SJR Column: Springfield First Citizens, January 2014

It is no secret on the UIS campus that the Chancellor and her husband are “dyed-in-the-wool” basketball fans; but it was especially enjoyable to have eleven very special guests on hand for recent contests – part of UIS Athletics Springfield Day. It was the first-ever recognition of Springfield’s First Citizens outside of the yearly ceremony that announces the annual winner of this most prestigious community award.

Wes Barr, Rudy Davenport, Barbara Dickerman, Ann Dondanville, Butch Elzea, Bob Gray, Wally Henderson, Mary Loken, Paul O’Shea, Bill Schnirring, Guerry Suggs – it was inspiring to see each of these exceptional individuals walk to center court at halftime of the men’s basketball game and be recognized again for their decades of contributions that have made our community a better place to live, work, learn and grow. Wally Henderson, the 2013 First Citizen (and the architect who designed the Public Affairs Building on the UIS campus) received a signed UIS basketball from the team. For a campus whose motto is “Leadership lived,” it was a special moment indeed!

Not one to miss such a great opportunity, Paul O’Shea, Springfield’s 2012 First Citizen and longtime UIS campus supporter, suggested that the group meet before the recognition ceremony – a “brain trust,” you might say – to discuss the “bigger picture” that includes the community and the university.

This was a group with deep roots in Springfield. Some literally helped create the university 40-plus years ago; a few are alums of the campus; most are regulars at Sangamon Auditorium and other campus events; and many are generous donors who provide critical financial support for scholarships and other vital campus activities. All recognize the great value of a world-class University of Illinois campus growing in our community.

What I found most intriguing about our conversation is that these First Citizens of Springfield didn’t want to talk about their roots; nor were they interested in talking about their past accomplishments. They wanted to discuss the future of the campus – our strategic priorities for growth, talent acquisition and retention, and facilities. They wanted to think together about how they and the community can enable UIS to achieve its full potential as a top regional public university and a vital contributor to economic development in the region. They wanted to consider and discuss ways to bring the university and the community even closer together.

It was a stimulating and exceedingly valuable conversation, to say the least. Topics included the increasing number of students living on campus and contributing to the local economy, the new academic programs being launched, talented faculty and staff who are joining the Springfield community, the increasingly large and active alumni community in Springfield and beyond, a possible downtown housing project for graduate students involved in state government and the new UIS Student Union building that is such a vital next step for the campus and that will also be a wonderful resource for the entire community. It may have been cold and bleak outside on this blustery December Saturday, but it was a warm and lively conversation within.

My sincere thanks to Paul O’Shea, UIS Athletic Director Kim Pate and SJR Executive Editor, Bob Heisse for bringing our Springfield First Citizens to campus. I’m grateful to Wes, Rudy, Barbara, Ann, Butch, Bob, Wally, Mary, Bill, Guerry and Mayor Mike Houston for being part of such a great day.

… and Mr. Henderson, now that you’ve received that nice new basketball, I’ll be stopping by when the weather warms to shoot some hoops.  I hope you’re practicing!

Susan J. Koch, Chancellor of University of Illinois Springfield

Chancellor Susan J. Koch