Illini Everywhere: Swiss Illini, Since 1908

Since at least 1908, Swiss students have been attending the University of Illinois. Early Swiss Illini have included agriculturalists, chemical engineers, chemists, civil engineers, electrical engineers, farm managers, foreign language scholars, high school teachers, instructors, lawyers, municipal and sanitary engineers, railway engineers, and theological scholars too.

Read on to learn more about early Swiss Illini!

Early Illinois – Switzerland Connections

A review of the Board of Trustees proceedings (Record Series 1/1/802) yields multiple instances of emerging connections between the University and Switzerland. At least as early as 1933, Director and Chief of State Water Survey and Chemistry Professor Edward Bartow (Record Series 15/5/35) traveled to Switzerland for international chemistry meetings and his papers include a series of photographs of landscapes as well as official meetings.

During the late 1950s, while alumni Mr. John C. Houbolt (Record Series 26/20/117) (M.S. Civil Engineering, 1942) was completing a PhD in Technical Sciences at Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule (ETH) Zurich, the Illinois – Switzerland connections began rapidly developing with each successive year. In 1957, Dr. Hans Schmid arrived on campus as a Visiting Lecturer in Physics. [1] In 1958, Research Professor of Physics Dr. Gilberto Bernardini took a leave of absence to work as a Director of a Research Program at CERN. [2] In 1959, Civil Engineering Professor Dr. Milton O. Schmidt spent a year completing an independent and consultative study in geodesy in Switzerland and neighboring countries too. [3] The same year, Professor of Physics James S. Allen spent a semester in Switzerland, conducting high energy research in the laboratory of the European Council for Nuclear Research in Geneva. [4] Then in 1966, Mathematics Professor John W. Gray took a leave of absence to research topology and category theory at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. [5] The following year, in 1967, Mathematics Professor Michael Barr was at the ETH in Zurich, researching categorical algebra. [6] And even more Illinois – Switzerland connections have continued since then, of course; but, let’s talk about the students too.


The earliest Swiss Illini may have been the children of Swiss immigrants during the nineteenth century. Similar to the experiences of some early Canadian, Greek, Irish, Italian, Lithuanian, Polish, and Russian Illini, researchers who browse the Alumni Record will find dozens of listings of students whose parents settled in Illinois communities like Highland, Illinois. Many early Swiss Illini attended Illinois public schools like Lacon High School in Lacon, Illinois (which merged with Varna High School in 1949, before merging with Sparland High School in 1995 to become today’s Midland High School) as well as nearby Danville High School in Danville, Illinois. In fact, multiple Swiss families sent all of their children to the University of Illinois resulting in many multi generational Swiss Illini families across Illinois and beyond.

Highland Illinois

The first student from Highland, Illinois might have been Mr. Theophilus Gaffner, (Certificate in Chemistry, 1878), who later completed his M.D. at the Missouri Medical College, and he practiced medicine in east St. Louis and Trenton, Illinois. [7] For at least fifteen years after graduation, Mr. Gaffner was a subscriber to the The Illini and he liked to keep a copy of the newspaper in his office’s waiting room to advertise the school to his clients.

The Kaeser Family

First, there was Mr. Albert F. Kaeser, (B.S. 1898; M.D. 1901), who returned to Highland after graduation where he practiced medicine and surgery. [8] While he was a student, Mr. Kaeser was involved in multiple student clubs, ranging from cultural to social to professional organizations. In 1899, Mr. Kaeser was among the first members of the recently founded local chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. From 1899 until graduation in 1901, in addition to his medical studies, Mr. Kaeser was a The Illini editor for Physician and Surgeon news too. In 1900, he was a member of the German Club too.

Later, younger brother Mr. William G. Kaeser, (LL.B 1904), completed his education in law. [9] After graduation, he relocated to Greenville, Illinois where he was a manager for the Swiss-immigrant-run  Helvetia Milk Condensing Company. The Helvetia Milk Condensing Company would be an employer for multiple Swiss Illini for decades.

