Illini Everywhere: Russian Illini, Since 1892

Since at least 1892, Russian students have been attending the University of Illinois. Early Russian Illini have included agriculturalists, architectural engineers, ceramic engineers, chemical engineers, civil engineers, electrical engineers, mathematics instructors, mechanical engineers, mining engineers, municipal and sanitary engineers, railway civil engineers, and school administrators too.

Read on to learn about early Russian Illini!

Early Russian Illini

Some of the first Russian students at the University of Illinois came to the United States at a young age or they were born to Russian immigrants in cities like Chicago. Many of these early students from Russia were involved in local Jewish cultural organizations. In some cases, students were graduates of Chicago schools like Crane Tech High School, Medill High School, or Northwest High School. In other cases, young Russian men left their families behind as they came to the United States for an education. While many early students remained in the U.S. after graduation, some students did not stay. In either case, multiple Russian Illini included Russia or Russian cultures in their careers. In the following, below, select early Russian Illini vignettes are provided.


One of the first Russian Illini could be Mr. Theodore Weinshenk, (B.S. Mechanical Engineering, 1896; M.S. Mechanical Engineering, 1909) who was born in Russia and he left his two brothers at the age of 16, to educate himself abroad. [1] Later, he came to Illinois with his family in 1892. In 1894, Mr. Weinshenk wrote a feature article about Russian student life, “The Russian Student“, for The Illini. His senior year was a busy year. For his bachelors thesis, with a colleague, Mr. Weinshenk tested the steam heating system multiple times in the west side high school of Champaign. In the Mechanical and Electrical Engineers’ Society, he gave the talk “Heating and Ventilation” (1895). He was a member of the 1895 Technograph Publications Committee too. The following year, he installed the heating plant in Library Hall. After completing his bachelors, Mr. Weinshank had a prosperous career in heating and ventilation works in Chicago for a decade, The Daily Illini reported. Over ten years later, he returned to campus to complete a graduate degree too. In 1908, he published “Feed Water Heating” in The Technograph.

Mr. Weinshenk was an active alumni who visited the campus often. Just one year after graduation, in both March and April, he returned as both a guest speaker and as president of the American Engineering and Supply Company of Indianapolis. By 1912, he was a co-organizer of the Illini Club of Indianapolis. He helped plan the 25th reunion and 30th reunion for the Class of 1896 too.

Mr. Joseph Albert Mesiroff, (B.S. Electrical Engineering, 1899), was born in Russia and his family left the country for political reasons, The Illini reported. [2] All that is known about his campus days is that he was known to play music at off campus parties. Following graduation, with another classmate, Mr. Mesiroff went to Klondike, Yukon, Canada, before taking a job with the Milwaukee Electrical Railway and Lighting Company of Milwaukee.

Mr. Leo Dolkart, (B.S. Electrical Engineering, 1903), of Elizabethgrad, prepared at Northwest Division High School in Chicago, before coming to the University. [3] Mr. Dolkart was a contributor to the 1903 Technograph. After graduation, he took a job with the Automatic Electric Company of Chicago and later he worked for the Illinois Tunnel Company of Chicago. In 1931, as part of an American engineering company, he visited Russia to support the inauguration of the first five year plan.

Mr. Manuel Joseph Jacobs, (B.S. Civil Engineering, 1905), of Moholiv, prepared in European schools before coming to Illinois. [4] While he was a student, Mr. Jacobs took time off from his studies to work for a firm in New Orleans. By 1904, Mr. Jacobs had joined a student and faculty co-operative movement to provide new economic opportunities for students. By the second meeting, he had become a member of the student’s committee. By late December, Mr. Jacobs had become General Manager. In January, the business was formed and ready to take orders, located at 603 East Green Street in Champaign. In 1905, a January announcement described the co-op’s pricing schema to clarify that while prices were similar to other stores, the important difference was that store members received a share of the profits. In March, before graduation, Mr. Jacobs stepped down from management. He was also a member of Mathematics Club too. At the May 1905 meeting, Mr. Jacobs gave a talk “The Mathematics of the Talmud”. After graduation, Mr. Jacobs had relocated to California where he served a long career in education in Berkeley and even became Director of Education at Folsom State Prison in 1915.

