Club History - Part 1 (The 1980s)

We hope you enjoy reading about our club's history. If you have anything to add, including pictures, please let us know. Our thanks go to Jim Freda for his contributions.

The idea for founding the Phoenix Illini Club started when about a dozen alumni met at the Jolly Roger in central Phoenix to share ideas and lay the groundwork for local chapter. There were already clubs in Tucson, Green Valley, and Sun City, but nothing for Phoenix or the rest of the Valley. After coordinating with Lou Liay, who was the President of the University of Illinois Alumni Association at the time, the Phoenix Illini Club was founded in July, 1983.

Rosemarie Schwierjohn was the first President, Gail Greer, Vice President and Denise Mudd as Secretary. The first Board of Directors serving with the new Officers was Bob & Rosellen Buns, Gay Garasche, Dennis Belcher, Roger Schwierjohn and Mike Zielinski. There were many additional volunteers who served on various committees under each Director.

Here are some of our early volunteers from the 1980s:
Bruce Jameson, mid to late 80’s
Jim & Barbara Freda, ‘83-’93
Ann Roseman, late 80’s to early 90’s
Bill Loutos, mid 80’s & into 90’s
Charlie Seitz, late 80’s to early 90’s
Greg Ives, mid 80’s to present
Deb Flowers, late 80’s only
Bill Lamkin, mid to late 80’s.

Without a budget, the initial membership push had to grow through word of mouth and aggressive networking. Club members would attend events such as Chicago Fest in Phoenix, White Castle Days in Fountain Hills and have booths to attract new members and sign them up. The initial dues basically helped to pay for mailings to continue to spread word. Excitement grew quickly during the fall of 1983, especially with the football team having its best season in decades, culminating in a Rose Bowl trip following the only 9-0 Big Ten finish in conference history. Many events were held at Max's in Glendale, which was the initial hangout. There were not too many raffle prizes back then, with one notable exception. Jerry Colangelo, Phoenix Suns General Manager at the time frequently donated tickets and Suns promotional items with great frequency to support the club. 

By 1985, the club decided it would be good to have a logo for the club’s identity. At the time, board member Jim Freda and his wife Barbara offered to design one for the Club. They wanted the design to incorporate a recognizable Phoenix feature into its design. Taking notice that other schools in the Southwest put their letters on nearby mountains, such as "A-Mountain" near ASU, Jim and Barbara decided to place the Block I on the Valley’s most recognizable and central landmark, a digitized outline of Camelback Mountain. Today, Camelback Mountain still appears on our site's home page.

The club's biggest event of the 1980s occurred when Arizona State hosted Illinois on September 10, 1989, a game that the Illini lost 21-16. The event was held poolside at the Tempe Holiday Inn at Rural and Apache. Club leadership hoped for the best by organizing a huge BBQ and telling the hotel to expect 250 people. Approximately 300 Illini attended the event and it was a great success. Headline visitors included Lou Liay, Illinois Alumni Director, Dike Eddleman and the Fighting Illini Cheerleading Squad. A local high school band was also part of the festivities to play all the Illinois fight songs throughout the afternoon.

Over the next several years the Club continued to grow in membership and annual brunches were held around the Valley, often at the Fiesta Inn and the Valley Ho, when speakers came from the University during the winter months.  Many other type of social activities were scheduled, and speakers included Chancellor Wier, Bernie Freeman from the Foundation, and a former President of the University.  We joined forces on some events with the Tucson Illini Club.