With the fall semester of school at the University of Illinois now in full swing, college students from all majors and cities, with many different talents can be seen walking, talking, and exploring campus. Despite the many activities going on throughout the heart of the university, many students are unaware of the rich, exciting history that has affected their daily lives.
Rob Chappell, office support specialist in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) Office of Academic Programs, along with student assistant Megan Finfrock, decided last fall to begin research on the James Scholar Program and President Edmund James’ life. The two began this research, in hopes of sharing some of their findings, and decided to organize the Diamond Jubilee Walking Tour to celebrate the ACES James Scholar Program’s 60th anniversary this year. Although Finfrock could not be present for the tour, Chappell and his assistant, Katrina Cotton, a freshman in the James Scholar Program, led a group of inquisitive individuals on a travel throughout time.
During the trip, students and guests stopped at many interesting, historic sites. Beginning the tour at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center with a presentation by Ryan Ross, those in attendance had the opportunity to learn more about one of the university’s most influential presidents, Edmund James. Ross began the event by sharing many interesting facts about the life of President James, along with the history of the Alice Campbell Center. He explained that one of James' biggest accomplishments was his petition to Theodore Roosevelt, encouraging the president to build a connection with China. This petition was a huge road marker in the university’s relationship with other countries and provided the ability for Chinese students to come to the U of I.
After a highly educational first stop, the tour walked to the Campus Honors House, founded in 1986. Those on the Jubilee Walk were greeted at the door by a smiling Elizabeth Rockman, who gave a thorough tour of the unique house. Rockman refreshed her guests with cookies, sharing with them many stories and fun experiences from those who have been a part of the Campus Honors House.
Next, Chappell and Cotton took the tour to Foellinger Auditorium, determined to see a special bronze tablet hanging by the door. Chappell explained that, although he had never paid much attention to this fascinating monument during his time as a student, he had discovered through his research that this beautiful piece of artwork was dedicated to President James’ wife, Anna Margarethe Lange. After discussing the relevance and significance of the stop, guests strolled over to the library where Jameatris Rimkus gave the group an archive tour of President James’ official chair.
After exploring interesting artifacts, the Diamond Jubilee Walking Tour ended its grand adventure at the James Scholar Courtyard in the middle of the underground library. In an interview with Finfrock following the event, she explained that the tour’s closing stop was in fact her favorite part of the event, stating, “tons of people walk past there every day, and if they are like myself, until I started researching the topic, they most likely don't know that it is a memorial courtyard for one of the most influential presidents the university has ever had!”
Surrounded by flourishing greens, and the engraved words of President James, Cotton closed the event reciting “The Heritage” by Abbie Fairwell Brown. As the historic tour came to a close, Chappell remarked on his favorite part of organizing this event, stating, “I think it was just the thrill of discovery. [This history] is something to be proud of, something that should motivate you to aim high and do great things in your time, just like President James did.” As the semester continues to pick up and students hustle around campus from class to class, let’s hope they take the time to connect with the important history of this legendary university, and maybe do a little time travel themselves, too.