Illinois Pioneers

WILL - Illinois Pioneers - September 17, 2013 ~ Comment (0)

Wolfram Research Co-Founder Theo Gray

7:30 pm Sept. 19, 2013, on WILL-TV (repeated Jan. 9, 2014)
Theo Gray

Theo Gray, innovative software developer and popularizer of science, began studying chemistry but changed course when he was asked to join in the creation of a groundbreaking computational software program called Mathmatica. He’s also a prominent element collector and author. He tells Illinois Pioneers host David Inge that he doesn't write about science because of a missionary zeal to convince people that it's cool. "I do this stuff because I think it's fascinating," he said.

Watch the full episode:

WILL - Illinois Pioneers - September 12, 2013 ~ Comment (0)

Early childhood education pioneer Lilian Katz

7:30 pm Sept. 12, 2013, on WILL-TV (repeated Jan. 2, 2014)
Lilian Katz

Illinois Pioneers host David Inge interviews Lilian Katz, University of Illinois professor emerita of early childhood education, who is known worldwide for her expertise in child development and teacher education. They talk about how volunteering at her children's cooperative nursery school introduced her to child development. She describes what children should learn in pre-school, how the project approach in early education encourages learning, and what she thinks of standardized testing and computers in the classroom.

Watch the full program

WILL - Illinois Pioneers - September 05, 2013 ~ Comment (0)

2013 Season Premiere: Lou Henson on Sept. 5

David Inge Returns to WILL to Host
Host David Inge with Lou Henson

Illinois Pioneers returns to WILL-TV in September, with retired WILL-AM host David Inge coming back to conduct engaging interviews with former Illini basketball coach Lou Henson (Sept. 5), University of Illinois early childhood education pioneer Lilian Katz (Sept. 12), and Wolfram Research co-founder Theo Gray (Sept. 19). Former Champaign mayor Dannel McCollum is featured on Sept. 26, interviewed by former WILL general manager Mark Leonard. David is a guest on WILL-AM's Focus at 10 am Thursday, Sept. 5.

WILL - Illinois Pioneers - February 24, 2011 ~ Comment (0)

Champaign African-American History

WILL-TV’s Illinois Pioneers looks at African-American history in Champaign, Ill., through the eyes of Estella Merrifield and Hester Suggs, sisters and members of the Nelson family, one of the earliest African-American families in the city. Through their memories and photos, the program chronicles a portion of history from the Civil War through the Civil Rights protests of the late 1960s.

They talk about their grandfather, Joseph Nelson, who around 1900 was one of the first African Americans in the Champaign County Sheriff’s Department, and describe the importance of organizations such as the American Legion in the lives of African-American residents. Churches, such as Salem Baptist and Bethel AME, were all-important as well, they said.

WILL - Illinois Pioneers - January 27, 2011 ~ Comment (0)

Parkland College History

WILL-TV’s Illinois Pioneers looks back at the time when Parkland Junior College students attended classes in downtown Champaign, sometimes occupying church Sunday school classrooms where small chairs had to be stacked in the corner to make room for college-sized desks. 

Host Rick Atterberry uses photos and recollections of former Parkland employees to tell the story of the 45-year history of Parkland, which held its first classes in the fall of 1967 with an enrollment of 1,338 students. Guest Rachel Schroeder, former assistant to the first president of Parkland, and Dale Ewen, retired executive vice president, describe the excitement of building the college from the ground up.

WILL - Illinois Pioneers - November 25, 2010 ~ Comment (0)

Presidential Visits

When the president of the United States comes to town, everyone remembers. But people don’t always remember the remarks the president made or even why he came—sometimes the logistics of his arrival and departure are what stick in people’s minds.

That was the case when President Bill Clinton visited Champaign-Urbana in 1998. Clinton spoke to a full house at the Assembly Hall just days after his State of the Union address. His speech went smoothly, but his flight out of Willard Airport did not. When the pilot of Air Force One turned a tad too sharply and drove off the taxiway, the plane got stuck in the mud. Clinton had to de-board and depart on a backup jet. It took bulldozers, dozens of workers, and the better part of the day to get the first plane back on the asphalt. The story made national news.

A fourth of all U.S. presidents have visited Champaign-Urbana—either while in office or before or after their years as president. Their time here is the focus of this episode of Illinois Pioneers, broadcast on WILL-TV at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 25, 2010.

