What he likes to do now is fish.

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But for 26 years, Bill Semlak enjoyed teaching students to talk to each other, debate, and navigate through France.

He came to Illinois State in 1974 as director of the Forensics Team, after earning his doctorate in political communications at the University of Minnesota. Within two years, he moved the program into the national spotlight, where it’s stayed.

“The highlight of my career was the Forensics Program,” said Semlak, who later directed the Honors Program. He became chair of the Department of Information Sciences, restructuring it as the Department of Communication. He taught a study abroad program in Grenoble, France, relocating there with his wife and four young children. When he returned to campus, he taught large lecture communication courses and completed his career as director of International Studies.

Retirement came earlier than planned in 2000 when his wife, Betty, was diagnosed with cancer. They wanted to see the world, so they bought a motor home and traveled to 47 states and six continents. She died in 2003. Three years later, one of his daughters, Anne Semlak ’01, died of cancer. The Anne M. Semlak Memorial Scholarship in ISU’s Women’s and Gender Studies Program was established in her honor.

Semlak is a member of the College of Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame. He returned to campus to teach a couple of courses before finally retiring for good. “You know it’s time to go when your students tell you their grandmother had you for class,” said Semlak, who ends conversations with “Go for it!”

He and his wife, Joan Moore, spend winters in Texas and the rest of the year at their home on Heritage Lake in Mackinaw, where he likes to fish. He can be reached at wdsemlak@IllinoisState.edu.