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EIU 360

Former First Lady of Illinois to Deliver Edgar Series Lecture

This story is part of a series: Edgar Lecture Series

Former First Lady of Illinois Brenda Edgar will present "Her-story on His-story: A Conversation with Brenda Edgar" when she delivers the second speech in the newly established Edgar Lecture Series at Eastern Illinois University.

Her talk will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 17, in the Buzzard Hall Auditorium. Admission is free, and the public is invited to attend.

Former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar and his wife, Brenda, demonstrated their continuing support for their alma mater by establishing the Edgar Speaker Series in 2007. Working in conjunction with the EIU Foundation, the couple finalized details for a $150,000 gift which will allow Eastern to host two speakers a year -- one in the fall and one in the spring. The series will focus primarily on state government, and shall address current issues in state government and historical implications.

"I always thought that a person learns both in and outside the classroom," Gov. Edgar said. "I know I particularly enjoyed the lectures I heard as a student here at Eastern. They certainly enhance learning opportunities for students, as well as for the entire community."

"Charleston's a great place, but it's not a large city," he continued, recalling that as a high school student and city resident, he took advantage of learning opportunities -- such as lectures -- that were open to the public. "This series will benefit the community, as well as the students of the university."

The Edgars always expected to personally launch the speaker series. The governor spoke in October; his wife now plans to take her turn behind the lectern.

Brenda Edgar, too, is excited about the opportunities a lecture series can provide. "We thought this would be a real special way for us to give back to the university," she said.

Funding from the Edgars' gift will also be used to support student attendance at off-campus conferences relating to government or public service.

Prior to being inaugurated as Illinois' 38th governor in January 1991, Edgar spent more than 30 years in state government, including terms as both a state representative and as secretary of state. Previously, however, he was enrolled at Eastern where he majored in history and minored in political science. He was extremely active in the university's student government, serving as student body president his senior year (1967-1968).

He was named an Eastern Illinois University Distinguished Alumnus, the highest honor the Alumni Association can bestow upon a former student, in 1982.

It was also at Eastern that he met fellow student Brenda Smith of Anna, Ill. The two married while still students at the university, and Mrs. Edgar put her own education on hold while supporting her husband's political career and raising the couple's two children.

In the 1990s, while serving as Illinois' First Lady, Brenda Edgar contacted Eastern to see what would be needed to complete her degree. Working with the School of Continuing Education, she finished her coursework and received what is now known as the bachelor of arts degree in general studies during commencement ceremonies in May 1998.

Within months, Mrs. Edgar, in conjunction with Ronald McDonald Charities, had established the Brenda Edgar Scholarship for Women, to be awarded to returning adult female parents over the age of 25.

In addition, the Edgars have donated a number of papers and artifacts from Gov. Edgar's years in state government to the university.