Cliff Gillett mixed learning and volunteerism
By Gayle Erwin McDowell ‘77
A lovely watercolor of Bradley Hall hangs in the family room of Vivian Gillett’s Peoria home. “Bradley was his second home,” Vivian says lightheartedly, referring to her late husband, Cliff Gillett ’62 MEA ’68. She isn’t exaggerating either. For a span of 50 years, Cliff spent untold hours on the Hilltop, first in the role of student and then instructor.
While Cliff taught industrial engineering majors for more than 15 years, sometimes two courses per semester, he was never paid. Instead, he returned his stipend to the University. In 1986, Cliff was finally persuaded to allow an award to be named in his honor. The Clifford C. Gillett Industrial Engineering Outstanding Senior Award has been presented annually ever since. Vivian has continued to fund the scholarship since Cliff passed away in 2001. “He wanted kids who didn’t have the GI Bill to have the advantages he did,” she explains.
Raised on a farm near Hanna City, Cliff graduated from high school in 1937 at age 16. Although he had been awarded a journalism scholarship, Cliff’s father convinced him to join a training program for machinists. He was destined to stay at Caterpillar for 45 years, rising to the position of supervisor in the patents division. An even more important long-term commitment was his 60-year marriage to Vivian. The couple met on a blind date and married on New Year’s Eve in 1941. Soon after, Cliff served in the Navy aboard a repair ship off the coast of North Africa and then in the Pacific theater.
After the war, a friend urged Cliff to enroll at Bradley. With his wife’s encouragement, he began night classes in 1947. “He had a very high intellect and needed to be educated,” says Vivian. “It took until 1962, but he graduated with honors.” She stayed home with their children, sewing and listening to radio programs while her husband studied. She also became involved with the Great Books program.
Influenced by their parents’ academic pursuits, the Gillett children, Alan, Janis, and Grant, earned college degrees. Cliff continued his own studies at Bradley, earning a master’s degree in engineering administration. He returned to teach his first night class in 1977, when Vivian began working at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center as housekeeping supervisor. From 1980 until 1995 Cliff was an adjunct professor. He taught two classes: engineering law and professionalism, and engineering economics. “The kids gave him the best evaluations,” his wife says. “Some said he was the best teacher they ever had.”
Adopt a seat today
Seats in Meyer Jacobs Theatre have been renovated as the first phase of an overall theatre restoration effort to commemorate the Theatre Department’s 25th anniversary season in the Hartmann Center. An Adopt-a-Seat fundraising program to cover the cost for the restoration has raised $38,000. Approximately one-third of the seats have been “adopted,” and alumni and friends are encouraged to participate in the program. For each $250 gift toward the restoration, a brass plate bearing a name chosen by the donor will be attached to a seat. Donors will receive adoption papers locating the seat in the theatre and will be acknowledged in the 25th anniversary commemorative program. For more information, call John Mathews at (309)677-3442.
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