Club Kids

They bonded as friends, then signed on for life—via Illini Inn’s Mug Club

They bonded as friends, then signed on for life—via Illini Inn’s Mug Club

Images of Javan and Melissa Raney Samp in front of the Alma Mater sculpture on graduation and on their wedding day.

“A lot of our old standbys are disappearing,” says Javan Samp, lamenting the loss of Illini Inn, where he and future wife Melissa Raney Samp signed their names as members of the 100,000-strong Mug Club. A constant that remains is Alma Mater, where the couple posed in cap and gown after Commencement and in wedding attire after their October 2017 Newman Center chapel nuptials. (Image courtesy of Javan Samp and Melissa Raney Samp)

So special. So romantic.

So U of I, how Javan G. Samp, ’15 ENG, and Melissa Raney Samp, ’15 ACES, together inscribed their names in the membership log of a campus dive bar after chugging beer and ringing a bell.

Even sweeter, they were just friends at the time. Good friends, old friends, who’d met as freshmen in the cafeteria at Newman Hall. They didn’t fall for each other until second semester of senior year, months after the night they drank their way into the storied Mug Club at the Illini Inn on Fourth Street.

Graduation day 2015 found them in caps and gowns, posed in front of Alma Mater. On Oct. 21, 2017, they married in the Newman Center chapel and were back at the sculpture for a snap in their wedding clothes. They’ll return to Alma this fall for a third photo with daughter Margo, who joined them last winter at their home near Madison, Wis.

“We’ve got lots of little Illini garb for her,” Melissa says. “We’ve got a little cheerleader outfit. She had an Illini onesie on during March Madness. Short-lived. But she cheered.”

Melissa is now a registered dietician for a rural hospital. Javan is a structural engineer. “I make sure that buildings don’t fall down,” he says. They come back to campus each autumn for bratwurst at Raney family football tailgates. “I know we sound old, but it feels like campus changes all the time,” Javan says. “A lot of our old standbys are disappearing.”

The Illini Inn is now a whole different bar in a whole different building, which went up in 2018 after most of that block of Fourth Street got knocked down. The sticky floors and smell of beer are gone, though the Mug Club chugs on, with membership now well north of 100,000.

“We wanted to scratch out my last name and change it to Javan’s in the logbook,” Melissa says. “But by the time we got there, the books had been moved with the ownership.” Happy to say, they still have their membership cards. Framed. Melissa Raney #84,334 and Javan Samp #84,335 are enshrined at the family home, along with a poster guide to the pubs of Champaign and other mementoes of the place where they met, became friends, wooed, wed and fared well.

So special. So romantic. So Illinois.