Dr. Mary Ryder, M.A. ’81, has a unique bond to the University. Her family connection began 110 years ago and spans four generations.

Mary’s grandmother, Irene (Valentine) Blacker, attended Illinois State Normal University (ISNU) in the summers of 1911 and 1912, along with her sister Daisy. Another sister, Kathryn, attended in the summer of 1916. The sisters taught in country schools and completed continuing education credits.

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Irene had three daughters, and each of the Blacker girls attended ISNU in the 1930s. They were Geneva, Guyneth, and Ruth. All three taught in country schools, with Geneva becoming a high school math teacher. They lived at 601 Normal Avenue in a home that is still standing.

“How this second generation made it to college during the Depression is special,” Mary said. “Their farmer father, my grandfather, sold a cow to pay their tuition.”

Ruth (Blacker) Ryder ’38 met her husband, Bernard ’40, at ISNU. They had three children, who are also graduates. Michael ’67 studied physical science, Richard ’70, majored in chemistry, and Mary did her master’s work in English. A Distinguished Professor Emerita of English from South Dakota State University, Mary is shown above holding a photo of herself with her parents and siblings.

The three Ryder siblings share a Redbird connection with two cousins, Janice Blacker ’72 and Shirley Blacker ’79. Daisy’s granddaughter, Mary Beth Norris ’77, graduated in the same decade.

The fourth generation consists of great-grandchildren of Irene and Daisy. These include Jamie Schumacher ’92; Kelly Reid ’07, M.S. ’14; Philip Drazewski, M.S. ’14; and Sara Spencer ’13, as well as her husband, Kyle Koerner ’12.

The Redbird roots deepen through Mary’s father, Bernard, who joined ISNU in the 50s as an associate professor of chemistry. He taught 28 years, becoming a full professor and chairing the chemistry department for nine years.

“Our family legacy mirrors the development of the institution from a Normal school to a mid-sized, multi-faceted university,” Mary said. “My dad came in 1956 with President Robert Bone, and his role as first head of chemistry in 1966 coincides with the transition to ISU.”