Mr. Hyman Jacob Hoodwin, (B.S. Civil Engineering, 1908), was born in Russia, and he prepared at West Division High School in Chicago, before coming to the University. [5] Mr. Hoodwin was president of the on campus student-led Jewish organization Ivrim for Spring 1908.

Mr. Lazarus Levinson, (B.S. Civil Engineering, 1910), of Hartford, Connecticut, was the son of Russian immigrants. Mr. Levinson prepared at McKinley High School in Chicago, before coming to the University. [6] During his senior year, Mr. Levinson was a cross country runner, with meets in October and in November. After graduation, Mr. Levinson relocated to Chicago for work.

Mr. Benjamin Shapiro, (B.S. Civil Engineering, 1910), of Chicago, was the son of two Russian immigrants. [7] Mr. Shapiro prepared at Crane Tech High School and Armour Institute, before coming to the University.

Mr. Arcadie Jacob Shklowsky, (B.S. Civil Engineering, 1910), was born in Zitomir (now Zhytomyr, Ukraine) and he prepared at the University of Kiev, before coming to Illinois. [7]

Mr. Isidore Morris Shaw (Scholnitzsky), (B.S. Civil Engineering, 1911), was born in Odessa, (now Odessa, Ukraine) but later came to Illinois. [8]

Mr. William Meyer, (B.S. Science, 1912), was born in Russia, but he prepared in Central High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota, before coming to Illinois. [9] After taking time off in the middle of his program, to stay with his family in Rock Island Illinois, Mr. Meyer did return and he finished his program in 1912.

Mr. Isidore Max Shapiro, (A.B. Business, 1912), was born in Russia but completed high school at Murray Floyd Tuley High School (later Chicago Northwest Division High School) in Chicago, before coming to the University. [10]

Mr. Morris Louis Becker, (B.S. Mining Engineering, 1913), was born in Russia and completed high school at Medill High School in Chicago, before coming to the University. [11]

Mr. Philip Helton Goldberg, (A.B. Liberal Arts and Science, 1914) of Chicago, was the son of Russian immigrants. Mr. Goldberg prepared at Evanston Academy, before coming to the University. In 1912, Mr. Goldberg tried out for the debate club. In 1913, he joined the Summer Illini editorial staff. In 1914, Mr. Goldberg became head of the 4th Floor in the College Hall Dormitory. After graduation, Mr. Goldberg became a jeweler at Lewy Brothers Company in Chicago. [12]

Mr. Louis Julius Horwich, (B.S. Architectural Engineering, 1914), of Chicago, was born to Russian immigrants. Mr. Horwich prepared at Crane Tech High School, before coming to the University. In 1913, he was a member of the Cosmopolitan Club. [13]

Mr. Isaac Siegel, (LL.B. 1915) was born in Russia, and he prepared at Northwest High School before coming to the University. In 1915, he won first prize for the B’Nai B’rith Prize. [14]

Mr. John Breedis, (B.S. Liberal Arts and Sciences, 1916) was born in Russia and prepared in Russian schools, before coming to Illinois. [15]

Mr. Max Joseph Kadin (Kadinsky) (B.S. Railway Civil Engineering, 1916) was born in Sebastopol and he prepared there too. Later, Mr. Kadin continued his studies at the Armour Institute in Chicago, before coming to the University. [16]

Mr. Ernest Rudolf Schulz, (B.S. Agriculture, 1916; PhD Agriculture, 1919), was born on a farm near Goldingen (today Kuldīga, Latvia) and he prepared at the Gymnasium at Libau too. While Mr. Schulz considered attending a Russian agriculture institute, following the 1905 Revolution‘s aftermath he came to the United States. After a few years of work in Chicago, Mr. Schulz came to Illinois where he completed his entire education in agriculture. [17] While he was a student, Mr. Schulz was a member of the Socialist Study Club, the German Club, and the honorary agriculture organization Alpha Zeta too. In 1914, Mr. Schulz publishedRussia and Its Agricultural Population” in the Illinois Agriculturalist. In 1915, through the German Club, Mr. Schulz played the character Reuter in a student production of Wilhelm Meyer-Förster‘s “Alt Heidelberg“.

