The GI Bill...and John and Jim and Robert and Ralph and...

On June 22, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law what
has come to be known as the GI Bill. Officially known as the Servicemen's
Readjustment Act of 1944, the legislation provided money for education and
home loans, and for unemployment benefits for veterans seeking jobs.

The sheer numbers of returning veterans had a sudden impact on higher
education, and the UI was no exception. The GI Bill helped give rise to the
university's Navy Pier campus in Chicago and to a rehabilitation education
campus in Galesburg, Ill., the nation's first program for the severely
permanently disabled. And the crush of veterans eager to enroll at the
university's main Urbana Champaign campus resulted in a pressing need for
housing - so much so that temporary, barracks-like accommodations had to
be hastily arranged in the football stadium, an ice-skating rink and a

Jim Sternburg, professor emeritus of entomology

Sternburg graduated from high school in 1937 "with no hope or plans of ever
going to college." He worked in a Chicago department store darkroom doing
photo enlarging until he joined the Navy in January 1942. Upon his return,
he was able to pursue a career in entomology, earning his bachelor's and
master's degrees at the UI, with help from the GI Bill. He earned a
doctorate and has since combined entomology with his photography hobby,
taking thousands of photos of insects in the wild for use in his teaching
and for public talks.

"The GI Bill changed my life completely. It allowed me to fulfill my
childhood dream. I always had liked insects, even as a child, and I wanted
to be an entomologist. But I didn't know how to go about doing it. The GI
Bill let me attend college and pursue that goal."

John E. Cribbet, former chancellor of the university and dean emeritus
of the College of Law

"The GI Bill was one of the best things the federal government ever did,"
says Cribbet, who completed law school at the UI on the GI Bill in 1947.
Cribbet had been a first-year law student at the UI when he was drafted in
1941; he served in the Army for 4 1/2 years, including as aide-de-camp
to Lt. Gen. Troy Middleton, commander of the 8th Corps in Europe.

"In my case, I would have come back to law school whether they had the GI
Bill or not," he said. "But for literally millions of other people, they
would never have considered further education without the GI Bill. Its
dividends proved so great because it not only helped the individual, but
it helped society and provided the cadre of leadership which has served the
nation for the last 40 years or so.

Ralph Fisher, professor emeritus of history

"When you mention the GI Bill, I immediately think, 'What a lucky break
that was,' " said historian Ralph Fisher, who served in the Army in the
United States and in China from 1942-46. During the war, Fisher was
stationed first as a teacher of interpreters in Kunming, and later in
the intelligence section in China Theater Headquarters in Chunking.

The bill was, "In effect, a fellowship for graduate study, and up until
that time, fellowships had been extremely rare." The bill allowed the young
captain from Oakland, Calif., to come home to work on a master's degree in
Russian history at his alma mater, the University of California. That
summer of 1946 "the international situation and the obvious problem posed
by the Soviet Union" drew Fisher into the field of Russian studies.

"There was all of that pent-up demand for education," said Fisher, who
established and directed for 28 years the UI's Russian and East European

Robert Spitze, professor emeritus of agricultural economics

Spitze says the GI Bill "is one of the great investments of all time,
giving opportunity to a whole generation of people." Using its benefits,
he completed his undergraduate work at the University of Arkansas at
Fayetteville and graduate work at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
He had attended three years at Arkansas prior to joining the Navy in 1943,
but he struggled financially. His parents, who were Arkansas farmers,
couldn't help him, so he worked to pay his own way. Upon his return from
three years in the Pacific, he went back to school.

"The GI Bill significantly aided and enriched my education. Without it, I
might have been more reluctant to tackle the graduate work. I probably
could not have afforded it," he said.

Spitze, a 1940 graduate of Berryville (Ark.) High School, joined the UI
faculty in 1960.  He is internationally known for his research on farm
economic policies and the economics of the agricultural food sector.

Harold D. Guither, professor of agricultural economics

An often-quoted and sought-out expert on U.S. agricultural policy, Guither
says the GI Bill got him to college. After graduating at age 17 from Walnut
(Ill.) High School in 1944, Guither spent a year working on his family's
small farm. He joined the Navy, but the war ended before he was out of boot
camp. Upon his discharge in August 1946, he used the GI Bill to begin
college the next month at the UI. He accepted a faculty position at
Illinois in 1956.

"I was the only one in my family who ever got to college," Guither said.
"The GI Bill made a great deal of difference in my life. It's hard to say
what would have happened to me. It would have been difficult without it."

Robert A. Eubanks, emeritus professor of civil engineering

Robert A. Eubanks has no doubt that his life was changed by the GI Bill.
Graduating from a Chicago high school in 1942 at the age of 15, he couldn't
get a job because "I was too young to be insured, the companies told me,"
and because of prejudice against blacks.

Accepted at Howard University with a tuition-only scholarship, Eubanks
couldn't afford to go. He joined the Army and heard about the GI Bill
by word of mouth when he mustered out in 1946.

He went to school year-round at the Illinois Institute of Technology,
earning a degree in theoretical and applied mechanical engineering in
January 1950. Because "employers weren't hiring black engineers," he stayed
at ITT, earning a master's and then a doctorate by 1953. Eubanks took a
civil engineering job in the changed social climate following the 1954
Brown vs. Board of Education decision that outlawed school segregation.

Invited to the UI as the George Miller visiting chair in civil engineering,
Eubanks was offered a full professorship with tenure after six months.
Although he earned less at the university than he had in industry, he
stayed at the UI, teaching and conducting research in civil engineering
and theoretical and applied mechanics until his retirement in 1986.

"It's very hard to explain now what things were like in the 1940s. I'm not
using other people as an excuse [for nonachievment] when I say that the
restrictions on blacks then were rough. The GI Bill gave me my start to
being a professional instead of a stock clerk."

UIUC -- Inside Illinois -- 1994/06-03-94