Former Illinois governor Jim Edgar, left, discusses a photo with Eastern Illinois University President Bill Perry before the dedication of the Edgar Room in EIU's Booth Library on Monday, Nov. 29. The room was named after Jim and Brenda Edgar for their outstanding contributions to the people of Illinois and to EIU. Both are EIU alumni. (Photo by Bev Cruse)
Looking out at the standing-room only crowd Monday night, former Illinois governor Jim Edgar recalled the first time he set foot in the Booth Library room that was now being dedicated in his honor.
He was a fifth-grader in Eastern Illinois University's lab school when he first ventured into what was then the browsing room, where he loved looking at the new books on display. It was difficult to check those books out -- especially for a fifth-grader, Edgar joked -- but he was sometimes successful in doing so.
During the ceremony Monday, the room was officially dedicated as the Edgar Room in honor of Jim and Brenda Edgar's outstanding contributions to the people of Illinois and to EIU. They are both EIU graduates.
The room now contains a collection of documents, photos and other mementos that tell the story of their long and distinguished careers in public service, including his two terms as governor. Many other governmental resources are housed there, as well.
Edgar said he was honored that this particular room will now carry their name.
"I've always loved this room, with its wood paneling," Edgar said. "To me, this was the best room in the most beautiful building on campus."
The contents are very special to him, as well.
"These pictures bring back a lot of memories," Edgar said, bringing special attention to a photo of him as a child posing with his mother, Betty Edgar, who was later employed as a clerk at Eastern. "This university meant a lot to her, too."
Edgar, a Charleston native, said that many of the people attending played a big role in his life and in this particular honor.
"Many of you who are here really take credit for me getting a room named after me here," Edgar said. "You can only be as good as the people around you, and I was very fortunate from an early age to be surrounded by wonderful people."
The experiences he had at EIU, especially being elected student body president, gave him the edge to succeed in the political world, he said.
"Eastern has meant a lot to us," Edgar said. "If I'd have gone to any other university, I don't believe I'd have been governor."
Eastern graduates have a long history of serving the public, Edgar said, adding that he hopes that the Edgar Room will serve as a venue for speeches, discussions and "for people to think about how they can serve."
"I am confident that this university will continue to contribute much to this state and this nation," Edgar said.
While introducing Edgar, EIU President Bill Perry said that he believes that the opportunities provided by the Edgar Room will lead other students to emulate Edgar's outstanding record of public service.
|EIU President Bill Perry. left, presented Jim and Brenda Edgar with a replica of the former governor's portrait that hangs in the Illinois State Capitol. (Photo by Bev Cruse)|
Perry also presented a gift to the Edgars: a reproduction of Edgar's official portrait that hangs in the Illinois State Capitol's Hall of Governors.
"This is great -- I won't have to drive over to the State Capitol every week," Edgar joked.
Edgar took a moment to point out some trivia about the portrait. Brenda Edgar's photo sits on a mantle behind him, making Edgar the only governor to include his wife in his official portrait. Also, in the painting of the Lincoln-Douglas debate in the background, Edgar had the artist, William Chambers, include the Edgars' two grandchildren as audience members. The only problem is that they now have five grandchildren, Edgar said with a smile.
Following the dedication of the Edgar Room, the Edgars attended a lecture by The Washington Post's Dan Balz. His speech, "What Next for Washington and the States," was made possible by the Edgar Lecture Series, which was established by the Edgars in 2007 in one of the many ways they've given back to EIU.
The Edgar Lecture Series allows the university to host two speakers a year -- one in the fall and one in the spring. Lectures focus primarily on state government and address current issues in state government and their historical implications. The Edgars personally launched the series, with the former governor speaking in Fall 2007 and Mrs. Edgar taking her turn behind the lectern in Spring 2008.