Laurel Louise Anderson ’73 waited 23 years to finish her baccalaureate degree in English, coming back to school at Illinois State University at the age of 40 with three children still at home. She said her confidence level was higher, she worked harder and the interaction with her professors was different as a nontraditional student.
Anderson first attended college at Missouri University where she met and married her husband, Harold. The Andersons then established five metal working factories in three states with more than 300 employees. They moved to Kentucky in the 1980s and purchased Chalmers Products, which they currently run in Louisville. The Andersons’ two sons work in the family business, and their daughter is a Clerk of the Courts in Indiana. Laurel and Harold also have 13 grandchildren.
Waiting so long to complete her education meant that Anderson could indulge herself by taking only courses she was interested in and not worrying so much about grade point averages, although that seems to have worked in her favor as she graduated with honors.
Anderson also indulged her interest in the German language, history and culture, taking every available ISU course and joining the German Club. Harold encouraged her interest by taking her to Salzburg so she could learn more German. While there, they connected with two ISU students from the German Club who were spending a semester studying in Austria.
“When I was a student at ISU, I had three children at home so I did not have much time to spend at the campus after classes,” Anderson said. “The German Club was my one extracurricular activity. I loved school and enjoyed all my interactions with the other students.”
Anderson fondly remembers providing dinner for the Vienna Boys Club prior to a campus concert. “We arranged for the choir leaders and our German professors, including Herr Wolfgang Pfabel and Richard Whitcomb, to eat together. They had a lively discussion,” she said. “The 48 little boys then marched into our house, took their places and were very polite, regimented and serious. No fun and games for them. However, after the concert they were like any other group of boys, laughing, joking and wiggling.”
During the past two decades, Anderson has put her English degree to good use writing short stories for publication under the pen name of Laurel Phillips. “My degree was very important in cultivating a love of the written word and a love of books,” she said. “From that love of books, I developed a passion for mystery and mystery writers.”
While reading a newsletter from ISU, Anderson discovered that the mystery writer Kate Charles (Carol Chase) was also an alumna. They corresponded and became friends, with Anderson visiting Charles in England and attending all of Charles’ presentations at Milner Library. In fact, Charles’ 10th book, Secret Sins, is dedicated to Anderson, who said she came to Milner for the book launch. “The library staff did a super job with the launch and the party, and I got to meet and talk with President Bowman,” Anderson said.
“I am so impressed with the Milner Library staff,” Anderson said. “Harold and I have been Friends of Milner Library for some time, but I found just the right connection in the Kate Charles/Milner Library Fund to become a regular donor. I had been looking for that connection for a long time. It feels good to support something as worthy as Milner Library as books are such a big part of my life.”
Anderson said coming back to campus for the Charles’ programs and the Mystery Dinner offered her the opportunity to see how much the campus has changed since the 1970s. “The campus is beautiful, with all the new buildings,” she said. “Illinois State is much more impressive today than when I attended.”