The episode explores visits of presidents as well as first ladies such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. Host John Paul shares photos of the visits and interviews Al Griggs and Jon Rector who helped plan and manage presidential visits. Griggs, a former assistant principal of Centennial High, organized President Gerald Ford’s visit when Ford spoke at the school. Rector, a former marketing director at Willard Airport, helped manage the Air Force One incident. Both say the experience of meeting the president was one of the most memorable of their lives—both for the privilege of hosting the president and for the funny things that happened along the way.

The first to visit was Abraham Lincoln, who before he was president sat for a portrait in Urbana in 1857. President Taft passed through on his way to Springfield and reviewed the troops, and Teddy Roosevelt, a past president at the time, spoke to 18,000 people crowded in Westside Park. Neither President Truman nor President Eisenhower got off the train when they came to Champaign-Urbana; both stopped and spoke at the depot on their whistle stop tours of the country. Presidents Nixon, Kennedy, Ford, Carter and Obama have also come through town either before or during their presidencies.

WILL - Illinois Pioneers - October 28, 2010 ~ Comment (0)

University of Illinois history

Most of us think about history in terms of the events we have personally witnessed. “But history precedes us and then continues with the next generations,” says John Paul, host of the WILL-TV’s Illinois Pioneers. This episode shows how the history of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is much richer than most of those who pass through the campus realize.

Paul interviews Professor Emeritus Winton Solberg, author of three books on the university’s past, as they discuss the formative years of the university, even before it made its home in Urbana-Champaign. Had it not been for the efforts of a particularly vigorous and vocal politician, Clark Griggs, the university might have ended up in Jacksonville, Bloomington-Normal or Lincoln. Paul says the agreement to found the university in Urbana “was Illinois politics as usual. Strings were pulled. Deals were made.”

The first campus building, located roughly where the Beckman Institute now stands, housed all classrooms, libraries, offices and laboratories, and was derisively nicknamed “The Elephant” by mid-19th century students. Also within those walls, university policy required all students to perform daily military drills, as well as attend daily chapel and religious instruction.

The Morrill Act, which provided federal funding and support for land grant universities not just in Illinois but nationwide, was signed by President Lincoln in the middle of the Civil War when the Union government needed more educated officers. Illinois Pioneers touches on seminal university figures such as Jonathan Baldwin Turner, who expanded the university’s industrial and agricultural curriculum to include a greater variety of subjects and classes, and John Milton Gregory, the university’s first regent who requested that his final resting place be on campus.

The program also delves into the stories behind the names of prominent campus buildings, areas and streets, such as Mathews, Peabody and Morrow, reminding us how the university’s early legacy is still alive today—if we only take the time to learn about it.

WILL - Illinois Pioneers - September 23, 2010 ~ Comment (0)

Streetcars and the Interurban

The first streetcar in Champaign-Urbana was powered by horses, pulling passengers on a rail between the Illinois Central depot in Champaign and the courthouse in Urbana. When electricity came to town in the 1890s, horses were phased out and the line extended, with power coming from wires above instead of horses.

On this WILL-TV Illinois Pioneers episode, John Paul and his guest George Friedman look back at the days when streetcars were the way to get around town and when the Interurban Railway made it easy to travel from city to city in central Illinois. “The Interurban was to streetcars as a Greyhound bus is to a city bus,” said Friedman, a retired University of Illinois professor whose hobby is researching the history of transportation in the area.

The Gazette offered this advice for boarding a streetcar: “Never stand on the sidewalk if you wish to hail a motor car (a streetcar), but step out on the crossing and stand near enough to the track to keep from getting struck by the car. Don’t wait until the car is past you and then yell ‘stop the car.’ When the car is about a quarter of a block from you, just quietly raise one hand and by the time the car has reached you the motorman will have it under control.”

Friedman tells Paul that in the early days, transportation was strictly privately owned. “Businessmen got into it because they thought they could make money,” he said. William McKinley, who became a U.S. Congressman and Senator, as well as a U of I trustee, owned both the streetcars and the electric utility in the early days, Friedman said.

Photos of streetcars in downtown Champaign and on campus, as well as rare video footage of the Interurban Railway, help Paul and Friedman tell the story.

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