The Leutwiler Family

First there was Mr. Oscar A. Leutwiler (B.S. Mechanical Engineering, 1899; M.E. Mechanical Engineering, 1900), who became an engineering professor after graduation. [10] From student life records, we find evidence for a busy junior year. In November 1897, Mr. Leutwiler was named as an assistant editor of The Technograph. He was Junior Class Treasurer and he played intramural tennis too. At the end of the school year, Mr. Leutwiler was elected as a member of the Technograph Board. If he weren’t busy enough with extracurricular activities, Mr. Leutwiler was busy with his bachelor’s thesis “A Review of Decatur Pumping Machines” which involved multiple trips to Decatur in November, December, and winter break. His hard worked paid off. After completing his master’s degree one year later, Mr. Leutwiler was an engineer at the Parlin and Orendorff works in Canton, Illinois, before being recruited to teach at Lehigh University. Not long after, following a summer working at the Ingersoll Milling Machine Company of Rockford, Illinois, Mr. Leutwiler became an assistant professor of Machine Design at Illinois. Professor Leutwiller remained on the University faculty for forty-two years.

About a decade later came Mr. Richard W. Leutwiler, (B.S. Mechanical Engineering, 1911) who completed his studies at Highland High School before coming to Illinois. [11] After graduation, Mr. Leutwiler took a position as a mechanical engineer for the D. H. Burnham and Company in Chicago, before becoming Chief Engineer at the Illinois Engineering Company of Chicago just two years later.

The Mojonnier Family

First, there was Mr. Timothy Mojonnier, (B.S. Chemistry, 1901; M.S. Chemistry, 1902), who became a chemist and a manufacturer, after graduation. [12] For the next ten years, Mr. Mojonnier worked in milk engineering at the Helvetia Milk Condensing Company of Highland. Years later, in 1915, Mr. Mojonnier was a founder and president of Mojonnier Brothers Company Milk Engineers in Chicago.

While he was a student, Mr. Mojonnier was a member of multiple student organizations, include Le Cercle Francais and the Adelphic Literary Society. In 1898 French Circle annual student production, which was “Le Bourgeois gentilhomme” by Molière, Mr. Mojonnier played the character “the lackey”. One month later, in March, for Adelphic, he read “Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight” by Rose Hartwick Thorpe. In October, he read an unidentified biography on Napoleon Bonaparte. That same month, Mr. Mojonnier entertained Adelphic Members with a lively performance of “Yacob Strauss”. The following April, at Adelphic’s first Rudyard Kipling program, Mr. Mojonnier gave a talk on Mr. Kipling’s poetry. For the May 1899 meeting, he presented a well-received scientific talk called “Liquid Air”.

Nearly a decade later came Mr. Oliver W. Mojonnier (B.S. Chemistry, 1910), who completed his studies at local Champaign High School and studied Chemistry at Illinois too. [13] After graduation, Mr. Mojonnier became Factory Manager at the family-owned Mojonnier Brothers Company.

Later, the youngest brother Mr. Julius J. Mojonnier, (B.S. Chemistry, 1912), completed his studies at Yeatman High School in St. Louis. [14] After graduation, Mr. Mojonnier worked as a chemist at both the Helvetia Milk Condensing Company of Highland and the Inventive Chemist in Oak Park, before joining the Mojonnier Brothers Company too.

Swiss Illini Born in Switzerland

The Robert Family

The Robert family relocated from Switzerland to Illinois and three sons would come to the University, before resettling across North America.

First, it was Mr. Louis P. Robert, (B.S. Mechanical Engineering, 1906), of Locle, Switzerland, who came to Illinois after completing his studies at Lacon High School. [15] After graduation, Mr. Robert relocated to Canada where he would become a member of the Canadian Mining Institute too.

Next came Mr. John A. Robert, (B.S. Civil Engineering, 1909), of Locle, Switzerland, who also relocated with the family to the United States, where he completed his studies at Lacon High School before coming to Illinois. [16] After graduation, Mr. Robert took a position as an engineer with the McGillivray Creek Coal and Coke Company Limited of Coleman, Nebraska, and later with the Fairfax Mine of Tacoma Smelting Company, before relocating to the Republic Iron and Steel Company of Birmingham, Alabama and serving in the 220th Field Signal Battalion in World War I.

Finally, the youngest brother Mr. Jules H. Robert (B.S. Mechanical Engineering, 1914), was the only family member born in Lacon, where he completed his studies at Lacon High School too, before coming to Illinois. [17] After graduation, Mr. Robert entered education, where he worked as a Mechanical Engineering Assistant at Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute in Troy, New York, before becoming an Instructor at the Kansas State Agriculture College in Manhattan, Kansas. During World War I, Mr. Robert would also serve in the 353rd Infantry of the 89th Division.

