As the senior event services manager for the Illini Union, Marsha Daniels understands the importance of balance.
Balance is a requirement when you're coordinating an event with 1,000 people, and it's a concept she has extended to her office space on the main floor of the Illini Union as well.
"This job can be quite hectic at times and requires following up on a lot of details," she said. "I started decorating my office space as a way to keep my stress level down and create an inviting space to meet with clients." Daniels has been in her position for three years after working a similar job for six years at the Levis Center.
Her office isn't decked out with an extensive collection of knickknacks and the walls aren't filled with baubles, cute cartoon cutouts or wise sayings.
Instead, with just a handful of items placed neatly around the bright-white room, she has created a gallery feel.
"I've brought in a few of my favorite things because I'd rather have them here where I can see them and be surrounded by the things I love," she said.
An artist and photographer, Daniels created many of the items in her office, such as the uniquely shaped ceramic planters.
"I'd love to be an artist full time, but that's pretty difficult to pull off," she said. "(Each piece) is connected to a good memory. The perk is I get to show off the things I've created."
Daniels is no ordinary amateur doodler, with a bachelor of fine arts degree in studio arts from the U. of I. and a master's of fine arts degree from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, where she majored in ceramics. The degrees followed a 13-year banking career she had started after high school.
"After being denied a promotion, I realized that I need a college degree and was ready to make a change," she said. "I wanted to do something more creative."
That merging of business acumen and art has made her a more well-rounded employee and helps when she's coordinating an event at the Illini Union.
"I think having a diverse background has made me more effective," she said.
Other pieces in her office represent memorable trips or vacations, like the shells kept inside a clear lamp base that were collected on an East Coast jaunt; or the silk scarf overlay that was picked up in a "dream" trip to Egypt in 2012; or the large segmented photos of penguins and geese that have been matted to look like paintings.
"Each time I travel, I take more photos and pick up interesting souvenirs," she said.
Her most prized piece is a framed work that she made with dried rose petals that she picked and collected over time. She separated the petals by similar color tone and arranged them in a three-foot-by-four-foot shadow box frame to create a look reminiscent of a bare hillside whose geologic history has been exposed.
To visitors of Daniels' office, it looks like a lush work of art that must have involved a painstaking amount of work.
It reminds Daniels of her late father and grandmother, who were the inspiration for the piece.
"It started off being a sad piece about loss but it ended up being representative of how I feel about life in general," she said. "There is a beauty in everything regardless of what stage of life it is in. We just have to slow down and look for it."
Life, like art, is about pushing forward.
"I have large bins of dried rose petals ready for the next one," she said.
Like a gallery, the office exhibition changes regularly, and Daniels, also an avid gardener and bird-watcher, has been considering what to bring in next.
"I've got hundreds of pieces of ceramics in storage," she said, "so there's plenty to choose from."
Mark Overmier, the manager of system services for Staff Human Resources, is nothing like the Darth Vader character that he collects models and figurines of. Overmier, a nice man with no apparent intentions of ruling the universe with an evil hand, has collected all things Lord Vader since the “Star Wars” movie was released in 1977. Most of his collection, which includes a Darth Vader nutcracker, engulfs one entire wall of his office.
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
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Mark Overmier is not a heavy-breathing, terrifying dark overlord intent on ruling the universe.
But he does appreciate those who are.
"I've always liked the evil guys, the bad guys," he said. "They're just cool."
Overmier says this from the cold depths of his secret lair (actually, his office in the Personnel Services Building), which for 20 years has held a voluminous and always-growing Darth Vader collection.
He started collecting Darth Vader and other "Star Wars"-themed items soon after the movie was released in 1977 and he became an instant fan.
"There weren't a whole lot of Darth Vader toys or figurines out until about the second movie," he said. "But I kept looking around and would snatch up anything I could find."
The range of his Darth Vader collection runs the gamut. He has most everything imaginable, from the first Darth Vader figurine and original "Star Wars" movie poster, to a 3-foot version of the dark lord purchased last year. There are Darth Vader cups and a Darth Vader nutcracker; there are Darth Vader posters and battery-operated Darth Vaders with practically fully functioning lightsabers (they simply lack the full power to sever a limb).
One of the things he likes about Darth Vader is that, despite his evil proclivities, he ends up on the positive side of "the Force" by story's end.
"The bad guys always have this potential for goodness and they usually turn out on the right side - the side of good," he said.
Overmier said he always has been fascinated with science fiction, starting with the original "Star Trek" television series and its depiction of advanced technology.
"It's amazing how far into the future they were reaching," he said of "Star Trek," noting the portable, wireless communicators and medical devices that these days are practically, if not already, a reality.
Those early sci-fi shows fall right in line with Overmier's choice of a career in computers. After 23 years working in the grocery industry developing computerized billing systems, he has served the last 23 years as the manager of system services for the U. of I.'s Staff Human Resources office.
"I had an opportunity to do a lot more computer work here," he said of the career move.
Overmier still has his original computer, the IBM he purchased in 1985 featuring the state-of-the-art-for-its-time four-color viewing screen. Upon taking computer classes at Parkland College, he wrote programs for Parkland's PLATO computer system.
"That's back when Pong was the big, popular game that everyone was talking about," he said.
Part of the growth of Overmier's "Star Wars" empire can be attributed to word of mouth. Once family and friends discovered he was collecting Darth Vader memorabilia, he started receiving pieces as presents on birthdays and at Christmas.
"At first it was just a little bit of stuff at home," he said.
But as the collection grew in size, his wife's patience for keeping it at home diminished. She finally asked if he might banish the collection to a galaxy far, far away.
"It was getting to the point where the collection was just sitting in boxes anyway," he said.
And "Star Wars" memorabilia isn't the only thing Overmier collects. His office also boasts a formidable collection of coffee cups that he has picked up over the years at trade shows, and at home he has more than 1,000 Hot Wheels cars.
"I don't buy anything too expensive and I collect just a little at a time," he said. "It just accumulates and before you know it you have a thousand little cars."
The advantage of having toys at work is that children love to come to his office.
"I let them play with everything," he said, except for a few items that still are in original packaging and kept out of reach.
"Most days I spend more time here than I do at home, so why not make it fun and comfortable?" he said.