When Paula Gray Havlik transferred to the UI as an undergraduate in 1975, she was filled with wonder at the big new school.
That feeling never went away, and now, retired from the UI after 27 years as an employee, the alumna says she's still overwhelmed by what a great place the UI is.
Remembering how big the campus felt at first when she transferred from Parkland College, she said,"There are days when I can still get that feeling."
Havlik's last position was director of advancement initiatives at the UI Alumni Association. She was charged with coordinating external relations, and often oversaw the recognition programs for outstanding alumni. Her work took her to 16 nations.
The most rewarding part of the job was seeing fellow alums recall their years on campus ... and how those years eventually led to successful lives and careers.
Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador, received the International Alumni Award for Exceptional Achievement this spring.
"He was enthused about wearing his orange and blue," she said. "He said he felt humbled in the presence of his former professors."
Earlier in her tenure at the alumni association, Havlik also oversaw alumni clubs and chapters, as well as department-based alumni organizations.
"It was a real joy to see the alumni come back to campus or to go out and see the level of enthusiasm for the UI everywhere from Sao Paulo, Brazil to San Diego," she said.
Havlik earned her bachelor's degree from the UI in 1977 in speech communication and English and her master's degree in speech communication in 1979. She also worked toward a Ph.D.
"I just never left," she said.
Her first job at the UI was as a coordinator of the National Women's Studies Conference, held in 1986.
She then worked for WILL-AM-FM-TV from 1986 to 1994, where she was in public relations and later served as membership director.
It was a job that had some memorable moments.
"I met Big Bird and Mister Rogers," she said.
She worked briefly for the Allerton Park and Retreat Center, which was her first external relations position. She was in charge of fundraising, promotion and marketing.
Next, she worked at the School of Social Work as director of development and alumni affairs.
"That was my first job working directly with alumni, and I found that was what I really enjoyed doing. I felt like I'd found my niche."
She began in her most recent job in 1998.
Havlik retired June 30. She began working part-time in September at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center.
"Now my focus is on awards and recognition - my favorite part," she said.
Working only 20 hours a week has allowed for some down time, including a trip with her husband, John, to Taliesin, the Frank Lloyd Wright estate in Wisconsin.
John is a retired graphic designer who teaches at Parkland.
The couple is keeping busy with some recently acquired property near Vienna, Ill.
The Havliks bought her family's farm, which includes 33 acres near the Tunnel Hill State Bicycle Trail. They are renovating the house on the property and may move there. She has spent time researching her family history, which goes back 200 years in Johnson County. She's found old recipe books from her ancestors, and is now keeping her own journal of the property's renovations.
The couple enjoys spending time on the farm and walking the property's wooded trails with Henry and Lucy, their treeing walker coonhounds.
The couple also is looking forward to spending more time with their family. Their children are Ben, a UI graduate who lives in Chicago, and Kate, a graduate of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale who lives in St. Louis.