Bill Cosby performed at Illinois State for the eighth time last weekend, although it was a show 1,900 miles away that sparked one Redbird family’s unique connection to the legendary comedian.
And, of course, the story involves a sweatshirt.
Mark ’74 and Lynne Chaddon M.S. ’73 were living in California in the late 1990s when they went to see Cosby perform at a Lake Tahoe casino, as a fundraiser for a San Francisco church. Cosby threw the crowd some sweatshirts with the words “Hello Friend” on them—a favorite greeting of Cosby’s late son, Ennis—and Lynne caught one.
Fast-forward a few years, and the Chaddons were back in Lake Tahoe for another Cosby show. This time, they asked some box-officer staffers if Cosby would be willing to sign the “Hello Friend” sweatshirt so their daughter, Michele Evans ’88, could donate it to Special Olympics Illinois (where she worked) for a celebrity auction.
“I thought he might do that, but I wasn’t really sure,” Lynne said. “The worst I could do was lose the sweatshirt.”
But they got it back, signed by Cosby himself. In fact, Cosby tried to deliver it in person but they were down in the casino (and not in their hotel room) when the front desk called up.
“So we did miss a chance to meet him,” she said.
Michele did end up auctioning off the autographed sweatshirt for Special Olympics Illinois, where she is director of communications and publications, only to buy it back herself to keep it in the family. She’s hung onto it for the last decade.
Cosby was back on campus October 26, 2013, for the Family Weekend show at Braden Auditorium. It was his eighth performance at Illinois State—two each at Braden in 1980, 1984, and 2003, and one at Redbird Arena in 1989. The Family Weekend show was the seventh time Mark and Lynne had seen Cosby perform live, and the third for Michele, whose daughter Miranda, a special education major at Illinois State, was also there.
Michele saw an opportunity for her parents to make up for their missed connection with Cosby. Thanks to some help from Bone Student Center staff, Lynne, Mark, Michele, and Miranda were all able to meet Cosby before the October 26 show, spending about a half-hour with him in the green room.
Lynne told him the story of the “Hello Friend” sweatshirt, which Cosby signed again. The comedian also spent time talking to Miranda, a sophomore at Illinois State, about education and her career plans. “It was pretty amazing,” Michele said, thanking Bone Student Center Associate Director Barb Dallinger for arranging the visit.
“The story of this sweatshirt and the travel it has done within our family reinforces the spirit of Family Weekend,” Michele told STATEside. “I cannot think of a better way to spend the weekend than with my family—three generations of Illinois State graduates and students.”
Wearing ISU gear
Sweaters, of course, are part of Cosby’s public persona, made most famous during his eponymous hit NBC family sitcom that ran from 1984-92. Cosby has been known to wear apparel from the college he’s performing at while on tour, and he was decked out in Redbird gear again on Family Weekend.
When Cosby performed at Redbird Arena, the ISU women’s basketball players left him a sweatshirt and a special message on the “chalk board” in their locker room, which he used as his dressing room while the team was traveling. To their amazement, Cosby wrote a return message on the board, and wore the sweatshirt for his performance.
“It wasn’t as good as being there, but women’s basketball felt a small attachment to (Cosby),” said former women’s basketball coach Jill Hutchison. “He was truly a classy guy!”
Lynne says Cosby is the ultimate “nice guy” whose civic and humanitarian work has made an impact.
“He’s always willing to do more than he really needs to,” Lynne said.
Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.