John Abram, stores supervisor in military science, describes himself as an Air Force brat who landed in Central Illinois at the age of 7 when his father was transferred to Chanute Air Force Base, Rantoul, in 1962. “We came here from Wheelus AFB in Tripoli, Libya. My sisters and I needed our English polished up when we came back to the U.S. because we spoke with Arabic accents,” Abram said. Now, after his own stint in the military, Abram is responsible for equipping the hundreds of ROTC students who muster on the UI’s Urbana campus.
Tell me about your background.
I’ve been at the UI for seven years. After high school, I was in the U.S. Navy for four years, seven months and six days. I was on three aircraft carriers, and that’s why I don’t want to go on any cruises now. I’ve seen enough water. A long bath bothers me. But I traveled the world and saw Brazil, Colombia, France, Israel, Italy, Spain and many other countries.
What brought you back to Champaign?
I got out of the Navy in 1987, and I managed a 7-Eleven store in Virginia Beach for a while. I wanted to surprise my dad on his birthday, Sept. 5. So I quit my job on Sept. 1 and was back here for his birthday.
How did you wind up at the university?
I owned a construction company and tore a rotator cuff in an accident. I was an aviation storekeeper in the Navy, and there was an opening for a storekeeper.
Tell me what you do every day.
I issue gear and uniforms to the Army and Air Force ROTC cadets that come in. The ones who are leaving drop off their uniforms, and the ones who are coming in this fall will be issued uniforms. The new cadets have to be fitted for their uniforms. They also get equipment for field training, such as canteens, boots, helmets, parkas and backpacks.
We probably have a few more than 100 cadets this semester. We usually deal with about 150 or so each semester.
What’s the best part of your job?
The support. The cadets are our future military leaders. Given the current state of world affairs, if there’s something that I can do to get them better prepared. …
The most challenging part of my job is the paperwork. When a cadet buys a uniform, there are five different places I have to send the receipt.
What do you do to relax?
Music is my salvation. I am a drummer. When it gets a little frustrating here, I go home and after about an hour of sitting behind my drums, everything’s fine.
I played in several bands in Champaign back in the Red Lion era. I have toured with some of the greats, including Black Oak Arkansas, and I opened for Kixx, to name a couple. I’ve played rhythm and blues, heavy metal, pop, country. The only thing I haven’t played is opera, simply because there are no drums in operas.
I prefer studio work now. There’s much less equipment shuffling, and it pays better.
I lay drum tracks in the studio for people who write their own music. I work with a bunch of good musicians around here. I was lucky enough to make it on both of the ‘Central Illinois Rocks’ albums. There’s a lot more talent around here than people realize.
I played guitar until the Beatles came out. And then I saw how their drummer was leading the charge and everyone was watching him. And I said, ‘That’s what I want to do,’ and switched to drums.
What other interests do you have?
I collect die-cast cars, models of cars that I have owned or that friends have owned, or is a vintage model. I have about 30. I have a 1966 Volkswagen, a 1972 Chevrolet GTO, a 1955 Ford F-150, some of the 1930s cars with the gangster doors.
My son, Johnny III, is 8 and he collects them too. He’s also a drummer. My daughter, Krystyn, who is 15, is a singer, and won an audition as a background singer for Pauli Carman and the Champaign Band. They did a show during the Christmas holidays at the Virginia Theater, and he sang a duet with her. Krystyn also was one of WCIA-TV’s ‘Kids to Know.’
My kids are cool, and I am very proud of both of them.