“It was a special time … It was a special place.”
These several words encapsulate what I hear so often from those of us who attended Urbana College in the late 1960s and early 1970s, years before it was changed to Urbana University.
The college has now shuttered its doors due to financial problems exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nonetheless, there is something about the college in that day and age that seems to have a special hold on those of us who were there.
Even after all these years.
When I think about Urbana College, my first thought is always sitting in a classroom in Browne Hall in my English class being taught by the incomparable Vivian Blevins, and I consider it a blessing to still be in contact with her to this day, as she is one of the most accomplished people that I know.
My memories are vivid of our discussions about short stories written by American authors, and how I argued with her over the meaning of a Robert Frost poem. And I remember the excitement of being in college finally, discussing matters of literature that I was quite enthused about.
Then my thoughts quickly transitioned to my first taste of college-level sociology in a class being taught by Bill Gorse, who challenged us to formulate our own conclusions on important matters of life. And I remember standing in the lunch line at the cafeteria after that first class with him, exchanging comments with other students who were there, many of us remarking that we had never had our minds challenged in such a way before.
I attended Urbana College beginning in the fall of 1968, and graduating in 1972. It was a heady time to be there, as the college was finishing its transition from a two-year college to a four-year program. It was as if all of us in the student body were helping to finish the construction of something special, brick by brick, class by class, and one evening bull session in the dormitory at a time.
Speaking for myself, after just a few weeks at Urbana College, I felt more free, more challenged, and more hopeful than I had ever felt before in my young life. Urbana was simply that kind of a place, at least at that time.
I listen with sadness to the many comments I hear about higher education today, about the demand for thinking and speaking in lockstep. But at Urbana, it was my personal experience and observation that, regardless of what were sometimes apparent philosophies of our instructors, we were encouraged and expected to come to our own conclusions through our own reasoning, regardless of whether they were in agreement.
That was one of the many things about Urbana College that had a lifelong impact on me. And I wonder when I realize that I came to be there because a close buddy, Donald Thompson, had urged me to take a look at the school, something I agreed to do only halfheartedly, to some degree at the urging of my parents.
Thirty minutes into my first tour of the campus, I had made my decision to apply for admission there. And I have never regretted it for one moment.
The classes were small, our professors were excellent, and it was as if the entire theme of the college, from its administration to even those general requirement freshman classes, was … learn … wonder … be free.
It may be a cliché to say that I found myself there. And if it is a cliché, so be it, for I know that I am far from alone in feeling that way about Urbana College.
I truly do not know what the experience was for students who went there and subsequent years and decades. I am familiar with the old Native American adage … “You never cross the same river twice.”
I do believe that that often heard comment from my fellow students of that era holds true … “It was a special time .. It was a special place.”
I have to go through Urbana from time to time, and each time, I still find myself feeling wistful about my four years at the college there. There is no other way to say it: Urbana College still has a hold on me.
And by the way, when my friend Donald Thompson urged me to consider the college, it was not the last life-changing recommendation he would make to me. He and his wife Marilyn set me up on a date. And I ended up marrying Sandy.
And when we got married, the ceremony was held in the Swedenborgian Church that served as the Urbana College Chapel.
Terry L. Pellman
Urbana College Class of 1972