Illini Everywhere: Romanian Illini, Since 1905

Since at least 1905, Romanian students have been attending the University of Illinois. Early Romanian Illini have included agronomists, architects, authors, editors, electrical engineers, medical doctors, multilingual scholars, musicians, and writers too.

Read on to learn more about early Romanian Illini!

Early Illinois – Romania Connections

The first campus event concerning Romania might have been a two-night talk on January 17 and 18, 1918, when French Geographer Emmanuel de Martonne visited campus to talk on, “Geography of the Battlefields of Northern France” and “Geography of Roumania and the War”. [1] At the same time, at least one U.S. alumni would find herself working with Romanian colleagues while a small Romanian population began to develop on campus locally. More recently, the papers of Food Chemistry Professor Dr. Ion C. Baianu (Record Series 8/9/22) include photographs and documentation of life in Romania from the 1940s through 1970s. [2]

Alumni in Romania

The earliest alumni to work in Romania was Ms. Alida C. Bowler, (A.B. Literature and Arts, 1910; A.M. 1911), of Moro, Illinois, who worked as a social worker in the A. R. C. Civilian Relief Department of France, before joining the American Red Cross Roumanian Committee in 1918. [3]

Students

But it was just a few years before Ms. Bowler’s graduation, when one of the first Romanian Illini graduated. Mr. Henry William Geller, (M.S. Agronomy, 1906), who completed a bachelor’s degree at the Michigan Agriculture College, before coming to Illinois. [4] While he was a student, Mr. Geller worked as an off-campus German tutor, using a method he developed that guaranteed results in six months. Mr. Geller was also a member of the German Club, Der Deutsche Verein. In fact, for one well-received Club meeting, Mr. Geller recited the poem “Erlkönig” by Goethe. By December 1904, Mr. Geller published the article “Agriculture in Romania“, for the Illinois Agriculturalist (Record Series 41/8/812). The following May, he gave an Agriculture Club talk “Roumania, Past and Present”, including multiple piano solos, stereopticon views of Romania, and a talk about Romanian folk songs. Despite poor weather, the event was a success, The Illini positively reviewed. In June, for Illinois Magazine (Record Series 15/7/810), Mr. Geller wrote an article about Romanian Queen (and author) Carmen Sylva, in anticipation of her sixtieth birthday. After graduation, Mr. Geller was elected Superintendent of the Baron de Hirsch Agricultural and Industrial School of Woodbine, New Jersey.

Mr. Max Ravitch, (A.M. English 1910), of Bârlad, prepared at De Witt Clinton High School of New York City and he completed his bachelor’s degree at the University of Missouri, where he worked to pay for his studies, before receiving a fellowship to begin his graduate studies at Illinois. [5] While he was a student, Mr. Ravitch was an early member of the multicultural student organization Cosmopolitan Club (Record Series 41/64/8) where he represented and advocated on behalf of fellow Jewish Illini too.

After graduation, Mr. Ravitch became a Kansas State Agriculture College instructor, before changing careers twice–first as an editor and later as the writer Marcus Eli Ravage. Within seven years of graduation, Mr. Ravitch’s first book was published. At the same time, Mr. Ravitch had sold a series of articles to Harper’s Magazine too. In fact, much of the writing’s content included his experiences as a student in Missouri and Illinois, The Illini wrote. The referenced Harper’s writings include: “The Prophet From America” (February 1917), “To America on Foot” (March 1917), “My Plunge into the Slums” (April 1917), “Immigrant’s Luck” (May 1917), and “An American in the Making” (June 1917).

Select book publications include:

Mr. Alexander R. Brander, (B.S. Architecture, 1913; M.S. 1914), of Bucharest, prepared at the North Division High School in Chicago, before coming to Illinois. [6] After graduation, Mr. Brander worked as an architect and draftsman in Chicago, before serving in the U.S. military during World War One as an interpreter and topographer. While he was a student, Mr. Brander was a member of Architectural Club, and he was one of the first graduate members of the recently established national architecture fraternity Alpha Rho Chi (Record Series 41/71/11).

Mr. Demetrius Ion Andronescu, (M.S. Agronomy, 1914; PhD 1915), of Târgoviște, studied at a college of agriculture in Romania, before coming to Illinois. [7] While he was a student here, Mr. Andronescu was active in French Club, Le Cercle Francais, and he gave a 1913 club talk “L’Origine et les Habitudes de la Roumanie” (The Origin and Habits of Romania).

Mr. Emil George Brander, (A.B. Literature, Arts, and Science, 1916) of Bucharest, prepared at Waller High School in Chicago, before coming to Illinois. [8] After graduation, Mr. Brander became a traveling representative of the American Cocoanut Butter Company of Chicago.

Leading up until the end of the 1930s, other early Romanian Illini included: Albert Hart, (Electrical Engineering, 1914-15), of Galatz (also Galați) [9] ; Jacob Morris Golden, (LAS, 1921-22), of Ploiești [10]; Alexander Sanford Freimann, (Medicine, 1927-1928) [11]; Eugene John Dailey, (LAS, 1930-1931) of Bucharest, [12]; Petru Pompei Pana, (Agriculture, 1932-1933) of Bucharest [13]; and Frederick Steigmann, (Medicine, 1939-1940) of Radautz (also Rădăuți) [14].

Although documentation of Romanian Illini after the 1930s is limited, student enrollment figures document that Romanian Illini enrollment renewed during the late 1990s. At the same time, Romanian American enrollment gradually increased, raising the campus population large enough to create a decades-old registered student organization.

Organizations

Romanian Student Club

Twenty years ago, in 1998, the Romanian Student Club (Record Series 41/64/50) was founded to promote Romanian cultures on campus, to support Romanian students, and to create a forum where Romanian issues could be discussed. Club members have come from nearly every academic program on campus, organizing annual events for Romanians and Illini alike.

Are you a Romanian Illini? Do you know someone who is? We’d like to hear from you! Please send us a message or leave a comment below. We want to include you and your story, as we celebrate the first 150 years of the University of Illinois.

Happy First 150 everyone!

(A special thank you to the 2015-2016 University of Illinois Slavic Graduate Student Association and Dr. David Cooper who gave feedback on an early version of this work.)

References

[] As always, a special thank you to all students and staff whose tireless work for student life and publications (many of which are available at the University Archives) help preserve the memories of Illini everywhere.

[1] University of Illinois Annual Register, 1917-1918, page 94.

[2] A detailed biography of Dr. Baianu can be found at: Brown, Ronald and Glazebrook, James F. “A Career of Unyielding Exploration: In Memory of Dr. Ion C. Baianu (1947 -2013)”, Quanta, Volume 2, Issue 1, Page 1.

[2] “Alida Cynthia Bowler”, The Semi-Centennial Alumni Record of the University of Illinois, Edited by Franklin W. Scott, page 360.

[3] “Henry William Geller”, page 768.

[4] “Max Ravitch”, page 800.

[5] “Alexander Rudolph Brander”, The Semi-Centennial Alumni Record of the University of Illinois, Edited by Franklin W. Scott, page 484.

[6] “Demetrius Ion Andronescu”, page 743.

[7] “Emil George Brander”, page 610.

[8] University of Illinois Annual Register, 1914-1915, page 476.

[9] University of Illinois Annual Register, 1921-1922, page 430.

[10] University of Illinois Annual Register, 1927-1928, page 526.

[11] University of Illinois Annual Register, 1930-1931, page 455.

[12] University of Illinois Annual Register, 1932-1933, page 455.

[13] University of Illinois Annual Register, 1939-1940, page 650.

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