Charles G. Sadler, Death Day Anniversary

Tom and Charles

Dr. Thomas R. Sadler in early 1980s with his father, Dr. Charles G. Sadler.  Tom is now a professor of Economics at WIU and the treasurer for the UPI.  Charles was a history professor known for his dynamic lecture style.

Today is my husband’s father’s death day–the anniversary of his death–January 25, 1985.  Charles was a history professor at Western Illinois University from 1969 to 1984.  This blog is the first of a 3-part series about my family members who died, each in January or February, while working or studying at WIU.

I didn’t personally know Charles G. Sadler, but I knew the grief from his loss,  and I knew about the great education WIU dreamed of during Dr. Sadler’s career here.

I met Tom on the courthouse lawn two and a half years after his father died of cancer. Summer was easy.  But the cold arrived, and snow piled up.  Across the street from Macomb’s fire station, at the back door of what used to be the church parsonage, Tom would knock, or maybe he would just step inside, onto the square of linoleum, that place where you had to choose–either step up or down.   Tom’s grief filled the landing immediately and I breathed in its heaviness.  I was afraid of his sadness.  I understand that now.

I long for Tom’s father’s presence at the Thanksgiving table, but I also long for that 20th Century historical period when state governments reached towards public greatness.  During Charles’s tenure at WIU, faculty ran the university.  Charles and his colleagues founded the professional union and the Western Organization for Women.  They were public activists and intellectuals at once. When students occupied Morgan Hall in protest of the Vietnam War, Charles went in to talk to them, to keep the lines of communication open.

When Charles was teaching here, people valued education for education’s sake.  Now, ideology has replaced values.  Then, it did not occur to anyone that faculty had no basis “for determining what an education is,” as a WIU retiree recently wrote on social media.  Most of the time between 1987 and 2007, I was getting an extensive education, at various levels and in different fields.  I invested nearly 20 years enrolled in educational institutions, but, according to many folks today, I don’t know what an education is.  Academics has always demanded discipline and focus, but now, it also demands a determination to take a stand when what you do is unpopular.

If the faculty-degrading comment on social media were an exception, it would be funny. It’s not an exception.  The WIU administration has been belittling and degrading faculty for a decade.  When I was on the President’s select inner circle of faculty, he told us that professors are lazy and spoiled (I’m paraphrasing).  He saw the shock on my face, and he said he was speaking of people who were not in the room, and by that, I believe he meant faculty who had taken leadership roles in the University Professionals of Illinois. Belittling some faculty in front of others was unprofessional and wrong.

We have fallen so far from Dr. Sadler’s generation.  Next to the red peppers in Hy-vee, I crossed paths with Charles’s closest colleague:

“I feel bad that I had such a great career and that WIU is so terrible for your generation of humanities scholars,” he said.

Then I felt bad that he felt bad!  None of us have any power to choose the historical period we are born in.


You can visit a memorial brick for Charles G. Sadler at the east entrance to WIU’s Rec. Center.


Stone or brick memorials for my dead family members are half buried on each of the points of this triangle I walked last fall: Charles’s and Chad’s at the Rec Center (next to Q lot), Laura’s in the tree grove on south-east corner, and Chad’s Interhall Council brick between Sherman and Simkpins hall, in the bottom, left corner of this map.














Today, Facebook presented this selfie (right) to me as a memory from 2014.  Then, I was searching for images of what students were wearing at Western Illinois University in 2006 (a lot of body-hugging scoop-necked t-shirts left untucked over curvy jeans and brightly-colored cardigans), and this image (left) of Lori Baker-Sperry, actually from 2003, appeared.

For fun, I put the images next to each other.  Mine was a selfie and hers was a professional photo to accompany an article about her work on gender roles in fairy tales.

Lori was my mentor for 10 years at WIU!  We even published an article together on feminism and food.  Lori’s office was always much neater than mine!

Our perspectives often diverged, but as department colleagues, we worked as a team.  I write today and feel a force from inside pressing up on my throat.  I suppose my readers feel it too.  Sadness and grief are so hard.

Swearing Against

To feel calm in Arbitration Hearing Number 2, I did three things.

First, I kept my spine straight with my shoulders back and down, like the yoga teachers instruct.

I had to sit on the edge of my seat—because I am petite, that’s the only way my feet will reach the floor flatly, and to keep my spine straight, I need to be able to plant my feet firmly on the floor.  If I scoot back, my feet don’t reach.