Mr. Charles Eugene Smith, (B.S. Civil Engineering, 1916), was born in Russia, but he prepared at the Lewis Institute of Chicago, before coming to the University. While he was a student, Mr. Smith was a member of the Civil Engineering Society and the Menorah Society too. After graduation, by 1918, Mr. Smith was in France as he served in the U.S. military. [18]

Mr. Morris Charles Winokur, (B.S. Railway Civil Engineering, 1916) was born in Russia, and he prepared at a Russian high school in Odessa (now Odessa, Ukraine), before continuing at Crane Tech High School in Chicago. [19] In a 1914 editorial in The Daily Illini, Mr. Winokur argued that for the 1914 campus, staff writers failed to acknowledge the significance of winter break for students who used the time-off to work and pay bills. In 1916, Mr. Winokur (along with Mr. Kadinsky) took Honorable Mention in a competition for reinforced concrete design. [20] In 1924, Mr. Winokur was a candidate for a professional engineering degree at the University. In 1926, in Chicago, he took an exam to become a structural engineer. By 1930, Mr. Winokur returned to Russia for employment and by 1936, he was touring U.S. industrial centers and universities to learn about new engineering materials, The Daily Illini reported.

Ms. Ella Abrams, (A.B. in High School Education, 1917), of New York, was the daughter of Russian immigrants. [21] At this time, no other information has been identified yet.

Mr. Leo Adler, (B.S. Chemical Engineering, 1917), of Pana, Illinois, was the son of Russian and Austrian immigrants. He prepared at Central High School of St. Louis, before coming to the University. [22] In 1914, Mr. Adler was a sergeant in the University Regiment. In early 1915, Mr. Adler may have contracted Typhoid and he recovered at the local Burnham Hospital where he remained for almost the entire month of October. Then in later 1915, he was an assistant business manager of The Daily Illini. In 1917, he was elected into the honorary scientific society Sigma Xi. After graduation, Mr. Adler continued his graduate studies at M.I.T.

Mr. Harry Nathan Fried, (B.S. Agriculture, 1917), of Chicago, was the son of Russian immigrants. He prepared at Medill High School, before coming to the University. [23] In 1916, Mr. Fried was a member of the tennis team, which had five matches that year.

Mr. Abraham Lincoln Golinkin (B.S. in Municipal and Sanitary Engineering, 1917), of Chicago, was the son of Russian immigrants. [24] After graduation, Mr. Golinkin returned to campus as supervising engineer for the Commercial Light Company of Chicago to install 540 street light posts across the University district–just in time for the 1921 Homecoming.

Mr. Martin Charles Levinson, (B.S. in Architectural Engineering, 1917) of Chicago, was the son of Russian immigrants. [25] He prepared at Crane Tech High School, before coming to the University. In 1917, Mr. Levinson won Second Prize for the Llewellyn Prize for his solution to framing a roof on a state capitol building.

Mr. Harry Markson, (B.S. Mechanical Engineering, 1917) of Chicago, was the son of Russian immigrants. [26] He prepared at Crane Tech High School, before coming to the University.

Mr. Charles Arthur Stone, (B.S. Ceramic Engineering, 1917) of Chicago, was the son of Russian immigrants. [27] He prepared at William McKinley High School, before coming to the University.

Mr. Solomon Leonard Fishman, (B.S. Chemical Engineering, 1918), of Chicago, was the son of Russian immigrants. [28] He prepared at Medill High School, before coming to the University. In 1918, Mr. Fishman competed in the 1918 tennis tournament.

