Illinois Pioneers

Champaign Schools


Erma Bridgewater, who graduated from Champaign High School in 1931, recalls jumping on the back of a moving company’s horse-pulled wagon to hitch a ride to elementary school. “The driver would pretend that he didn’t know we were there,” she said. Bridgewater and Cheryl Van Ness of Champaign talk about their recollections of attending schools in Champaign County.

Host John Paul and his guests talk about earlier times in local schools and look at historic photos of schools, classrooms and leaders such as Dr. Hartwell C. Howard, for whom Dr. Howard School is named.

Bridgewater helped integrate Lincoln School, now an apartment building at the corner of Healey and State streets, in 1917. She and her brother were the only black students, because most African-Americans lived in the north part of town and attended another school.

Van Ness attended Bondville grade school, which was closed by the district in 1971. She was in the first graduating class from Centennial High School.

“It will be a chance to look back at how the school district has evolved over the years,” Paul said. The program will also look at some of the schools that are no longer there, about some of the sports teams that won state championships, and about periods when enrollment soared, resulting in the building of schools to keep up with the numbers of children, he said.

Funding for Illinois Pioneers – Champaign @ 150 is made possible, in part, by the Noel Foundation, and by donors to the Champaign 150th Anniversary Celebration Fund. More information on the city’s 150th Anniversary is at