Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Jay Marshall '88: Marathon Man

Jay Marshall '88 of Richmond, Ill. has completed eight marathons in three years since he started running, and he is not stopping there. He is always asking "what's next?" in life and has dedicated himself to a mission to stay healthy and set an example for his three sons: Flynn, 16; William, 13; and Reed, 11, by staying fit.

Marshall's twin brother, John, started him down this path by inspiring him to start riding his bike more in 2005. About a year later and 50 pounds lighter, Marshall participated with his brother in RAIN (Ride Across Indiana), a 160-mile, one-day bike ride. He completed the ride and was left hungry for new ways to push himself.

"I continued to ride and stay healthy, always looking for something to do next," Marshall says. His next step was an organization called Randoneurs USA (RUSA), which bikes in a French style, setting personal challenges on a prescribed route instead of racing those around you.

Marshall began his transition into running in August 2008 when he was asked to coach cross country at Antioch Upper Grade School, the school where he teaches. "I didn't know much about running, but I had another knowledgeable coach to guide me," Marshall says. "I decided to run with the kids, which is how I was introduced to the act of running."

One year later, Marshall began running with a group of people in Chain-o-Lakes State Park. They convinced him to enter a half-marathon in Crystal Lake, Ill. in August 2009. Despite his lack of running experience, he finished.

Pushing on, Marshall learned more from a teacher who worked with his wife, Beth Nohling Marshall '91, and became his unofficial running coach. She trained him to run for the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in November 2009.

In running that event, Marshall knew he was "bit by the marathon bug." He ran the Wisconsin Marathon in Kenosha the next spring, and though discouraged after he "sort of blew up near the end" of the race, the bug kept biting; he was determined to make 26.2 miles in less than 3 hours, 30 minutes so he could qualify for the 2012 Boston Marathon.

He prepared for the qualification run by pushing himself through two full marathons two weekends in a row. "This was unorthodox," Marshall says, "but it was another 'what's next?' challenge I set for myself."

He took it slow and finished the pair of races in just under four hours each. Afterwards, he felt he was well on his way to qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

His coach convinced him to run a marathon in Madison, Wis., two weeks before entering his run in Carmel, Ind., the race that could qualify him for Boston. But Marshall was too fatigued from Madison to beat the required time in Carmel and came up short.

He had one last chance to finish within the 3 hour, 30 minute mark in the Fox Valley Marathon in St. Charles, Ill., marking his eighth marathon in less than three years.

"I had a great deal of trepidation the night before," Marshall says, "and even said to Beth that if she was looking for me at the finish line it could be within a window of 30 minutes."

Beth watched the next day as he crossed the finish line at the 3 hours, 16 minutes, 56 seconds mark, making him eligible to run in Boston on April 16.

"I think I have really set a nice balance for myself," Marshall says. "I hope I am setting an example for my boys. I want them to set goals and try to achieve them."

His current goal is "to run a marathon a month." If he completes the Boston marathon in less than 3 hours, 10 minutes, he will qualify for a run in New York. Meanwhile, Marshall prepares to run in Chicago later this year as he continues to push himself, exploring what's next. ? by Jackson Lewis '13

Mike Weaver '86: Telling the truth behind "Glee"

Students, faculty and alumni receive 25 percent off (plus free shipping in the U.S.) on "Sweat, Tears, and Jazz Hands" when ordered through halleonardbooks. com. Enter promo code BBHL at checkout. Least expensive shipping method applies. Also available on, and you can like it on Facebook!

Whether they are involved in show choir or not, people nationwide have heard about "Glee," the hit television show that has made show choirs a hot topic. However, the cameras only allude to the entire world existing behind the glamour. "Sweat, Tears, and Jazz Hands," an anthology co-written by Mike Weaver '86 and Colleen Hart, takes a peek behind the rhinestone-covered curtain of show choirs and into the drama and history of this evolving art form.

"I love 'Glee,'" says Weaver, "but they smooth over all the sweat, show some tears and just stick with the jazz hands. That's unrealistic, but 'Glee' does show how show choirs can make their music meaningful."

Weaver has become an expert on the world of show choirs through his devotion to this art. Based in Chicago, he collaborates regularly through his company, Michael Weaver Design, with award-winning high school music departments staging concerts, show choir events and musical theatre shows. Weaver has collected many accolades for his work, including awards for directing, choreography, lighting, set and show design.

In 2001, his work was noted by the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) when they commissioned Weaver to write an article connecting modern day show choirs to Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, a popular novelty orchestra from the early '20s.

"The ACDA was created to protect classical choral music against the onslaught of pop music in the '70s and '80s," Weaver says. Oddly enough, the pop music the ACDA shields itself against is the music used by show choirs. "By connecting today's show choirs to this American choral icon, they hoped to come up with standards to measure show choirs by."

Almost 10 years after he wrote the article, Weaver received a call from his former student and member of the ETC All- American Show Choir, Colleen Hart, who intended to write a book about him. But when Weaver showed her his article for the ACDA for possible inspiration for a different project, the two decided to join forces.

