A campus memorial for former English professor and The Leader’s adviser, Ronald Wiginton, will take place Oct. 6 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the Hammerschmidt Memorial Chapel, according to H. Scott Matheney, Elmhurst University’s chaplain.
Matheney, who is organizing the campus memorial, wants the event to honor Wiginton’s life in a meaningful way.
“It should give meaning and joy for this man,” Matheney said. “And there’ll be sorrow, there’ll be tears, it’ll be hard. But it will also be a way to put into context a significant quarter-century of life, a gift to this place and what he’s done and all the alums and present students for the future.”
In addition, Matheney acknowledged Wiginton’s commitment to social justice and believed Wiginton would want students to carry this commitment forward.
“He certainly would want you and all to be politically engaged, seekers of the truth, social agents of justice, and hoping that your life could make a difference,” Matheney said.
“He would want that. So the history of social justice, like Reinhold Niebuhr here, Martin Luther King, or all the lectures that we do, they’re rooted in an intellectual tradition, a faith tradition, a political tradition, and an activist tradition. He would rest in that.”
Not only will there be a campus memorial, but The Leader will be putting together a special memorial issue to honor Wiginton; former and current EU faculty and students who knew Wiginton may submit a tribute piece to be included in this issue.
If you’re interested in participating, submit a piece of no more than 500 words to email@example.com by Sept. 20.
Susan Martin, former editor-in-chief of The Leader and 2008 graduate, recalled going to San Francisco when The Leader applied for national awards and remembered Wiginton pushed the entire editorial board of The Leader to step outside their comfort zones.
“The Leader has always done amazing things in Illinois and Illinois colleges, but he pushed us to say, ‘If you guys really wanna be journalists, get outside your damn bubble and look at what else is out there,’” Susan Martin said.
Wiginton died on Aug. 9. He served as the faculty adviser for The Leader between 1997 and 2020 and MiddleWestern Voice between 2021 and 2023.
He will be greatly missed by many faculty, staff, and students.
Susan Martin said that Wiginton was always “who he needed to be” for each student.
“He knew when he needed to back off, he knew when he needed to be hard and just curse us out because we needed it,” Susan Martin said. “Two ‘o clock in the morning phone calls, and ‘why the fuck is the paper not to bed?’ Like we needed that, ‘why are you fuckin’ around?’ We needed that call sometimes.”
Susan Martin also mentioned that when she needed it, Wiginton would let her come up to his former office at the top of the Chapel and cry.
“He could let me do that, and he could do that for a lot of people,” Susan Martin explained.
Syeda Sameeha, The Leader’s editor-in-chief from 2018 to 2019, appreciated Wiginton for always fighting for her and supporting all of his students.
“Dr. Ron was not only an amazing teacher, inspiring journalist, and the best mentor, but he was also my friend,” Sameeha said. “He made me who I am today. I can still picture him walking around campus with his baseball cap or beanie if it was cold out, a tote bag, and one arm taking long puffs of his cigarette.”
Sameeha continued, “I will forever be indebted to him for standing by me when things got tough as Editor-in-Chief, especially when we were both subject to a lawsuit on campus. I was nineteen and I thought my life was over, but Dr. Ron was there ready to fight for me.
“That’s the type of person he was. It is definitely an end of an era with Dr. Ron’s depart from this world. But I know each of us, his students, his Leader crew, and everyone who was impacted by him, will forever hold a piece of him in their hearts. Farewell, Dr. Ron.”
Victoria Martin, The Leader’s news editor between 2016 and 2018, expressed that while Wiginton was hard on The Leader staff when it came to “spelling errors, our inability to finish a production weekend before the early hours of Monday morning, or our everyday shenanigans,” he was hard on them because he cared and wanted the staff to be the best they could.
Victoria Martin believes she is all the better for Wiginton’s support.
“He supported us in ways I don’t think we ever really thanked him for,” Victoria Martin said. “He was so much more than a faculty adviser to the editorial staff. He will be greatly missed, and the world feels a little emptier knowing he isn’t in it.”
Roxee Timan, The Leader’s multimedia and managing editor from 2016 to 2018, and Cole Sheeks, The Leader’s sports editor in 2018, both had a close mentorship and friendship with Wiginton.
Timan appreciates Wiginton for pushing her as a writer, being a role model, and living life to the fullest.
“Ron has been a constant in Cole and I’s lives even five years after graduating,” Timan said. “I can’t thank him enough for all of the late nights, stretching us as writers, and introducing me to my best friend.”
“He once said, ‘Have more fun today than you did yesterday,’ and he did that til the very end. No one else could tell me, ‘You write like shit,’ and still be one of the people I look up to most.”
Sheeks had a similar experience with Wiginton, attributing fond memories, close friendship, and inspiration to him.
“Ron will be missed terribly,” Sheeks expressed. “His mentorship and friendship meant the world to me. He played a massive role in the person I have become. Not only do I owe him for my career, but I owe him for so many of my closest friends and most cherished memories.”
“I wish he was here to proofread this for me right now because I just know he’d have something quippy to say about it. He was inspiring, and he always knew how to add color to a conversation. He was a great friend and the best teacher I ever had,” Sheeks continued.
Gianna Montesano, The Leader’s editor-in-chief for the 2021 to 2022 school year, admires Wiginton for shaping her and many other students into the writers they are today.
“During my time as a student, Ron was one of the first people who viewed and treated me as a journalist,” Montesano said. “Without his guidance, passion, and talent, The Leader, or the remarkable writing talent he molded out of every student that walked through his office door, wouldn’t exist.”
Not only did many former EU students express feeling mentored and supported by Wiginton, but several EU faculty and professors felt deeply impacted by Wiginton as well.
Eric Lutz, faculty adviser to The Leader and editor-in-chief for the 2009 to 2010 school year, expressed the impact Wiginton had on the EU community.
“Ron was synonymous with The Leader, and had an outsize impact on the lives and careers of so many students who passed through it,” Lutz said. “This is a tremendous loss for the college, The Leader, and the decades of students he taught and mentored.”
Ann Frank Wake, professor of English, shared a similar sentiment.
“Honestly, the first thought I had when I heard about the unusual circumstances surrounding Ron’s passing was that he would be ticked that he couldn’t write that story!” Wake said. “I imagined the ‘stream of consciousness’ technique leading up to final events, with the ‘unknown’ ending that cliffhangs us into the future.”
She continued, “It hit me hard that Ron would not be here to teach and influence future writers. He loved writers and writing, but he revered free speech and an independent Press.”
Janice Lively, professor of English, appreciated the way Wiginton took his dreams and made them a reality.
“Ron was a character,” Lively said. “He was funny, he had a good heart. The thing I like most about Ron, he was a dreamer, but he didn’t just dream — he worked really hard at what he did, and he was good at that.”
Lively mentioned that Wiginton envisioned the creative writing and digital media programs and helped bring them to EU.
“He wouldn’t take no,” Lively said. “He would keep pushing until he found a way to get it.”