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Lasting Impressions

When we started the periodic column, Lasting Impressions, which honors current faculty and staff who left a lasting impression with alumni, many of you wished to honor faculty and staff who had left Illinois State University or were deceased. The following are alumni responses for those individuals who are no longer actively engaged in teaching at Illinois State.

Mary Sierra ’79, director of medical records at OSF–Saint James–John W. Albrecht Medical Center

The instructor who made a lasting impression on me when I was a student at ISU was Professor Walter Eggert. He was so knowledgeable and generous with his experience. I remember walking into his class and hearing him praise a student who, although she was pursuing her bachelor’s degree, already had an outstanding resume. After I sat down, he stated: “Mary, I was just talking about you. Your resume is outstanding…here’s a suggestion for improvement.”

From Professor Eggert, that was a compliment, but, not unusual, as he gave us many compliments. I remember he sat on the edge of the front of his desk versus his chair and seemed to enjoy hearing about our work place expectations. He commuted from some Chicago ‘burb, to teach, as I did from Peoria, to learn. On the last day of his class, following the completion of the final, he said: “Mary, why don’t you drop off your final in my office? My wife is there, and, I would love to have her meet you.” Again, I was so touched by his trust and confidence in me. I will never forget him or his gentleness as a teacher and leader. However, his legacy does live on in me and in all his students. I am forever grateful to ISU for giving me the opportunity to experience his graciousness.

Laura (Soltow) McSparin ’81, reading specialist

To this day, I still remember the overwhelming stress I felt the day I sat in Julian Hall with my dear friend Don, waiting in line to sign up for second semester classes (no on-line computers then). I was an accounting major, hated it, and my grades showed it. Why, because my dream had always been to become a teacher, but the market for teachers was so poor at that time I pursued my second interest.

As we waited, my friend and I prayed together. I really felt God changing my heart, and I realized I was in the wrong place. Just as it was my turn, I got out of a very long line and ran to DeGarmo Hall. It was the lunch hour, but in tears, I showed up at Dr. Thomas Baer’s door. He was sitting at his desk eating a sub sandwich, trying to fit lunch in because he “wore so many hats” back then. With tears streaming down my face, I told him, “I want to be a teacher.” He calmly put his sandwich down and said, “Well, you have come to the right place.” I apologized for interrupting his lunch, he smiled and told me, “When this much energy for teaching comes through the door, lunch can wait.”

Dr. Baer proceeded to check my schedule and in the process saw that my grades weren’t great. He flat out told me: “You are going to have to do exceptionally well, if you want to stay in the elementary education program.” It was at this point that I made it my goal to strive for straight A’s.

Throughout the course of the next three years, Dr. Baer was not only a professor in several of my classes, but a counselor, encourager and, sometimes for many of us, just like a dad. He looked for the best in each of us and pushed us to want the best for our own students. As he encouraged us, he instilled in us the drive to draw more from our students. One of my fondest memories of graduation day is Dr. Baer giving me a hug in congratulations and with a smile, saying, “So now you are a teacher, go live that dream.”

Since that day I have taught everything from kindergarten to college. I returned to ISU briefly to finish a degree in business education and most currently finished my master’s degree in education at Western Illinois University. For the past two years, I was a reading specialist at Rock Island High School where I once was a student.

Thinking about that day in Dr. Baer’s office reminds me that my students come to me looking for answers in how to succeed. My actions, my words, my interest and faith in them can make all the difference in their success. I am a prime example of this fact. Thank you Dr. Baer for having faith in me and allowing my abilities to lead me to succeed.

Megan Thome ’06, reading specialist at Woodland Middle School

Many of my professors at ISU were fabulous, but one in particular had a lasting impression on me. John David Peters, my elementary science professor, was the best professor I could have ever hoped for. He was enthusiastic about teaching, he came in every day absolutely thrilled to be there, and he taught me more in one semester than I learned in all my years in school.

Science was never my forte, but he had a way of making the class so enjoyable that I now slip in some science lessons in my reading class! The experiments we did were a blast, and through it all he continually pushed the fact that as long as we tried, we would be doing our best. As a reading specialist, I deal with the students who didn’t get the best scores on their standardized tests, but they try their hardest every day. I make sure that they know that I appreciate their struggles, and that they can succeed as long as they keep trying. Mr. Peters instilled this so deeply in my teaching, and I will forever be grateful to him for it.

Thank you!

Eileen O’Hara ’07, teacher, Daniel J. Corkery School in Little Village, Chicago Public Schools

I have several professors that have made a lasting impression during my junior and senior year at ISU. Unfortunately, during the second semester of my junior year I suddenly lost my mother to heart disease. This made a huge impact on my life and if it was not for the support of my professors and mentors, I would not be teaching 2nd grade in a Chicago Public School today.

