May 5, 2008

Together with several hundred of his closest friends and colleagues, Professor Emeritus Larry T. Balsamo celebrated his retirement from Western Illinois University's History Department after 40 years of teaching Civil War history, on Sunday, May 4 at the University Union's Grand Ballroom. Dr. Balsamo's retirement in December 2007 had previously been celebrated by the WIU College of Arts & Sciences (CAS) at its Winter Holiday Reception last November, at which time he received a plaque from CAS Dean Inessa Levi.

Among the dignitaries who participated in the good-natured roast of Dr. Balsamo, organized by his beloved wife Dr. Charlene Callison, could be found Dr. Al Goldfarb, WIU's President, who was Master of Ceremonies for the evening, and the former and current mayors of Macomb, Tom Carper and Mick Wisslead, who read a proclamation declaring May 4 to be "Larry T. Balsamo Day."

Offering their fond memories of Dr. Balsamo were his retired colleagues from the History Department, Dr. Gordon Kirk (former office-mate of Dr. Balsamo's who preceded him as Chair of the History Department) and Nick Pano (former Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences as well as Associate Professor Emeritus of History). Other speakers included Tom Murray (an alum of the Department as well as the retired Chair of the Social Studies Department at Glenbard South High School in GlenEllyn), Gene Kozlowski (Chair Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of the WIU Department of Theatre), and Dr. Gordy Taylor (Director Emeritus of WIU Alumni Programs).

Karen Helmers, pie baker extraordinaire and the retired Director of the WIU Admissions Office, where Dr. Balsamo "worked" for several years, fondly (?) recalled the years when Dr. Balsamo "assisted" with undergraduate admissions, and Jean Lewis, Grant Coordinator for the McDonough-Hancock County Regional Office of Education, recounted her experiences working with Dr. Balsamo on the various U.S. Department of Education "Teaching American History" grants on which they have cooperated over the years. Bruce Howard, a retired naval officer and Dr. Balsamo's cousin, offered up the family's perspective on their esteemed relative, and presented him with a flag that had been flown over the former site of the World Trade Center.

A "musical" roast (with apologies to Woody Guthrie, who is no doubt rolling in his grave by now after the damage done to his beloved "Roll on, Columbia" by Ginny Boynton's lyrics) was sung to Dr. Balsamo by a group of courageous women: Dr. Colleen Combs (Professor of Spanish), Ginger Dykstra (forever part of our History family), Dr. Sue Martinelli-Fernandez (Professor of Philosophy and Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences), Dr. Jennifer McNabb (Assistant Professor of History), and Dr. Ginny Boynton (Professor of History), ably accompanied on guitar by Dr. Bill Combs (Professor of History).

Brad Bainter, Assistant Director of Development for WIU - and a former fellow Admissions Counselor with Dr. Balsamo -- rounded out the evening's roast with the announcement that more than $9,000 had been raised, prior to the party, for the Larry T. Balsamo Teacher Education Scholarship. More contributions were received at the party, and additional ones are still welcome! (See "related links" in blue box above.)

The evening's true musical entertainment was provided by two groups of talented musicians. During the pre-roast reception, "Serenata," featuring Roxy Fes, Roberta Huff, and Karen Martin, serenaded the assembled multitudes. Following the roast, the crowd enjoyed the music of the Endnotes, the dance band featuring female vocalist Diane Cumbie and composed of current and retired faculty members of the College of Arts and Sciences, including Dr. Greg Hall (Associate Professor of History), Dr. John Simmons (Chair and Professor, Philosophy & Religious Studies), Dr. Ken Mietus (Professor of Sociology), Dr. Dave Rohall (Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of the WIU Survey Research Center), Dr. David Casagrande (Assistant Professor of Sociology), Prof. Rick Hardy (Chair and Professor, Political Science) -- and of course, Dr. Larry Balsamo himself on drums (and with one unforgettable vocal!).

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