Former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar and his wife, Brenda, have demonstrated their continuing support for their alma mater by establishing the Edgar Speaker Series at Eastern Illinois University .
Working in conjunction with the EIU Foundation, the couple recently finalized details of 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 both current issues in state government and historical implications.
In addition to presenting a public lecture, speakers will also be asked to meet with students in the classroom while visiting the EIU campus.
"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 the 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."
In thanking the Edgars for their generous gift, EIU President Louis V. Hencken recalled that he, too, enjoyed the lecture opportunities he's had over the years. Dick Gregory and Frank Abagnale came quickly to his mind.
"I think it's important to see people who who've actually been on the firing line," he said.
The Edgars expect to personally launch the speaker series during Eastern's 2007-2008 school year, with the governor planning to return in the fall as the first featured speaker. Brenda Edgar will take her turn behind the lectern in the spring.
She, 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.
Although exact dates have yet to be established for their lectures, the governor says he already knows the title of his presentation - "From Old Main to the Mansion."
When available, 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 Illinois University where he majored in history and minored in political science. He was extremely active in Eastern'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 Brenda Edgar put her own education on hold while supporting her husband's political career and raising the couple's two young 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.
Anyone wishing to contribute to the Edgar Speaker Series fund may do so via the EIU Foundation (217-581-3313) or by contacting Jill Nilsen, vice president for external relations, at 217-581-5983.