University News

WIU Legacies

July 7, 2016


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MACOMB, IL -- When one walks down the halls of Sherman Hall, sits in the seats at Western Hall or passes by what once stood as Morgan Gymnasium or Wetzel Hall, it's easy to recall the names of those who helped build this great University. Hanson, Grote, Beu, Henninger…they left their mark on Western Illinois University decades ago. Now in its third century of existence, WIU has many others who have left their mark. The names Brattain, Wehrly and Engnell can be added to the list of distinguished contributors who positively impacted the WIU community.

Bill Brattain, commonly referred to as "Dr. B," advised thousands upon thousands of students during his tenure as director of the Office of Student Activities and the University Union, a position he held for more than 24 years. One of those students was Brian O'Connell, president of Live Nation Country Touring. O'Connell said that Dr. B was the only reason he stayed in college as he was fairly disinterested in anything that involved the "going to school" part.

"Once he sat me down and explained to me that without that part you didn't get to have the fun part, well, obviously, it worked. He was not judgmental, nor dismissive," O'Connell remembered. "Our relationship was really that of an accomplished professional treating an idiot 18-year-old with respect, and through that he taught me how to know the difference between patronizing someone and respecting them … teaching involves patience, seeing potential involves skill, what Dr. B possessed was 'the patience of Job' and the skill of a marksman, truly a rare combination."

Brattain was honored in December 2014 when the University renamed the University Union Prairie Lounge the William E. Brattain Lounge. At the dedication, O'Connell spoke, recalling Dr. B's legacy is the students that had their lives affected by him, and he did a "heck of a job there."

"I am honored to have been taught by Dr. B., and any success that I have achieved in the music business, and more importantly, in my day-to-day life, can be traced back through my years at WIU, and specifically to Dr. William E. Brattain," O'Connell said at the naming ceremony. "No professor, bartender, teacher, priest or mentor had a bigger impact on me in those years than Dr. B., and I am not alone."

Dr. B also loved being in the entertainment business. While he was never over the top about his connections, according to O'Connell, everyone knew that there was this guy in Macomb, Illinois who ran a good shop. He attracted entertainers and the WIU community benefited from his work. When asked if WIU is better off thanks to the work of Dr. B, O'Connell replied, "I would put it this way, if WIU decided to create a Mt. Rushmore of sorts, Dr. B would be on it."

Brattain passed away in December 2015 at the age of 77. Family and friends from near and far remembered Dr. B by contributing to the William "Dr. B" and Jacquie Brattain Transfer Scholarship, a fund that was established by the Brattains in 2011 to provide scholarships for transfer students from McDonough, Hancock or Schuyler counties.

On the academic side, Jim Wehrly is a name known by most Western agriculture graduates. Professionally, Wehrly was an agricultural finance professor who started teaching at WIU in 1969. He continued to do so until he retired in 1992.

"Jim was a good friend and stellar role model," said Julie Murphy, retired director of donor relations. "He was a passionate and caring professor; he most certainly lived simply and was quite generous throughout his lifetime. His wicked sense of humor stayed with him as his body failed. His mind was razor sharp until the end, and he always wanted news of his beloved Western Illinois University."

Having worked in higher education, Wehrly knew the importance of a college education.

"Both Wehrlys (including his wife, Beatrice Wehrly) started saving for scholarships early in their careers at $25 a month, grew their savings, and went on to donate these savings to establish (a total of five) scholarships and become two of the University's largest donors," recalled Murphy. "The scholarships, intended to assist students financially and allow them to concentrate on their academics, have already helped countless students and will continue to do so into perpetuity.

It's a huge impact, and cannot be underestimated. Jim lived a life of public service, he made WIU a better place, and continues to inspire us all to serve," she said. "He was absolutely and totally dedicated to teaching and to assisting students in any way possible."

