FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Date: April 11, 2002
Contact: Donna McCracken, 206-6716
UIS professor emeritus among recipients of first WILL Awards
SPRINGFIELD – Poet and author John Knoepfle, emeritus professor of English at the University of Illinois at Springfield, was among the recipients of the first WILL Awards: Signaling Excellence in the Community, presented April 9 at a reception at the University of Illinois President’s House.
U of I President James J. Stukel made the official presentation of the awards in three categories: the Arts, Citizenship, and Education. Knoepfle received the Arts award.
Knoepfle is the author of three books of poems and one book of stories, all of which “come directly from the landscape, history, language, and people of central Illinois.”
He was a member of the faculty and poet-in-residence at then-Sangamon State University from 1972 until his retirement in 1991. In nominating him for the WILL award, colleague Jackie Jackson hailed Knoepfle’s poetry as “an innovative return to the spoken word that had been pretty much forgotten by the academic poets of the 1940s and 1950s.” Jackson noted that anyone can relate to Knoepfle’s poems, yet their “deceptively simple” language can be peeled away to find layers of richer meaning.
In 1985’s Poems from the Sangamon, Knoepfle traced the Sangamon River from its source in a culvert near LeRoy to its confluence with the Illinois River. He and his wife, Peg, traveled the length and breadth of the river valley, and the poems in this collection variously describe grain elevators, factories, a farm auction, a talent show, a nuclear power plant, a haircut, and a place near Kincaid where bullfrogs cross the road.
Fifty years ago, Knoepfle began tape recording recollections of rivermen on the Ohio, Mississippi, and Illinois rivers, essentially doing oral history before the term had been defined. Listening to these men, as well as to his students in East St. Louis and his neighbors in central Illinois, formed his poet’s voice and gave him a sense of language as a spoken vehicle.
Knoepfle was also the subject of a 1995 documentary titled Inland Voyages. Brooke Bergan, of the University of Illinois at Chicago and who was interviewed for that program, said that Knoepfle’s genuine attachment to the Midwest is the secret of his writing. “I think it has to do with his sense of the relationship of place to person to words,” she said.
Knoepfle’s books also include chinkapin oak and Dim Tales. He and Peg live in Auburn.
The April 9 ceremony also celebrated WILL’s 80th anniversary of service to the community. The categories of arts, citizenship, and education were chosen for the WILL Awards because they have been key elements of the station’s radio and television programming and the focus of its projects in the community such as free concerts, child care workshops, and political debates.
The recipients were selected by a 15-member panel drawn from the WILL broadcast area. Former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar and his wife, Brenda, served as honorary chairpersons. Marya Leatherwood, associate vice chancellor at UIS, was a member of the Citizenship Panel.
Carol Reitan, first woman mayor of Normal and long-time community activist, received the award for Citizenship. The award for Education went to Ted Peck, professor of soil chemistry extension and spokesman for the U of I’s Morrow Plots, the country’s oldest experimental agricultural plots in continuous use.