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WIU alumni Dan and Ellen Kirsanoff stand with RPTA Chair Michael Lukkarinen, right, with the new memorial area dedicated to WIU RPTA Chair Emeritus Frank "Doc" Lupton. (Photographs by the WIU Visual Production Center)
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ECOEE Class of 1980 Places Memorial to 'Doc' Lupton at HFC

July 21, 2021

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MACOMB, IL – The first of several memorials to a beloved Western Illinois University Recreation, Park and Tourism Administration (RPTA) chair and professor emeritus was placed at Horn Field Campus last week.

Frank "Doc" Lupton passed away in March in Minnesota. During his tenure at WIU (1971-1993), Lupton led WIU's RPTA department, as well as its semester-long field studies program, known as the Environmental Conservation and Outdoor Education Expedition (ECOEE), which included a wilderness trip component. Lupton was a national leader in outdoor recreation programming.

It was students from Lupton's 1980 ECOEE trip who placed a bench, a plaque and two Arborvitae trees, honoring their former professor, at the Oak Hollow trailhead at HFC. The plaque includes one of Lupton's quotes, which has become a famous refrain at WIU: "The sun is shining. The birds are singing. It's a great day to be alive."

WIU alumni Dan '82, and Ellen '87 Kirsanoff came to Macomb July 14 from their home in Tolono, IL, to place the plaque. The bench, built by Dan, and Arborvitae trees, had already been placed at the site in recent weeks, along with the help of WIU alumna Kelly Bricker, '81 and '86, also from the class of ‘80 ECOEE course. Ellen's work history includes helping design memorial placements for the Urbana Park District, so she led that portion of the project.

The couple said they were inspired by the genuine enthusiasm Lupton had for passing on his knowledge, as well as the use of opportunity teaching, "which inspired each student to achieve greater potential by learning to venture outside their individual comfort zone."

"The professionalism, fostered by Doc's approach, served us well, whether working in the Recreation and Park Administration field, running a small business or providing high level IT (Information Technology) support to the office of the president of a major Illinois university," they said. "Doc was a great teacher, mentor, and he became a lifelong friend, being responsible for my internship placement, which directly led to meeting my wife and love of my life of nearly 40 years. This is but a small tribute to remind passersby of his positive outlook, and that we each have a choice in how we approach life every day."

HFC Program Director Mindy Pheiffer worked with the group to choose the placement. She and RPTA Chair Michael Lukkarinen were on-site when Dan and Ellen embedded the plaque in the ground between the bench and a memorial Arborvitae tree.

"This is a fine example of ECOEE and RPTA alumni continuing the dedication Doc had to the field of outdoor education at Western Illinois University," said Lukkarinen.

With help from one of Lupton's daughters, about 10 members of the 1980 ECOEE trip had been meeting virtually with Lupton monthly to stay in touch during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was these same former students who donated the money needed for the memorial.

"Doc laid the foundation for how we manage our professional lives, "said WIU alumni and ECOEE alumni Kelly and Nate Bricker, '85. "So many life lessons, experiences, and why we do what we do is because of Doc and ECOEE."

For more information about Lupton's career, visit For more information about RPTA at WIU, visit

Posted By: Jodi Pospeschil (
Office of University Relations