Honorary Alumnus Award (Est. 2019)
The highest honor bestowed upon individuals who are not graduates of University of Illinois by the University of Illinois Alumni Association on behalf of the University of Illinois. The award is presented to an individual or individuals who have shown exemplary dedication and commitment to the mission of the University and the University of Illinois Alumni Association. Recipients adhere to standards of moral and ethical conduct that would cause the University to be honored to present the recipients as role models for students and alumni.
Lou and Mary Henson
During his 21 years at Illinois (1975–96), Coach Lou Henson accumulated 423 of his career total 779 wins, making him the most successful coach in the Orange and Blue record books. Henson was elected to the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015, and he is a member of the U of I Athletics Hall of Fame.
Henson began his career as a high school coach at Las Cruces (N.M.) High School. His first college job was at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, before he began coaching at New Mexico State in 1966.
Seven years into his run at Illinois, Henson ended an 18-year post-season-play drought when the Illini qualified for the 1981 NCAA tournament. His Illinois career peaked in the late 1980s as he led the 1988–89 “Flying’ Illini” to the school’s first-ever no. 1 ranking during the regular season, advancing the team to its first Final Four appearance in 37 years.
Coach Henson’s legacy thrives at the U of I in the strong program he built; in the Orange Krush, the student fan section he started; and inside the Illini’s State Farm Center where his signature graces the floor of the home court named in his honor.
Lou and Mary’s 65-year marriage spanned Lou’s coaching career; it was her urging that led Lou to take the head coaching position at Illinois, her home state. Mary notes that before Lou passed away in July, he learned of his honorary alumnus status. “He was very, very proud of that,” she says.
Stanley O. Ikenberry