Second, I wrote down what I heard and saw:  the square-ish arrangement of tables and chairs in the Capitol room, what people said, what they wore, their drinks (bottles of Mountain Dew and Diet Coke, a bright red Coke can, and stainless steel coffee tumblers) how they held their hands when swearing in, and the line of their spines. Moving my pen across paper–forming humps, then loops, words, then sentences, lends me a calming sense of control.

And Third, I have a mantra that I learned from Dr. Kristin Neff’s work on Self-Compassion.  I saved this for the hardest part–when I took the witness stand (actually just a foldable table) and waited for the Arbitrator to reconvene the hearing:

This is a moment of suffering

Everyone suffers

May I hold my pain with tenderness

Reciting the third line almost made me cry.  I have so much pain that I am afraid I cannot hold it–not with tenderness, not with steadfastness, not with anything.  When I felt that pinch in my eyes, I went back to the beginning of the mantra, and continued to repeat only the first two lines until the arbitrator reconvened the hearing.

“The reason I’m qualified to teach Spanish is I have a PhD in Spanish,”  I testified.  It doesn’t matter.  I mean, for the sake of our students and our values, it matters, but Western Illinois University has already told me they don’t need my skillset here.  Though deeply valuable, all those fancy degrees I’ve earned and the tenured status I jumped through hoops to achieve, do not do for me what I have thought they would. This lesson hurts.  I try to hold that pain with tenderness.

It helps to remind myself that suffering is part of life for everyone.  I saw and heard various forms of suffering on the witness stand.  A voice died out, as if the witness had left the room, leaving a mute body at the table.  A head sunk into its shoulders, as if afraid.  When swearing in, a hand was closed, as if swearing against or swearing at.

My body also betrayed pain:  on the witness stand, I kept having to re-straighten my spine, and at one point,  when the administration’s attorney asked me a question that insulted my academic values, I took a breath in, held it, and turned my head towards the Union’s attorney.

Body language leads me to conclude that both sides have suffered the last two years. Dr. Kristin Neff makes a compelling argument that everyone suffers.  Who does not suffer?  Suffering makes us human, she says.









Sassy Black Blazer for Hearing 2

The night before my Layoff Arbitration Hearing II (held yesterday in Western Illinois University’s Capitol Room), I tried on a flimsy grey blazer with navy slacks.  I went to bed.  The next morning, I stepped on some shoes and bags on the bottom of my closet and reached for the sassy black blazer that I keep zipped up in the back. The last time I wore it was to testify before the House Appropriations Committee, Higher Education in the Thompson building in the Chicago Loop.


Testifying before an Illinois House Committee. June, 2016.  The man next to me was from NIU.

I hung the blazer on a loop in the bathroom, where there’s a full-length mirror and a heating vent.  It is woven from a structured and stiff cotton and the black is very black.  If I put it on, it means I’m taking the event very seriously.  It feels like armor–testimony armor.  It gives me a feeling of power and authority.

My daughter, who almost never comments on anyone’s clothes, saw it hanging in the bathroom and said,

“You’re wearing that?”  She knows it means something is at stake.

She went downstairs for breakfast, and I put the blazer on over a pink shell and grey pants.


“Pink?”   She was not convinced.  Plus, she’s rarely seen me wear pink.

“Yes, because when you are a woman and you wear only black, they will say you are cold and uncaring.  Like crooked Hillary.  A teacher who is a woman must come across as maternal–even to people who are not her students.  If I do not appear at least a little soft, they will say I am not a good teacher.”

Plus, I liked the contrast of the peachy pink with the stark black.

If an outfit could restore my tenured status at WIU, surely this one would do it!  But it will take much more than an outfit.  Fortunately, the UPI has a knowledgable, meticulous, and formidable attorney who didn’t miss a beat yesterday.  And fortunately the UPI has a knowledgable, meticulous, and formidable grievance officer who has covered all his bases.

An  IFT representative who has seen many of these hearings told me that judging by the arguments presented, he did not see how the arbitrator could justify not ruling in our favor.  Justice is still possible, but I wonder if other, unseen, forces were at work yesterday.

As for how I’m doing, I was up most of the night replaying, in my head, the 3-hour hearing. My throat hurt and body ached–my first winter cold virus.  I haven’t slept well in more than a week.  And Tom and I have yet to sit down and figure out how to pay our bills.  We’ve had two full-time incomes for 10 years.  I’ve forgotten how to make due on one.  Thrift is a skill that requires practice.  I am out of practice.

Anyway, I’m happily taking a manuscript workshop.  I’ll end today’s post on that note of hope.

Thanks for reading!