Mr. David Horwich, (B.S. Architectural Engineering, 1918), of Chicago, was born to Russian immigrants, and he prepared at Crane Tech High School, before coming to the University. [29] As a student, he was a member of the honorary engineering greek letter organization Tau Beta Pi and Cosmopolitan Club. After graduation, Mr. Horwich taught navigation at the University of Chicago. Mr. Horwich returned to campus at least once to visit his friends in Cosmopolitan Club, in 1919.

Graduate Students

Mr. Leon Goldmerstein, (A.M. Economics, 1911) was born in Konotor and he completed his bachelors degree at the University of St. Petersburg in 1899. [30] Before coming to Illinois, Mr. Goldmerstein was an attache at the Russian Embassy in Constantinople (now Istanbul), The Daily Illini reported. During his graduate studies, Mr. Goldmerstein was active in Political Science Club and he gave a talk “Political and Economic Situation in Russia” (1910). He was a member of the Illinois Aeronautic Society and he gave a talk “Equilibrium in the Air“. Mr. Goldmerstein was a humor writer and submitted a two-part “study of Illinois life” from the perspective of a fictional Persian prince. [31]

Mr. Albert Babbitt, (A.M. Mathematics, 1915) was born in Russia, and he completed his bachelors degree at Pennsylvania State College. [32] completed his Masters degree in Mathematics. For Mathematics Club, he gave a talk “Graphical Solution of Equations” (1914). After graduation, Mr. Babbitt joined the faculty at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

Russian Faculty

The first Russian faculty member might have been Professor Jacob Zeitlin, (English 1907-1937), of Mogilev, (now Mogilev, Belarus), who left the country at the age of nine and who taught English for his entire thirty-year career at the University. [33] Prof. Zeitlin was hired by the University, during the final year of his doctoral studies at Columbia University. In December of 1922, he married local photographer Lois Greene Guild (B.S. Agriculture, 1917). The following February, a Daily Illini reporter interviewed Prof. Zeitlin to learn about his childhood in New York City and why he taught English.

While Prof. Zeitlin was known as an established English scholar, campus records document his local reputation as an expert on the cultures of Russia. [33] In the 1911 Illinois magazine, Prof. Zeitlin wrote an article about education in Russia, beginning his long campus history of helping University community members understand Russia and its people. In fact, Prof. Zeitlin gave campus readings from Russian literature too. Some of Prof. Zeitlin’s Russian literature readings (in English) included Nikolai Gogol’s Inspector General (1916), Alexander Pushkin’s “The Shot” (1922) and Turgenev’s “A Living Relic” (1922). He was also an invited guest lecturer too. In 1918, at the request of the University Women’s Club, he was invited for a dinner talk about Russia. In 1919, he published a sixteen-page pamphlet “The Conflict of Parties in the Russian Revolution” which was a survey of contemporary political parties in Russia and an assessment of the Provisional Government. The publication was sympathetic but critical of the new Russian government, a local newspaper reviewed. Just over ten years later, during academic year 1930-1931, Prof. Zeitlin even took a sabbatical to Russia.

Dr. M. I. Wolkoff (sometimes “Volkov”) (Soil Survey Analysis Associate 1918-1924) was an expert in soil analysis from Russia. As early as 1919, within one year of employment, Dr. Wolkoff was advocating for the University to develop a Russian Language program, detailed in his article in The Champaign Daily News. In 1921, Dr. Wolkoff helped arrange for N. A. Solodoff to study engineering at the University with financial support from working in Dr. Wolkoff’s laboratory. Dr. Wolkoff was also a leader in the first Russian cultural organization on campus in 1921. Outside of campus, Dr. Wolkoff was also involved in the national development of Russian language curriculum in the United States, as documented in at least one Russian Language newspaper.

