My Alma Mater: A Core Curriculum

From the U of I to a lifetime of service

The U of I became a family tradition for Pamela Shepherd Denby (bottom row right). Her three sons and daughter and three of her six grandchildren all graduated from Illinois. (Courtesy of Illini Media and Pam Denby)
From the U of I to a lifetime of service

When I attended the U of I in the mid-to-late 1950s, I was in the right place, at the right time, with the right major: home economics.

Most people may not remember it now, but Illinois was the place to study home ec and had been for more than 50 years. The field had been invented at the U of I, and when I arrived on campus, the University was planning to erect a new building, named after the department’s founder, Isabel Bevier. It was a well deserved honor, for she was the reason that home ec had grown into such a wide and varied discipline.

How varied? If you had asked me then, what is home ec, I could have said, what isn’t?

Just look at my core curriculum: food and nutrition, anthropology, design (both costume and floor plans), chemistry, bacteriology, physiology and clothing (constructing garments using cloth that was printed with designs done in art class), plus the foundational courses for child development and family studies.

I was getting an education!

But I also made time for other things. I was president of the University’s home ec fraternity, Phi Upsilon Omicron, and a member of the Home Ec Club and All-Ag Field Day Committee. I also worked under Dr. Nellie Perkins in the Child Development Laboratory, where I received practical, hands-on experience with children.

Within a few years, I would have children of my own.

When I was a sophomore, I met Donald D. Denby, ’56 ACES, three weeks before he graduated from animal science. In 1959, the year after I graduated, Don and I married and settled down to our farm in Girard, Ill., where we lived for 61 years and raised our family, along with crops and hogs.

All the while, the University continued to enrich my life. It brought Don and me together, introduced us to lifelong friends and gave us the education that led to our callings.

The education I received at Illinois prepared me for a lifetime of service, not only to my farm family, but also to my local church; local and county 4-H; and pork producers at county, state and national levels. I never joined the salaried work force, but I was always busy and making a difference in the lives of those around me. Whether I was planning or conducting meetings, teaching demonstration techniques for pork products, or educating young people about farming and caring for animals, I was using my core curriculum skills to full advantage.

A few years ago, our granddaughter Ellen took classes in Bevier Hall—just like I had—and asked me about my experiences for a project she was doing. It was on the “Empowerment of Women” and she was supposed to write about a woman that she admired. She chose me because I had dedicated myself to a life of volunteerism and caring for others. I was deeply touched. And not only that: I was pleasantly surprised that she recognized how my core curriculum had guided me in my lifetime of service.

Pam Denby is now retired and lives in Springfield, Ill.

Share your campus experience! Email: