Elizabeth Schleef's U. of I. career almost didn't happen.
Schleef, the chief clerk for the Office of Technology Management, applied for an entry-level job in the Division of Operation and Maintenance (now Facilities and Services) in 1989, but the timing wasn't right.
"The day they offered the job to me, I found out I was having twin girls," she said. "We decided I should stay home with the children."
She would be a stay-at-home mom for the next 11 years, babysitting and cleaning houses on the side to help the new family make ends meet.
"Then as the girls got older, we decided it was time for me to go back to full-time work," she said.
By then, Schleef was cleaning 14 houses a month and had developed friendships with many of her clients, some of whom were elderly or facing medical issues and needed her help.
She kept cleaning for some of them until they could find a replacement.
"I had a hard time just saying, 'I'm not going to be there tomorrow,'" she said. "They become a part of your family."
In her second chance at the U. of I., Schleef took a seasonal extra help position in the admissions office.
"After about two days, I knew I had made the right decision," she said.
She was responsible for filling out forms with student profile data, scheduling orientation sessions and managing student information databases.
"That was a really busy place to work," she said. "It seemed there was always something to be done."
After extra help work in other campus departments during the first year, Schleef was offered a full-time job with OTM.
"I've been here ever since," she said.
Her current position has her heading in several directions, sometimes at once.
She coordinates building work orders, processes purchase orders for the department and is responsible for shipping. She is the department's contact if the phones don't work or there's a leak in the ceiling, or if you have an idea to save building energy costs.
"I'm in a lot of systems throughout the university on any given day," she said. "It keeps me pretty busy, and I work with a wide variety of campus departments. The variety helps break the day up."
Schleef also has had the opportunity to work with student interns, which she said is almost always a joy.
"We have an extraordinary internship program," she said. "You hate to see (the students) go, but they go on to bigger and better things."
She said she continues to compile institutional knowledge that is helpful to her department.
"Working here has really made me grow," she said. "I'm a lot more outgoing. When you work with confident people every day, it helps you to become confident. It's helped me navigate change better. I would have never imagined the things I've learned and the people I've met."
Schleef said she enjoys working in the office and seeing the variety of interesting campus inventions and patents that are processed there.
"I've learned a lot, and I work with some really great people," she said. "The people here work really well together. That's important because a lot of our tasks overlap. We have a real camaraderie and everybody works hard here. I really love my job and enjoy going to work every day."
She said the university is special because so many employees are willing to answer a call for assistance.
"As big as this university is, it's also very small," she said. "It takes everyone doing their job to make it run smoothly. It's amazing how many nice people there are working here - if you don't know something, somebody usually will help you find it."
Most of her off-work time involves family. She has been married to Jeff for 25 years and her daughters are now out of the house and on their own, but the family still spends a lot of time together.
"We have a real close-knit family and we're usually around each other," she said. "We also have a big group of friends who come over to visit a lot. I like spending time with friends and family."
She said she and her husband like taking day trips together.
"We enjoy going to state and county parks or to towns looking for a good hamburger," she said. "There's Dewey's in Farmer City and Just Hamburgers in Paxton - those are the places I get my beef fix. Sometimes we just get out for a nice drive."
Schleef's academic pursuits have included several computer classes at Parkland College, as well as a law enforcement degree earned there.
"I really enjoyed taking classes there," she said. "I love political science."
Her father also worked at the U. of I.; he was a building superintendent for 36 years.
Her husband is an avid hunter, which has led her to find new and unique ways to make good food out of the game he brings home. She has a trove of recipes that she's modified to include venison.
"Deer has been our main source of meat since 1991," she said. "Anything you can make out of beef, I can probably make it out of deer."
The Schleef family, which resides in St. Joseph near Bondville, Illinois, has a vegetable garden and a variety of flower beds, which leads to a lot of weeding during the growing season and a lot of canning at the end of it.
"Watering the plants is very relaxing to me," she said. "I learned (canning) from my mom and we just decided to take it back up."