Speech communication department hosts memorial service for Shiller

Alan Shiller was a teacher in and out of the classroom – to students, to colleagues and even to his wife.

Shiller, 62, died in December and the speech communication department will host a memorial service from 12-1:30 p.m., Feb. 28, at the Center for Spirituality and Sustainability to remember his life.

Alan Shiller, 62, died in December, and former co-workers from the speech communication department planned a memorial service in his memory. Photo courtesy of Isaac Blankson

Bonnie Shiller, Alan’s wife, said she “absolutely positively” did not expect the department to plan a memorial.

“My socks have been knocked off,” Bonnie said. “That the university is holding this memorial and his department is so behind it, supporting him… it just holds me speechless. It’s very powerful to me, and Alan would be so honored, so honored that SIU [and] the students in his department would be so committed to put the work behind this and the thought and that honor – It would just overwhelm him.”

SIUE was a family to Alan, according to Bonnie, and he was dedicated to his colleagues, the university and his students. Bonnie said Alan posed challenges to his students but “for those students who didn’t mind the work,” they often appreciated his style and personable nature.

His relationships with some students continued after semester’s end, as Bonnie said Alan received emails from students checking on him after he had open-heart surgery. They also ran into former students often, according to Bonnie, who said the students expressed appreciation for the effect Alan’s life and teaching had on them.

“That made Alan always feel so proud because that was his mission in life…,” Bonnie said. “The students meant everything because Alan realized he was nothing without his students and his colleagues.”

Speech communication professor Renee Fussell has known Alan since he came to the department 13 years ago. She said she knew as soon as she met him that he “was something really special.” The two joined forces for roughly five years to teach Interracial Communications, a class for which Alan was instrumental in creating the ERACISM campaign.

“His thing with ERACISM was that no one should be better, or could be considered better, than someone else,” Fussell said. “We need to erase all the ‘isms’ so that we can have a better world.”

Alan also initiated SIUE’s Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association, for which economics professor Tim Sullivan served as Alan’s vice president since 2007. The organization, which is part of the Illinois Education Association, would not exist without Alan, according to Sullivan.

“He led the team that negotiated the first contract and he served as the organization’s president from the beginning. He was the George Washington of our organization,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said he is happy the speech communication department is hosting the memorial for Alan and people from across departments will attend, showing Alan’s influence across campus.

“I know that there will be some tears shed, but I’m also sure that there will be plenty of smiles as we all remember Alan,” Sullivan said.

Alan’s whole life was dedicated to teaching in one way or another, according to Bonnie, who took three classes from Alan when she was finishing her degree. She said it was “incredible” to see him teaching because he “really was a master teacher.”

“He really was my mentor, professionally and personally, so that teaching theme ran through every aspect of Alan’s life,” Bonnie said.

But as a husband teaching his wife, Bonnie said some “humorous situations” popped up from time to time. Alan and Bonnie once had a “heated discussion right before class,” according to Bonnie, and though she was “stewing knowing that [she had] to go to class with him,” she attended.

“I was in a huff and I went and – I am not kidding you this was on the syllabus since before the semester began and we got it on the first night – I get into class, and I can’t look at anyone. Things are a little tense. [And] Alan gets up and says, ‘Tonight we are discussing conflict,’” Bonnie said.

Outside of the classroom, Bonnie said Alan was “just a gentle giant.”

“He was respectful, he was confident. He was jovial. He was kind. He was just a wonderful man,” Bonnie said.

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