EIU Memories: Shannon McNamara’s Murder and the Trial of Anthony Mertz

On the evening of Monday, June 11, 2001, Eastern Illinois University’s campus was deserted. The temperature was in the high 70s and falling. Most of EIU’s 10,531 students had returned home for the summer, but several hundred remained behind for summer classes, or to relax in the town they had come to love. I was back home in suburban Prospect Heights, relaxing after a long day working for the local park district. I would enter my sophomore year in August.

In a second floor apartment on 4th Street in Charleston, just a few blocks from campus, a small group of friends drank and socialized. The apartment door and windows were open, allowing a pleasant summer breeze to circulate among the party. Laughter, music, and light from the open door sounded inviting to anyone who happened to pass by on the sidewalk below. It was a nightly ritual to unwind from spending hours in stuffy classrooms or at tedious, temporary summer jobs.

The next morning, in a three-story apartment building near the corner of 4th Street and Taylor Avenue, 21-year-old Shannon McNamara’s roommate discovered her strangled and brutalized body on their living room floor. Shannon, from Rolling Meadows, Illinois, was a physical education major and sorority sister of the Zeta Alpha chapter of Alpha Phi.

Continue reading “EIU Memories: Shannon McNamara’s Murder and the Trial of Anthony Mertz”
Advertisements

EIU Memories: Chubby’s Pizza

As a student at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois, there was only one place to go after coming home from the bar at 2 am. You wanted something cheap and greasy, and Chubby’s had just what the doctor ordered. Though I wasn’t much for the bar scene, I ate my fair share of Chubby’s over the years. It was the largest pizza in Charleston for the best price, and just a short walk from campus.

Leon and Lisa Hall opened a Topper’s Pizza in the Midtown Plaza strip mall at 215 Lincoln Avenue in 1995. Topper’s is a restaurant chain founded by Scott Gittrich in Champaign, Illinois in 1991, but Leon and Lisa found themselves alone after the original location closed. After three years, the couple felt they weren’t benefiting from the franchise, so they decided to go their own way and rebranded as Chubby’s Pizza.

They kept the same menu but were able to lower prices because they were no longer paying franchise fees. “The Topper”, a 20-inch pizza with 12 toppings, became “The Big Chubby.” Why the name Chubby’s? Leon told the Daily Eastern News, “I’ve put on a few pounds since I’ve owned the place.”

Ad for Topper’s in the Daily Eastern News, c. 1998. Topper’s became Chubby’s that year.
Continue reading “EIU Memories: Chubby’s Pizza”

The Real Cost of Campus Hysteria

Ohio jury awards local business over $33 million after false targeting by outraged college students.

In the 1994 satirical comedy PCU, mobs of angry students run down and protest anyone who offends their cause célèbre at the fictional Port Chester University. Way ahead of its time, the film starring Jeremy Piven and David Spade lampooned the burgeoning movement of “political correctness” on college campuses. Today, we might call these PC warriors “Social Justice Warriors”, or SJWs.

While it’s funny to watch angry mobs of college students chase a hapless pre-frosh through campus in a movie, it’s not so hilarious for the real victims of campus activism. Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio recently learned this lesson the hard way after a jury awarded $44 million to  Gibson’s Food Market and Bakery after students and faculty wrongly targeted them for a protest campaign.

In 2016, the store owner’s son, Allyn Gibson, confronted a student he believed was trying to purchase one bottle of wine with a fake ID and steal two bottles stuffed under his shirt. The student ran from the store and Gibson chased after him. Outside, the report alleged, several more students joined the confrontation and physically assaulted Gibson before fleeing the scene. Three students eventually plead guilty to misdemeanors of aggravated trespassing and attempted theft.

Continue reading “The Real Cost of Campus Hysteria”

EIU Memories: Antiwar Protests

Click ‘play’ to hear me read this article with actual audio from the 2002 protest!

As 2002 came to a close, I was getting ready to go on Christmas break and start a new year at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois. The hot issue of the day was the impending war with Iraq. Everyone knew it was coming, but no one knew when. UN weapons inspectors had been combing Iraq for several weeks, with no results. That December, a group of protestors would meet at Old Main on Lincoln Avenue to lend their voices to peace.

Having followed events in Iraq for quite some time, I was skeptical of the threat it posed or the utility of overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Despite Bush Administration horror stories about weapons of mass destruction, I always suspected something worse might replace Saddam, and that starting another war in the Middle East wouldn’t help stamp out Islamic extremism. In 2002, however, the antiwar crowd seemed to be in the minority. A January 2003 CBS poll found 64% of Americans approved of military action against Iraq after all diplomatic options had been exhausted.