The Nydegger Family

The Nydeggers relocated from Switzerland to Farmer City, Illinois, where they raised two children who came to Illinois before taking jobs across the country.

Mr. John Nydegger, (B.S. Mechanical Engineering, 1907), of Farmer City, completed his studies at Danville High School before studying engineering at Illinois. [18] After graduation, Mr. Nydegger worked as an architectural draftsman before joining Flat Slab Construction of Iowa, where he worked as a structural engineer. Later, Mr. Nydegger joined W. E. Wood Building Construction and relocated to Detroit where he raised a family.

Ms. Charlotte Nydegger (Jackson), (A. B. High School Education, 1908), of Farmer City, also completed her studies at Danville High School before she studied high school education at Illinois. [19] After graduation, Mrs. Jackson taught at Gibson City High School, before relocating permanently to Danville.

Other Swiss Illini

Mr. George E. Jaquet, (B.S. Railway Engineering, 1908), of St. Imier, Switzerland, relocated with his family to the United States, where he completed his studies at Falls City High School and the Armour Institute, before coming to Illinois. [20] Mr. Jaquet worked for multiple firms across the U.S., before settling in Quebec, Canada.

Mr. Walter F. Handschin, (B.S. Agriculture, 1913), of Calumetville, Wisconsin, was the son of Swiss immigrants in Wisconsin. [21] Mr. Handschin had a broad educational background in Wisconsin and Minnesota, before he came to Illinois. After completing his studies at Wisconsin State Normal School in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, he attended the University of Wisconsin and the University of Minnesota, before completing his bachelor’s degree in Agriculture at Illinois. Before coming to the Illinois Ag program, Mr. Handschin had already worked as both a Farm Manager at the School of Agriculture in Marinette, Wisconsin, and as an Instructor at the Animal Husbandry program at the University of Minnesota too. After graduation, Mr. Handschin joined the Illinois Agriculture faculty, including positions as a professor and as a Vice-Director of the Agriculture Extension.

Mr. Henry W. Hollard, (B.S. Agriculture, 1915), completed his studies at Highland High School before coming to Illinois. [22] After graduation, Mr. Hollard became Chief of the Dairy Department of the State Agricultural School in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

Mr. Frank L. Roman, (B.S. Chemical Engineering, 1911), was inducted into the scientific research society Sigma Xi, during his senior year. [23] After graduation, he took a position in the Armor and Company laboratories in Chicago.

Mr. August Mader, (B.S. A. Engineering, 1915), of Schwarzenburg, Switzerland, completed his studies in Farmer City High School before coming to Illinois. [24] After graduation, Mr. Mader returned to Farmer City as a contractor and he started a family there too.

Mr. Eugene Schobinger, (B.S. Municipal and Sanitary Engineering, 1915), of Chicago, was the son of Swiss immigrants to the United States. After completing his studies at the Harvard School for Boys in Chicago, Mr. Schobinger came to Illinois. [25] Mr. Schobinger was an athlete, and he competed in Varsity Football, Track, and Water Polo too. After graduation, Mr. Schobinger became a salesman for Ogilvie and Heanage in Chicago, before enlisting as a 1st Lieutenant of the R.O.T.C. at Fort Sheridan and serving Allied Expeditionary Force in France in World War I.

Mr. Oscar E. Silbermann, (B.S. Civil Engineering, 1916), of Wichita, Kansas, was the son of Swiss immigrants to the United States, and he completed his studies at Lane Tech High School and Lane Tech Junior College of Chicago, before coming to Illinois. [26] After graduation, Mr. Silbermann took a position as a highway engineer for the State Highway Department in Paris, Illinois. Mr. Silbermann also served in World War I as a member of the 42nd Engineers in France.

The Walser Family

First, there was Mr. Frank E. Walser, (A.B. Literature, Arts, and Science, 1915), who was born in London, England to a Swiss family. [27] Mr. Walser completed his studies at St. Paul’s School in London and the Ecole do Commerce in Neuchatel, Switzerland, before coming to Illinois. While he was a student, Mr. Walser was involved in multiple student organizations, including the Adelphic Literary Society, Agriculture Club, Cosmopolitan Club, French Club, Mask and Bauble, and Scribbler’s Club. After graduation, Mr. Walser taught at Madison High School in South Carolina, before becoming a farm manager at the Manetto Hill Farm in Hicksville, Long Island, New York.