The pair combined Weaver's research with Colleen's marketing capabilities, resulting in an anthology documenting the history and evolution of show choirs through a modern pop culture lens. "I write academically," Weaver says, "and Colleen twists it to make it fun.

According to Weaver, the book is not just a chronology of singing and dancing, but the study of the impact of this theatrical tradition, as well as the individuals who devote themselves to it. "It's a story about this group of people who have spent their lives making the world a better place through music," Weaver says, a philosophy he applies to his own work.

"I spend over 200 days a year staging productions for people, and it's about letting people do something they love through something I love," he says.

Weaver's love for choreography and directing grew from his time at Millikin as a commercial music major. "I thought I was going to be a studio recording pianist," Weaver says, but his musical talent carried him to his current career instead.

"I earned money for college by choreographing little community productions," he says. "One advantage I have is my ability to listen to music and understand what it needs to look like through dance. Millikin taught me how to interpret music with a professional eye."

His undergraduate years also taught Weaver some hard lessons about the theatrical field. "At the time it was tough, but it applies to the real competitive world of show business. There are lots of creative and talented people, but not everyone is disciplined enough to follow through with it."

Weaver's time at Millikin, he says, gave him the discipline and drive needed to enjoy show choir to the fullest, and make his life, the lives of the performers he works with, and the lives of the readers of "Sweat, Tears, and Jazz Hands," that much brighter.

Brown, Alan '82

Brown treats guests to a bit of the West

Alan Brown ’82 is living every boy’s dream. He gets to play cowboy each evening at the supper club he and his wife, Valerie, own and operate. At Bar M Chuck Wagon in Moab, Utah, they feed and entertain hungry tourists in an Old West setting. They’ve been doing it for 10 years and are still going strong.

Brown sings, plays the guitar, stages a gunfight skit and even cooks all of the food himself at the Bar M. “I’m head cook and bottle washer,” he says.

Guests can have a drink or two in the saloon, browse through the gift shop or play a game of horseshoes in the tiny western town. After that, they mosey outside for a real live shootout featuring Brown as the town sheriff. Dinner is next-- roast beef, barbequed chicken, baked beans, potatoes, biscuits, applesauce and cowboy cake. The food is served on metal plates and cups. A stage show featuring the music and comedy of the “Bar M Wranglers” follows supper.

“The dining room seats 330 people and has a stage on one end where our five-piece band plays songs like ‘Ghost Riders In the Sky’ and ‘Happy Trails to You.’ We yodel and serenade the audience,” Brown says.

Brown is a native of Maroa, Ill., and studied music and European history at Millikin. While at MU, he spent a semester in Vienna through the Institute of European Studies. He was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, and still keeps in touch with his SAE big brother, Steve Ferguson ’79, of Mattoon.

“The teachers who stand out the most in my mind were Dr. Provan and Professor Wesley Snyder for their advice and council, and the Hofflands (Richard and Kay Hoffland, professor emeritus of music and his wife and accompanist) for their devotion to music and for setting an example of how a husband and wife can work together as a great team.”

The Bar M is located between two national parks, the Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. The town of Moab is in the desert, with a view of the La Sal Mountains in the distance.

“The natural beauty of the area is mind boggling. I always wanted to live out west, but I never pictured myself doing what I’m doing. It is a great place to wake up in every morning. The desert, the rocks, the cliffs and wide open spaces are beautiful,” he says. Perfect scenery for a cowboy.

The Browns website is located at

Article appeared in summer 2002 issue of Millikin Quarterly magazine.

Alexander Uraimov, Lisa '83

Lisa Alexander entered Millikin as a physical education major with hopes of someday coaching at the college level.

For four years, Lisa continued her successful basketball career under the guidance of then Coach Harriett Crannell and even found time to play on the Big Blue softball team.

Following graduation from Millikin in 1983, Southeast Missouri State beckoned with a graduate assistant coaching position, and she embraced her role as recruiting coach. “I remembered what Walt Wessel did in my life and how it made such a difference,” she says.

After finishing her graduate degree, Lisa jumped at the chance to coach at Montana State.

Working under Coach Gary Schwarz, who averaged 39 points per game as a professional player in Europe, Lisa once again found herself in the role of recruiting coach – and often in the unexpected role of counselor to her young players.

Lisa began to examine her own life as well. A chance meeting with basketball legend Nancy Lieberman took her self-examination in a new direction.

After meeting at a conference, Lieberman asked Lisa to organize and run basketball camps for her. Lieberman was interested in developing people holistically – physically, mentally, socially and spiritually – an approach that resonated with Lisa.

A friendship developed, and during a casual conversation one day, Lieberman asked Lisa if she was a Christian. Lisa was forced to think carefully about the question and was surprised at the answer that arose within her.

One day, while sitting at a stop light, Lisa found herself uttering a simple prayer: God, if you’re there, I want to know you. And during her noon basketball scrimmage with other coaches, she played with an abandon that surprised her.

Her newfound faith wavered when Lisa felt God leading her away from coaching but was bolstered by an invitation to join an Athletes in Action basketball tour in Korea in 1988. Accepting this unexpected mission marked a first step in turning the recruiting coach into a recruiter for Christ.

