SPRINGFIELD - Some teachers make such a strong impression on their students that they are never forgotten.
This fall, Decatur native and University of Illinois at Springfield alumna Cheryl Peck recognized one of her favorite instructors, former English professor Judy Everson, by donating $500,000 to establish a professorship in her honor.
"I was so thrilled and honored," Everson said of the professorship. "I never expected it."
The Judith E. Everson Professorship in English is the university's first from a graduate honoring a former professor. Peck, a former Herald & Review reporter and copy editor, was more than happy to honor a teacher who influenced her so greatly.
"She was one of the most dynamic and energetic teachers I ever had," Peck said of Everson. "She inspired me to study harder than I ever thought I could."
Everson taught at the university for 31 years and was one of the founding faculty members in the English and literature department at the university's predecessor, Sangamon State University.
Peck said she met Everson in the 1980s when she made a decision to return to college.
"I first met Judy Everson in the class ‘Literature Between the Wars,' " said Peck. "I was a student in midlife, and she really helped me gain confidence in my ability to succeed academically."
The class, and Everson, helped her make an important decision, Peck said.
"I didn't know whether I wanted to major in communications or English," she explained. "But Judy and her class inspired me to make a career change."
Peck received her bachelor's degree in literature in 1986, and the following year, she received an opportunity to pursue a master's degree.
"I worked evenings at the Herald & Review and would help put the paper to bed, and during the day, I would take classes," Peck said. "In September of 1987, I received a graduate assistantship (at Sangamon State), which encouraged me to come to Springfield and finish my degree full time instead of commuting."
And Peck never turned back. In 1989, she received her master's degree in English, and in 1992, her career in higher education began.
"It was a personal transformation for me that lasted several years," Peck said. "I became director of public relations for UIS in 1992, I retired in 2009, and now Judy and I are lifelong friends."
For Peck, establishing the professorship was her special way of saying thank you to Everson.
"I wanted to establish the professorship to honor Dr. Everson for being an extraordinary teacher and to also, hopefully, benefit other English students at UIS," Peck said.
Vicki Megginson, associate chancellor of development at the university and senior vice president of the University of Illinois Foundation, said Peck's gift will give the university the opportunity to enhance its English department and will count toward the U of I Foundation's Brilliant Futures fundraising campaign.
"I'm thrilled we now have (a professorship) for our English department," Megginson said.
As for Everson, the surprise of the professorship hasn't yet worn off.
"I'm just dazzled and delighted," Everson said. "She (Peck) was a splendid student and comes from a remarkable family, and I'm just so thrilled. Decatur can be very proud of her."