Throughout a long career teaching, Murphy said that Wehrly touched so many lives and those people, his students, went on to contribute to their professions and communities. As an agricultural economics professor at WIU, his main duty was teaching undergraduate courses in farm management, agricultural finance, and farm income tax management and reporting in the Department of Agriculture (now called the School of Agriculture). Wehrly was sensitive to the curriculum responding to a changing field and preparing students for the real world. Murphy remembers Wehrly as being gentle and soft-spoken, incredibly intelligent and altruistic. He was particularly interested in motivating students to become more serious about agricultural finance. Even after retiring, Jim continued to save, in his words, "five million pennies" more and with that established his agricultural finance scholarship. He continued to contribute funds to all of their scholarship funds until he passed away in October 2015 at the age of 92.

Wehrly and his late wife, Bea, who was also a longtime WIU faculty member and noted as a pioneer in cross-cultural counseling and women in counseling, created the Bea and Jim Wehrly Scholarship, the Wehrly Book Scholarship, the Bea Wehrly Study Abroad Scholarship, the Educators for Tomorrow Scholarship and the Jim Wehrly Agriculture Finance Scholarship at WIU. Their legacy will live on through these many scholarships, helping WIU students obtain a college degree for generations to come.

Another familiar face in the School of Agriculture was Bruce A. Engnell, who served agriculture students for nearly 45 years. Engnell came to WIU in 1967 to manage the swine teaching herd, the boar station and coach the Intercollegiate Livestock Judging Team. He also served as the manager of the entire University Farm operation. He retired in 2011. A former student of his, Monte Lowderman, knew Engnell in a number of ways … as a family friend, as the father of a friend, as a community and University leader and as a coach and role model.

"Bruce Engnell made a positive impact on my education and experience at WIU, as well as a positive impact on my life," Lowderman said. "A motto that I have used is 'Success is not a goal, rather a pathway.' My pathway was definitely enhanced by my education at WIU and the positive impact that Bruce Engnell made on my life."

Lowderman remembers Engnell as a "grandfather" to the students, and as a man who was both humble and soft spoken. He said that Engnell had a special way about him that made his students not only want to do good for themselves, but that they wanted to make him proud. And he had the respect of the ag majors.

"Bruce left a lifelong stamp on the agriculture program at WIU, a legacy built by respect, honor and character and always doing the right thing. Bruce was WIU agriculture. He was well-respected and known throughout the country in the livestock and swine industries," Lowderman added.

Engnell served as a judge for many county, regional, state and national shows, where people also knew him as the livestock judging team coach from Western Illinois University.

"WIU and the agriculture livestock industry need to remember Bruce Engnell as having a positive impact on all of his students, of which many have become leaders in their respected fields of work. Bruce always made it a great day to be a Leatherneck," Lowderman said.

Engnell passed away in November 2015 at the age of 72. His legacy will forever be remembered at WIU at the University's Livestock Center, where a memorial tree and carved stone now stand. These items were dedicated in his memory in April. At that time, alumni of the WIU Livestock Judging Team and the School of Agriculture gathered together to remember this special mentor of theirs. His legacy lives on due to the creation of the Bruce A. Engnell Ag Scholarship, thanks to the generosity of many former students and staff.

"It's impossible to think of Dr. B, Jim Wehrly or Bruce Engnell and not think of Western Illinois University in the same thought. Each left a different mark on this institution but each will have a lasting impact. WIU is better off thanks to the work of these three pioneers in their respected fields," stated Brad Bainter, vice president for Advancement and Public Services.

While the last chapter of their earthly book has come to a close, the lives of these three individuals will forever be remembered by the WIU community, those who learned from them, those who looked up to them and those who owe much of their professional success to them. From the University Union lounge to the multiple scholarship opportunities to the memorial at the Livestock Center, the legacies of Bill Brattain, Jim Wehrly and Bruce Engnell will forever be etched in the rich history of Western Illinois University.

Posted By: Amanda Shoemaker, WIU Foundation & Development (AJ-Shoemaker@wiu.edu)
Office of University Relations