Dr. Wolkoff’s wife was an active Russian culture advocate too. Mrs. Wolkoff was a singer who often performed Russian songs for the University community. One of her first documented performances was a repertoire of folk songs following a University-Women’s-Club-arranged, one-night performance of Anton Chekoff‘s “The Bear” and “The Marriage Proposal” (February 1922). The day after, the performances were positively reviewed in The Daily Illini. Mrs. Wolkoff’s later performances included Russian carols at the Neighborhood Club Christmas party (December 1922), folks songs at a women’s foreign missionary society of the Trinity Church (April 1923), a Woman’s Cosmopolitan Club meeting (December 1923), and a spring Cosmopolitan Club meeting (April 1924).

Russian Organizations

Russian Illini

In November 1921, nine University Russian students and Soil Survey Associate Dr. M. I. Wolkoff formed the organization Russian Illini to reach-out and to support new Russian immigrants to the United States. Dr. Wolkoff was elected the first club president. By January, the group hosted their first “Starvation Banquet” luncheon to increase campus awareness of the 1921 famine in Russia and to fund raise money to be sent to the Volga region. 73 tickets were sold and $72.28 was sent to the American Relief Expedition of Russia. At the end of January, the organization was officially recognized by the University. For the Spring 1922 term and beyond, the group organized fundraiser lunches, dinners, and tea events. By February, the Russian Illini had raised as much as $141.23, The Daily Illini reported. The Russian Illini did not fund raise alone, evidenced by a March event with the Fortnightly Club. After 1922, there is limited documentation of the club’s activities.

After at least the first twenty years of Russian students and faculty coming to the University, Russian arts and culture were already being shared across campus. Within little time, future faculty, staff, and students would advocate for the expansion of a comprehensive Russian studies program and library which continues to today. Early Russians also brought a great wealth of knowledge and equally great advocacy for Jewish studies too, as evidenced in the membership of groups like Ivrim and Menorah which were attended by faculty, staff, and students alike. Over the next century, both the University and Russia would undergo distinct growth, development, and change, quite unimaginable to all early Illini and to those today considering the next century of change together.

Are you a Russian 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.)


[1] Theodore Weinshank, The Semi-Centennial Alumni Record of the University of Illinois, Edited by Franklin W. Scott, page 97. Please note that his surname can be written as “Weinshenk” in other publications.

[2] Joseph Albert Mesiroff, page 156.

[3] Leo Dolkart, page 179.

[4] Manuel Joseph Jacobs, page 229.

[5] Hyman Jacob Hoodwin, page 314.

[6] Lazarus Levinson, page 386.

[7] Aracdie Jacob Shklowsky, page 396.

[8] Isidore Morris Shaw (Scholnitzsky), page 435.

[9] William Meyer, page 466.

[10] Isidore Max Shapiro, page .

[11] Morris Louis Becker, 483.

[12] Philip Hilton Goldberg, 533.

[13] Louis Julious Horwich, 537.

[14] Isaac Sigel, 597.

[15] John Breedis, 610.

[16] Max Joseph Kadin (Kadinsky), page 628.

[17] Ernest Rudolf Schulz, page 645.

[18] Charles Eugene Smith, page 647.

[19] Morris Charles Winokur, page 654.

[20] In the context of 1916, and Kazimir Malevish’s Black Square (1915), the 1917 Illio advertisement paired with the the article about Mr. Winokur and Mr. Kadinsky almost feels like a layout editor’s wink to careful readers.

[21] Ella Abrams, page 655.

[22] Leo Adler, page 655.

[23] Harry Niel Fried page 671.

[24] Abraham Lincoln Golinkin, page 672.

[25] Martin Charles Levinson, page 683.

[26] Harry Markson, page 686.

[27] Charles Arthur Stone, page 699.

[28] Solomon Leonard Fishman, page 715.

[29] David Horwich, page 721.

[30] Leon Goldmerstein, page 769.

[31] “El-Gym, or the House of Madness“, “Persian Letters: II“, “Persian Letters: III” by L. Goldmerstein. Please note that some of the student’s choice of language or humor does not imply University of Illinois community values.

[32] Albert Babbitt, page 744.

[33] Jacob Zeitlin, page 968.

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