Thanks to Dr. Daniel Graybill (retired), Helen Fisher, Alan Bates, Dr. Greg Michie, Cheryl Witucke, Cynthia Nambo, and a member of the Math department whose name I have forgotten, for their tremendous support system during this most difficult time in my life.

Janie Wilson-Cook ’79

This is a memory of a teacher I had at Illinois State who made a lasting difference in my life. I could call him Professor or Dr. Ernest, but it pays more tribute to call him Teacher.

I came to Illinois State University as a transfer student in 1977 with an associate of arts degree in art from Rock Valley College. Though I have the same amount of credits as a bachelor’s of fine arts, I entered the art program in the comprehensive art degree area because of my wide interests in art. My major emphasis included drawing, painting, visual communications and art history. I also minored in mass communication in TV/radio production.

Of all the varied teachers under which I studied, Nick Ernest kept me coming back to art history. Upon graduation in 1979, I was ready to get out and go into the work force, but Nick told me that I should come back and become a graduate student in art history, that I had the talent for research and writing. As I worked in television in Peoria, I also did independent writing and research under Nick, using the research facilities at Bradley University. I could not afford to go back to school full time and eventually dropped my graduate program, disappointing Nick greatly.

Nick stayed in my head always, through my career in media, commercial art and even as an entrepreneur in the computer industry. I still wanted that art history graduate degree. I married, raised two children and, after they were in high school and college, I decided that at almost 50 years of age I would get that degree by the means afforded to me. I accepted a position at Northern Illinois University in the School of Art Visual Resource Center as a technologist and after offering the 90 pages of research that I did for Nick, typed on a typewriter from 1981, I was accepted into the NIU Art History program with an emphasis in new media. I am more than half way through with my master’s thesis outlined and planned, taking two classes a semester while working full time. I plan to finish in fall of 2009.

Nick told me once that he wondered if leaving his position as a high school art teacher in the Chicago suburbs was a good thing. He felt that he made a better impact and guided more lives in that position. He felt that teaching art history in a big university had a different cadence and, perhaps, less personal effect. I have had university and college professors that were great artists, but couldn’t teach their craft. I also had teachers who inspired and left a lasting influence in studio classes. In Nick Ernest I found a teacher who lived up to the Illinois State University motto of “Gladly Would He Learn and Gladly Teach.” I am only sorry that he never knew what a lasting impact he had on me.

Dona (Foster) Monroe ’56, Lebanon, Ill. historian

I graduated from Illinois State, which was I.S.N.U. when I was there from 1953-56. The teacher I remember most was John Kinneman, who was head of the social science department. Our class was in a temporary building, and was crowded, but I was mesmerized with Mr. Kinneman’s way of teaching. It wasn’t a lecture, as most of my classes were, but a group discussion, which involved everyone in the class. We pulled our chairs in a circle, and he led us down paths of thinking that previously never occurred to me. I was always early for class, because I didn’t want to miss anything. Later, when I had my own fourth-grade classes, I used this “open discussion” and got good results.

I lived in a house on West Ash Street, just a few minutes from the campus, and this past summer, we were in California to see our granddaughter in a San Jose Children’s theatre production. I discovered that the director was Kevin Hauge, the son of Keith and Mary Lou Hauge, who were our house parents on West Ash Street. Keith was visiting in San Jose, so we got together for lunch…what a wonderful reunion.

Gavin Glynn, Hollywood producer

I’ll never forget alumnus Ruth Sowers encouraging me to attend ISU in 1979.We lost touch over the years but reconnected through her brother, my high school classmate. I spent the weekend and we got a flat “tar,” which we fixed on the road. Ruth did a great walk-through of the Theatre department. I transferred in 1981 and lived on WIllow Street.

My closest friends already were attending Illinois State so I thought it would be a smooth transition. Unfortunately, transferring in is like walking into the middle of a movie. However, my dance instructor, Dwayne Goodwin, was instrumental in turning my life habit around. I wanted to be part of the American Heritage Dance Tour in Russia in 1982 so I gave up all my Saturday mornings spring semester (no trips home to Chicago). We could not arrive late to class, EVER. The senior dance captain and president of the Dance club arrived to class one Saturday morning at 7:05 a.m., some five minutes late and she was kicked off the Russian Tour Team. This has impacted my life until this day and has made me a professional person. When it came time to pony up our portion of the money to attend the tour, I was short $800. I could not attend the tour after seven months of intensive training. I left ISU with the best self-discipline I could have ever acquired, and it is to this training by Dwayne Goodwin that I contribute to my success as a show producer in Hollywood.

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