Later came Mr. Stephen A. Walser, (B.S. Agriculture, 1917), who was also born in London, but he completed his studies at Tonbridge College in Kent, before coming to Illinois. [28] While he was a student, Mr. Walser was a member of multiple student organizations including Agriculture Club, Cosmopolitan Club, De Deutsche Verein, Le Cercle Francais, Mask and Bauble, and the Philomathean Literary Society. After graduation, Mr. Walser served in World War I as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Interpreters Corps, 31st Division, at Camp Wheeler, Georgia.

The Salgat Family

The three Salgat sisters, originally from Geneva, spent part of their childhood in South American and they completed their tertiary education at Illinois. As the youngest sister recalled in a Daily Illini interview, at the outbreak of World War II the family relocated from Switzerland to Brazil. After completing their childhood in Rio de Janeiro, all three sisters came to Illinois.

Ms. Anne-Marie (B.A. Teaching of Social Science, 1950) was first to graduate. After graduation, Ms. Salgat continued her studies at the McCormick School of Divinity, before becoming an instructor at Wellesley College and later working as a YMCA Director in Louisville, Kentucky. During the 1960s, Ms. Salgat’s Swiss theological studies brought her to New York, and in 1972 she completed a ThD titled “Aspects of the Life and Theology of Pierre Viret (1511-1571)” at Union Theological Seminary.

Just two years later, Ms. Francoise Salgat (B.A. Spanish, 1952) would graduate. While she was a student, Ms. Salgat was an active member of the Ibero-American association. Ms. Salgat often danced at club events, including the 1950 Latin American Fiesta at the YMCA and the 1951 South American Night. In 1952, Ms. Salgat was inducted into the French honorary society Pi Delta Phi. In 1953, Ms. Salgat performed in the Spanish Club performance of “The Picket of Love” by Miguel de Cervantes.

Another five years later, Ms. Claire-Lise Ida Salgat (B.F.A. Advertising Design, 1957) completed her degree as well. In 1952, Ms. Salgat was interview by the Daily Illini to compare her experiences as a student in Brazil and the United States.

Of course there have been graduate students too. Some early Swiss graduate students have included Mr. Paul Emile Jacob, (M.A. Romance Languages, 1926; PhD Romance Languages, 1929), Mr. Max Suter, (PhD Engineering, 1935), Mr. Ernst Albert Maier, (M.S. Electrical Engineering, 1948), and Mr. Kurt Glaser (M.S. Pediatrics, 1949), just to name a few.

Are you a Swiss 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!


[] As always, a special thank you to all staff and students 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] Meeting of the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, April 18, 1957, page 345, Record Series 1/1/802.

[2] July 16, 1957, page 549.

[3] March 12, 1959, page 346.

[4] March 12, 1959, page 346.

[5] March 16, 1966, page 1110.

[6] February 9, 1967, page 418.

[7] “Theophilus Gaffner”, The Semi-Centennial Alumni Record of the University of Illinois, Edited by Franklin W. Scott, page 17.

[8] “Albert Fred Kaeser”, page 112.

[9] “William George Kaeser”, page 204.

[10] “Oscar Adolph Leutwiler”, page 122.

[11] “Richard Walter Leutwiler”, page 426,

[12] “Timothy Mojonnier”, page 151.

[13] “Oliver William Mojonnier”, page 389.

[14] “Julius John Mojonnier”, page 466.

[15] “Louis Paul Robert”, page 261.

[16] “John Alcide Robert”, page 359.

[17] “Jules Henry Robert”, page 550.

[18] “John Nydegger”, page 289.

[19] “Charlotte Nydegger (Jackson)”, page 321.

[20] “George Emile Jaquet”, page 315.

[21] “Walter Frederick Handschin”, page 495.

[22] “Henry Walter Hollard”, page 580.

[23] “Frank Louis Roman”, page 434.

[24] “August Mader”, page 587.

[25] “Eugene Schobinger”, page 596.

[26] “Oscar Emil Silbermann”, page 646.

[27] “Frank Emil Walser”, page 602.

[28] “Stephen Albert Walser”, page 703.

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