Jan Sprague-Williams

Sprague-Williams Named Waubonsee “Fabulous 40” Alumnus

Waubonsee Community College has named Jan Sprague-Williams, a retired Waubonsee professor of communications and speech, as one of the college’s “Fabulous 40” alumni. Sprague-Williams was both one of the college’s first graduates and also one of Waubonsee’s longest-serving faculty members.
Sugar Grove — Jan Sprague-Williams has the distinction of being one of Waubonsee Community College’s first graduates and also one of the college’s longest-serving faculty members. Waubonsee is now proud to honor her as one of the college’s “Fabulous 40” alumni.

As part of the college’s yearlong 40th anniversary celebration, Waubonsee is honoring 40 alumni and students who embody the mission, vision and values of the college. These individuals represent the diversity of Waubonsee’s students and the college district, as well as the diversity of the college’s mission as a comprehensive community college.

Prior to enrolling at Waubonsee, Sprague-Williams spent her freshman year of college at Illinois State University, but, with the large seminar classes she took her first year, she felt something lacking. She missed the personal teaching style she had experienced while a student at East Aurora High School. In the summer between her freshman and sophomore year, she heard that a new college was forming. Founding Waubonsee Board of Trustees President Dale Von Ohlen was a friend of her family and his participation with the college convinced her of the college’s quality.

“If Dale Von Ohlen was involved, then it had to be a good operation,” she remembers thinking at the time.

When Sprague-Williams came to Waubonsee as a student, there were no permanent buildings, but she was amazed that so many of the hallmarks of any college were in place. Even though she took classes at the Aurora YMCA, the New England Congregational Church, and at existing local school sites, she felt a sense of community.

“With the events, gatherings and clubs in place, you could really have that college identity, even in the first year,” she said.

Coming from a large state school to a new college, Sprague-Williams wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of the class difficulty. She ended up finding that she had to work twice as hard in the small class setting, but enjoyed the challenge.

“I thought all the teachers were incredibly good,” she said.  “Many of them made new areas of knowledge very interesting to me.”

Sprague-Williams enjoyed an active student life at Waubonsee, acting in the school play and, began her career at the college, in a sense, working in the Admissions and Records Department while still a student.

“When I started the tuition was $6 a credit hour,” she said. “It was the best bargain for quality education and still is today.”

After earning her associate degree from Waubonsee as part of the first graduating class, Sprague-Williams went onto Northern Illinois University (NIU), where she earned a bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree in education. She actually started taking night classes at NIU while still at Waubonsee and often carpooled to DeKalb with Waubonsee counselor Dorothy Becker, who was also taking classes at NIU.

In 1971, Sprague-Williams returned to Waubonsee, joining the faculty. She recalls the faculty members sharing the cramped quarters in the college’s first permanent building, Building A, which is still in use on Waubonsee’s Sugar Grove Campus.

“One of the things I enjoyed in my career was that you could look back on the unfocused students, not sure about college, who by the time they left Waubonsee had turned themselves into really focused individuals,” she said. “From the ages 18 to 20, there is a whole lot of maturing to do.”

While still a student, Sprague-Williams saw the potential for adult education.

“The classes at Waubonsee were the first time there was a chance to see people of a variety of ages in a classroom setting,” she said. “For someone 30 to 40 years old, you can recognize what education was doing for their futures.”

Retiring in 2000, Sprague-Williams and her husband, John Sprague-Williams, who is a retired College of DuPage electromechanical technology professor, reside in North Aurora for part of the year and also have a home in Eatonton, Ga. There, they continue their work with the Coast Guard Auxiliary, which they started when they lived in Key Largo, Fla. They continue to educate, now helping train boaters. Through the Coast Guard Auxiliary, they teach the basics of navigation, radio communications, weather, and seamanship.

“We never stopped teaching,” she said. “Retirement has been a wonderful opportunity to move on and do new things but to still teach.”