Screen still from my antiwar protest video, shot outside Old Main on Lincoln Ave in Charleston, IL.

On the sixty-first anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 2002, a number of small campus groups, including the Green Party, junior art major Ryan McClure, and Newman Center director Roy Lanham, organized an antiwar protest to coincide with similar marches around the country. I showed up with my video camera to document the event and interview the participants.

Continue reading “EIU Memories: Antiwar Protests”

EIU Memories: Carl Estabrook’s Congressional Campaign

When I returned to Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois for the fall 2002 semester, the potential invasion of Iraq was heating up. The looming war dominated news coverage, and we all believed this could be our generation’s Vietnam. Protests were held across the country, as well as on the campus of our small Midwestern university.

The 2002 midterm elections presented me with my first real opportunity to participate in politics. I was 20 years old and had never voted before. As a member of the campus Green Party, I had a front row seat for Carl Estabrook’s campaign for 15th Congressional District. I’d always considered myself more libertarian, but I was young and eager to get involved, and most of my close friends were on the left.

It was an uphill battle. Illinois’ 15th Congressional District consisted of east central Illinois, including Champaign-Urbana, Danville, Mattoon, and Charleston, and a narrow strip running south along the border with Indiana (the 15th has since been redistricted). Aside from the liberal outpost of Champaign-Urbana (home to the University of Illinois), this was deeply Republican territory. The incumbent, Timothy V. Johnson, won in 2000 with 53.2% of the vote (he would be re-elected five times).

Continue reading “EIU Memories: Carl Estabrook’s Congressional Campaign”

EIU Memories: Campus Greens

During the 2000 presidential election, student groups around the country cropped up to support Green Party nominee Ralph Nader, a consumer and environmental activist. Nader ended up receiving 2.88 million votes, or just 2.74 percent of the popular vote. Never-the-less, many Democrats considered Nader a spoiler who cost Democratic candidate Al Gore the election. In retrospect, his impact on that race was probably overstated.

When I entered Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois in the fall of 2000, the Bush vs. Gore campaign was in full swing. I was idealistic, ready for change, and thought I knew everything. In other words, a typical college freshman. In late October, a friend convinced me to attend a meeting of the campus Green Party. Though I was more libertarian-leaning, curiosity and a desire to “get involved” led me to the former English lounge on the second floor of Coleman Hall (meetings were later moved to the Student Union).

Joining the Green Party at EIU turned out to be a fruitful decision, as I made several lasting friends and gained valuable experience. My first post-election political act was to write a five-page letter detailing what I believed to be the problems facing the country to newly elected President George W. Bush. I received a generic letter and a photo of him and Laura in reply.

Continue reading “EIU Memories: Campus Greens”

PCU: A Timely Send-up to the Modern College Campus

Twenty-eight-year-old Jeremy Piven plays an unconvincing college senior in this irreverent lampoon of political correctness run amok.

Written by Adam Leff and Zak Penn and directed by Hart Bochner, PCU (1994) is Animal House for the 1990s. Though in many ways a boilerplate college comedy, it’s unique in calling out and ridiculing PC culture on college campuses. In retrospect, its writers were downright prophetic.

Pre-frosh Tom Lawrence (Chris Young) is visiting Port Chester University for the weekend, where he meets misfits James ‘Droz’ Andrews (Jeremy Piven), Gutter (Jon Favreau), and Katy (Megan Ward), among others, at a former frat house called “The Pit”. These fun-loving students are out of place among the campus protest culture, nurtured and encouraged by college president Ms. Garcia-Thompson (Jessica Walter).

Ms. Garcia-Thompson allies with snobby Rand McPherson (David Spade), leader of a disbanded fraternity who wants their frat house back, to get “The Pit” crew kicked off campus. Can Droz save his love interest, Samantha (Sarah Trigger), from the clutches of man-hating Womynists, unite the student body, and raise enough money to save his friends from eviction before graduation?

Long before campus speech codes and safe spaces became commonplace, PCU satirized this growing trend in academia. Ms. Garcia-Thompson personifies the new college administrator, a buzzword-spewing enforcer obsessed with sensitivity awareness, diversity, and encouraging student grievances. In one scene, she suggests “Bisexual Asian Studies” should have its own building. “The question is, who goes? The Math Department or the hockey team?” she asks with a straight face.

Continue reading “PCU: A Timely Send-up to the Modern College Campus”