The Department of Sociology and Anthropology lost one of its most talented and influential members in 2021 with Professor Edward B. Jelks’ passing on the evening of December 22. In his 15 years as a professor of anthropology at Illinois State University, Jelks made enormous contributions to the University and to many of the graduates of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, which Jelks started in 1968.
Jelks was awarded the first Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin in 1965 and began a full-time teaching career at Southern Methodist University. That same year he began teaching a seminar in historical archaeology, drawing on his extensive field work. With Arnold Pilling of Wayne State University, he organized a conference on the topic, which led to the formation of the Society for Historical Archaeology in 1967.
Following a position as a research fellow at the Smithsonian Institution, Jelks accepted an appointment as professor of anthropology at Illinois State University, a position he held until he retired in 1984. He was loved and respected by students and colleagues alike.
“I came into the anthropology program in 1972,” said one alumna. “Dr. Jelks was my favorite professor. I learned a great deal about archaeology.”
While at Illinois State, Jelks established the Midwestern Archaeological Research Center (MARC) in response to the expansion of contract archaeology in Illinois. Undergraduates and graduate students were drawn to Jelks’ classes and the opportunity to put classroom training to work in archaeological field schools and through professional work at MARC. Many of Jelks’ students chose careers in archaeology and continue to make substantial contributions to the field.
“It was the late 1960s, culture and society were under unprecedented scrutiny, and the new anthropology program, when coupled with sociology, provided students with an extraordinary opportunity to explore, to learn, and to make a difference,” said Dr. Michael Wiant ’71, M.S. ’77. “Professor Jelks was our guide to the distant past, a journey through human experience that shaped careers to come.”
Jelks initiated the first field school for ISU students, which was to Fort Leaton, Texas, in 1970. In 1971, he led the excavation of a Revolutionary fortification on Constitution Island at West Point Military Academy. Later, ISU field schools under Jelks’ direction excavated at the Noble-Wieting site near Heyworth, a site that Dr. Logan Miller continues to explore to this day with his students.
Through it all, Judy Jelks accompanied her husband on many field projects and was an indispensable partner in every facet of archaeological research. In 2021, a group including many former students celebrated Ed and Judy’s myriad contributions to archaeological research, teaching, and professional development by endowing the Ed and Judy Jelks Endowed Scholarship in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work at Illinois State University.
“The opportunity to honor Dr. Ed Jelks, with the help and support of his passionate former students, is truly a highlight of my career,” said Dr. Joan Brehm, current chair of the department. “This scholarship will provide critical support to a new generation of anthropologists that will carry on the tremendous passion and legacy of Dr. Jelks.”
The first scholarship will be presented in 2022.
From creating scholarships that recruit and retain, to providing for faculty research and student exploration, gifts from donors consistently aid and advance the College of Arts and Sciences. Since July 1, 2021, more than 3,800 donors have contributed more than $3.3 million, surpassing the college’s $2.6 million fiscal year goal. To learn more about making a gift to the College of Arts and Sciences, contact Director of Development Kate Childs at (309) 438-7682 or kachild@IllinoisState.edu.