Though I never went to the University of Illinois, it will always have a special place in my heart. Both my parents went to Illinois and so did my uncles. Many of my Walker cousins did too. Some of them even work at the university now.
My relationship with U of I began early. To start with, my dad ran the experimental swine farm there in the early 1960s and that’s where I spent the first three years of my life. The farm was located south of Memorial Stadium so we could walk to football games. My parents told me that we were once heading to a game when I suddenly exclaimed that we needed to go back home to get a ladder. My toddler brain couldn’t figure out how we were going to get inside the stadium without one.
In 1969, we moved from Iowa to Gibson City, Illinois – a small town 30 miles north of Champaign-Urbana. At one time, Gibson City had the most U of I season ticket holders per capita of any city outside of Champaign-Urbana. For a long time, our family had awesome season tickets in the balcony on the 50 yard line. Of course, those were the years when the 0-0 tie with Northwestern was the season highlight. But we would tailgate in the wooded lots across the street from Memorial Stadium and had a ball.
Even when the Illini football team started winning and our seats started getting worse (because my parents didn’t give large amounts of money to the school), we kept going to the games. My brother Neal and I knew the words to all the songs: “Illinois Loyalty”, “Oskee Wow Wow” and the “Alma Mater”. I loved the student card section (the Block I) and adored the Marching Illini way before I understood football. The best part of the performance was the Three in One -”the most exciting four minutes in all of college athletics.”
My cousin Russ Walker posted this historic video of the Marching Illini on FaceBook and I got goosebumps watching it. Here’s how he described it:
Here’s one for all the marching band geeks out there. U of Illinois celebrated 100 years of homecoming (103 of marching band) this past weekend. While I could provide commentary throughout, I’ll just call your attendtion to the alumni section. The entire group in this video on the far side of the 50 yard line are alum. Wow.
So, for all of you Illini fans and all of you band geeks, here’s the Marching Illini and Marching Illini Alumni Band celebrating 100 years of Homecoming at the University of Illinois this past Saturday (October 23, 2010). If you watch the whole thing, you can catch the Chief making an appearance in the stands during the “Alma Mater”. I understand the reasons why he’s gone, but I still miss the Chief. I need to get back to an Illini football game and I need to take my band geek husband with me! Oskee Wow Wow!