Teacher’s legacy supports St. Joseph-Ogden students
old portraits of Kermit Esarey
Kermit E. Esarey
Marla Todd
October 7, 2020

URBANA, Ill. - Teacher, veteran, and Illinois alumnus Kermit E. Esarey had a life-long devotion to teaching and commitment to his community. The Kermit E. Esarey scholarship is a continuation of that dedication.

This new scholarship targets the community where Esarey taught—St. Joseph, Illinois. An initial gift from Esarey’s daughter, Gail Yovanovitch, created the scholarship in memory of her father. "He always talked about wanting to start a scholarship," she says. "He would be thrilled. That is what prompted me to start it."

Esarey's legacy is one that begins right here at the University of Illinois, where he arrived in 1940 with $25 in his pocket, the promise of a job, and a desire for education. He was to study agriculture on a merit-based scholarship. However, in 1943 Esarey's education was put on hold as he left to serve his country during World War II. Esarey returned to the University of Illinois in 1946, after his military discharge, and completed his bachelor’s degree. He then spent the next few summers earning his master’s degree in agricultural education and pursued a career as a high school agriculture teacher.

Remembered as having a gentle, easy-going demeanor, Esarey fondly referred to his teaching career as the "golden years,” Yovanovitch shares. In all, Esarey spent 35 years teaching high school agriculture, 30 of which were at St. Joseph High School (later St. Joseph- Ogden High School).

Friends and family note Esarey's commitment to students. Former student Greg Knott describes him as a man of high integrity, dedicated to student success. "He cared about his students. He wanted us to do well and provided us with the means to do that,” recalls Knott. "He was very dedicated to seeing us succeed."

Esarey also fostered student achievement in extra-curricular activities associated with the high school's FFA chapter, and he was recognized with the Honorary State FFA Degree in 1979.

Throughout his career, Esarey acted upon opportunities to build his students, community, and agriculture. Many times that commitment led him back to connections at the University of Illinois. "He guided a lot of students over his career," says Yovanovitch. "He always encouraged them to fly high and go to the University of Illinois."

In addition to teaching generations of high school students, Esarey also supervised more than 20 student teachers from the University of Illinois.

Esarey's family believes this scholarship is not only an expansion of his impact. It is also an investment in the students it supports, another reason it's considered part of Esarey's enduring legacy.

“I hope that students use the scholarship to continue the legacy," adds Yovanovitch. "He would be very proud that money he earned would go on to help someone else."

Available to students for the first time in fall 2021, this gift will stand as a permanent symbol of Esarey's dedication to his students, commitment to his community, and high regard for the University of Illinois.

To learn more about supporting the Esarey fund, contact the College of ACES Office of Advancement at acesadvancement@illinois.edu or 217-333-9355.