in the grass. And he'd ask politely: 'Pardon me, but can I put on your jacket for moment?'

"This being the late '60s, early '70s, you'd shrug and say, 'Well, sure.' And he'd slip on your jacket, close his eyes and look smitten with absolute pleasure. After a few minutes, he'd give it back to you with a sweet 'thank you so much.' And that would be that. He'd wander off in search of yet another coat.

"Day after day, month after month. We held him in a kind of wonder. And so the world widened: there were harmless, simple pleasures, wacko but almost poignant."


HI (Ph.D. '90)

Cal professor named one of Brilliant 10 scientists and engineers in U.S. by Popular Science

"I had joined the chemistry department to study for my doctorate degree and part of my duties as a teaching assistant were to teach undergraduates in the ChemAnnex building. Since I didn't go to high school, my age as a graduate student was 20. It didn't take them long to ask me about where I came from.

"When I told them (Jordan), many of them thought, to my surprise, that I was a prince of a royal family and that I lived in the desert in a tent with camels and oases. They were somewhat disappointed to learn that I was just a kid whose dream was to come to America for chemistry."



President/CEO, FTD

"One of the most life-altering locations for me was the front lawn of the Delta Delta Delta sorority on East Chalmers.

"I met my future bride when several of my fraternity brothers and I, with over-exercised 19-year-old egos, arrived on motorcycles to chauffeur any interested ladies to our '50s-themed party. Exercising good early judgment, she jumped on the back of my roommate's motorcycle. She was an accounting major and had dutifully completed her accounting homework due the following day; I had not.

"After the party, I dropped her at her dorm, 'borrowed' her homework and returned it to Tri-Delta the following morning. That was site of many more fun times and now, 32 years of marriage and five sons later, we still have many good friends who shared our college experiences."



Pro Bono Supervisor, National Immigrant Justice Center

"The memory that comes to mind is at the cafe at the Krannert Art Museum, right across the street from the law school. We took long breaks from our classes there.

"More importantly, that is where my romance with my husband began. I knew he studied there and I would frequently pretend to bump into him. We'd spend hours talking and studying together in the museum, often ending with long walks around the Quad. The whole experience I had of getting to know him among those buildings and beautiful open areas will never leave me."



Sports Illustrated legend

"I was a track and cross-country runner in high school, and I remember many nights — after working as an editor at the Daily Illini at night — walking to that Quad to run around its entire circumference, all alone, in the dark, as fast as I could.

"This was also the Quad where Roger Ebert and I would sometimes walk, after drinking coffee at the Illini Union, and talk about literature, about F. Scott Fitzgerald and Albert Camus, about T.S. Eliot and Robert Frost, about Hemingway and Nabokov. Roger was the editor of the DI and I was his sports editor, and we shared a common vision about the world of words, about their rhythm, their poetry, that spoke to everyone."


h.D. '09)

Senior Economist, Bank of England

"It's spring 2007. I am in the ground floor of the Surveying Building, right next to Wohlers Hall, where the finance Ph.D. students had their desks. My colleague, Marek Jochec, and I are quietly reading papers.

"There's a knock on the door and an old gent steps in. He asks: 'What is this place?' We answer: 'It's the Ph.D. students' office space.' He looks around and says: 'I used to have a class in this room back in the 1950s.'

"He sat on one of the couches, looked around a bit longer, then left. It was only then that I realized how many people must have used these buildings and rooms over the many years of Illini history."


(BA '11)

Former All-American volleyball setter

"I absolutely love the Quad and when I came on my first visit to the university, I was told the story of the Kissing Bench. The light actually turned on that day and that's when I knew that I wanted to come there.

"I shared that story with my husband when he was just my boyfriend, and it's where we first said 'I love you' and also the place he chose to propose marriage. It's been a very special spot in my life."



Former executive director, President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology

"My first semester as a freshman, I had an 8 a.m. class in Altgeld Hall. As autumn turned to winter, the early morning walk across campus became a trudge, and the wind went from warm and humid to freezing cold. My eyes would tear up from the frosty gusts, and I would curse in my head each onslaught of cold air.

"When I finally reached Altgeld, I would open the door and immediately be surrounded by billowing warmth. I walked through the ramped hallways until I got to my classroom where, inside, a kind and patient TA taught us calculus. She wrote on a blackboard with chalk, and step by step she clearly and thoughtfully laid out the methods of calculus. That classroom was a little haven of warmth, led by someone we trusted. Despite the early morning trudge, a handful of us signed up to have her again the next semester in Altgeld at 8 a.m."


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