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Remembering Dean Eldred: A friend dedicated to Illinois College tradition


Illinois College is mourning the loss of Eldred, an inspirational mentor who was committed to the success of each student.

In 2014, Dean Donald R. Eldred H’04 told the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, “I believe wholeheartedly that God created us, and that God has a plan for our lives." For Eldred, who passed away on August 4 at the age of 90, that plan included a 45-year career at Illinois College where his love of writing, literature and the arts; his dedication to honoring IC tradition; and his commitment to serving others had a positive impact on the lives of countless students. “Dean Eldred served generations of Illinois College students and his loss will be deeply felt by our community,” said Illinois College President Barbara A. Farley. 

Eldred came to Illinois College in 1961, after earning a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Dubuque and a Master of Arts degree from Northwestern University. While at IC, he served as dean of men, dean of students and professor of English and communication. Eldred has credited his love of words as the catalyst for devoting his life to teaching. The wordsmith often contributed poetry to IC’s Forté magazine and shared his passion and enthusiasm for literature and writing with the IC students who were in his classroom each semester.

Alumni remember Dean Eldred as an inspirational mentor and excellent professor who was committed to the success of each student. “He taught students skills that transcended his academic discipline because Dean Eldred believed in the capacity of the liberal arts to empower young people to make a difference in the world,” said President Farley. 

Eldred’s legacy at IC includes founding the prestigious Julian M. Sturtevant Campus Leadership and Service Awards, an annual honor to recognize the work of exceptional seniors who have made a difference in the campus community. He was the founder of the silver cup to award outstanding literary work by the men’s literary societies. Pi Pi Rho Literary Society made him an honorary member.  Eldred was the first administrator to be granted a leave of absence on two occasions, first in the fall of 1976 and again in 1986. During those periods, Eldred enrolled in coursework at Oxford University, studying the writers and poets of England. Throughout his life, Eldred traveled to England dozens of times, including three months he spent living abroad. He also encouraged his students to expand their education through global travel and lead BreakAway trips throughout England, Scotland and Ireland. 

Eldred was initially drawn to Illinois College for its beautiful campus and its rich history. Throughout his career, he was deeply committed to honoring IC’s tradition of educational excellence. Eldred served as director during Illinois College’s 150th- and 160th-anniversary celebrations. He reflected on the significance of these milestones for Illinois College in his writing, where he described IC’s many decades of “providing an intellectual fountain of learning” and the College’s continued commitment to “provide the best in higher education” in the 21st-century.

During his tenure, Eldred cultivated a remarkable body of work and made several lasting contributions to the College. He was the founder of the Illinois College Fine Arts Series, originally entitled the McGaw Fine Arts Series. The concert series continues to enrich the local arts community today, bringing a variety of diverse musical performances to the Illinois College campus each year. Eldred worked with the series for 30 years, including 15 years as chair and more than 20 years as fundraiser.  

Some of Eldred’s favorite memories of the College were from Homecoming when he was able to reminisce with alumni, many of them with whom he maintained lifelong friendships. In 1993, Eldred retired from his full-time position at Illinois College but continued to teach part-time for an additional 12 years. At the time of his retirement as dean of students, Eldred said, “It will be painful to separate myself from the responsibilities of being dean of students. I picture myself as a dean 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” Even after retirement, he was still known as Dean Eldred throughout his life. 

Along with his professional career, Eldred was actively engaged in his faith, serving as a lay minister in several churches in Morgan County, including the Waverly Congregational Church and Bielschmidt Chapel located in Passavant Area Hospital in Jacksonville, where Eldred also served as one of the assistant chaplains. 

In 2004, Illinois College conferred upon Eldred the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. He was recognized as a “Friend of the College” for his dedication and outstanding service to the College and the Jacksonville community by the Illinois College Alumni Association in 2013. On April 23, 2018, Congresswoman Cheri Callahan Bustos ’83, Representative for Illinois’ 17th Congressional District, formally recognized Eldred’s 90th birthday with Congressional remarks honoring the dean as a pillar of the Jacksonville community. 

The Burial Office and Eucharist for Dean Eldred will be at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, September 1 at Trinity Church in Jacksonville (359 West State Street).  A memorial service will be held in Rammelkamp Chapel on November 17 at 11:00 a.m. 

About Illinois College

Founded in 1829, Illinois College is a residential liberal arts college fostering academic excellence rooted in opportunities for experiential learning while preparing students for lifelong success. The college is located in Jacksonville, Illinois. With an enrollment of about 1,000 students, the college offers over 50 undergraduate programs. In 1932 the society of Phi Beta Kappa established a chapter at Illinois College, and it remains one of only 11 in the state.

Illinois College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association.

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