A member of the Campus Crusade/AIA staff for 17 years now, Lisa has played and spoken from the heart in the farthest reaches of the globe, including the Czech Republic, Siberia, Thailand and the Muslim country of Kyrgyzstan, where she met her husband, Ravshan Uraimov, a three-time national boxing champion. 

Currently living in Forsyth, Ill., with their son, Daniel, while Ravshan seeks his American citizenship, the Uraimovs are eager to return to their ministry abroad, this time with central Asia in their sights.

As they continue their work to transform stadiums into sanctuaries, their strategy is simple: “People look up to athletes as heroes; they need to see their heroes looking up to God.”

The complete article appeared in the winter Summer 2007 issue of Millikin Quarterly magazine.

Podlasek, John '88

At first glance, a video game producer’s life seems more like that of a rock star: parties in Las Vegas, New York and Germany, the chance to collaborate with artists from MTV and pulling all-nighters. Look more closely, though, and you begin to see that the video game industry is a tough one, where only the strong survive for more than a few years.

John Podlasek ’88, now living in the Chicago area, stuck with it for almost 19 years, and his perseverance paid off: He was senior producer at Midway Games for the immensely popular “Mortal Kombat” games, including “Deadly Alliance,” “Deception,” “Armageddon” and the newly released “Mortal Kombat vs. DC.” Podlasek is currently senior product manager at Video Furnace, a company that enables organizations to securely deliver video over their network to any connected desktop, laptop computer or TV for live broadcasts and public addresses.

“I enjoyed being part of an industry that I grew up on pumping quarters into arcade machines,” says Podlasek. “At Midway, I was able to work and become friends with the original designers of the games I loved playing, like “Spy Hunter,” “Robotron,” “Defender” and “Smash TV,’ ” he says.

Creating some of the world’s most popular video games was no small task. As deadlines approached, Podlasek logged some serious hours at his desk. “I turned my office into a makeshift dorm room with a pull-out futon, coffeemaker, alarm clock and a few changes of clothes,” he laughs. Podlasek was sometimes forced to call in artists to make improvements on their games on weekend nights, and he created his own concoction to help them focus: “I brewed some super-strong coffee with Diet Coke mixed in the water to try and sober them up,” he says.

The long hours Podlasek worked didn’t earn him any overtime compensation. “You either [create games] for the experience and resume building, or because of dedication to the team and the game, which was the case with the Mortal Kombat series,” he says.

Still, the perks that came with his job helped make those late hours worth it. After the creation and release of “Mortal Kombat: Deception,” Podlasek attended a launch event on the rooftop of the Standard Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. “There were enormous projection TVs and a giant Mortal Kombat logo shining on the building next door like the bat signal,” he laughs. Another memorable event involved collaborating with Mike Judge, creator of movies and TV shows like “Office Space” and “King of the Hill,” to create a Beavis & Butt-Head video game, a project that also involved Kurt Mitchell ’74, an artist, writer and illustrator. “We’d swap stories about Millikin and professor emeritus Marv Klaven, former head of the art department,” says Podlasek.

Podlasek says he learned several valuable skills at Millikin that helped him later in his career. “It sounds weird now, but back then there were only a few computers in the art lab because they were so expensive,” he says. “I liked spending hours of uninterrupted time learning all the tools and working on projects, so I had to develop my night owl skills.” Podlasek also met his wife, Karen Stegman Podlasek ’88, during his sophomore year. “[Our meeting] is a long, complicated story involving fire escapes and phone calls, but the short version is that we met at a party,” he laughs. “She’s an amazing woman with a great deal of patience for putting up with my years of strange hours and schedules.” The couple has two sons, fraternal twins Jack and Erik, 7. “Like most kids, they love video games, but they only get to play on weekends – and no Mortal Kombat fighting!”

by Carol Colby ’08

The complete article appeared in the winter 2008-09 issue of Millikin Quarterly magazine.

Johnson Higginbotham, Jennifer '84

Jennifer Johnson Higginbotham '84 is one of the fortunate few with a true passion for her chosen career. The 1984 Millikin graduate is an assistant director at Independence Center, a facility in St. Louis that offers a psychiatric rehabilitation program to adults with serious, persistent mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, manic-depression and depression. 

“Independence Center offers a non-traditional approach to rehab,” she says. “People who take part in our program are members of a clubhouse rather than a client or patient. We believe in membership — being needed, wanted and expected somewhere — and that’s what we provide.”

The model for the clubhouse program used by Independence Center began in the late 1940s when those with mental illness were being moved from the institution to the community, and it was discovered that many people had nowhere to go after being released. The focus at Independence Center is on abilities, strengths and talents rather than on the illness and its symptoms.

Higginbotham, a native of Pinckneyville, Ill., decided on a career in social work while she was studying psychology at Millikin. “I was flipping through graduate catalogs in Dr. Gromoll’s office [the late Dr. Henry Gromoll, professor of psychology] when I realized I didn’t want to be a psychologist or psychiatrist. With social work, there was a wider variety of opportunity,” she remembers.  After graduation from MU, she enrolled at Washington University in St. Louis to earn a master’s degree in social work. She did a practicum at Independence Center and has been there ever since.

“I am very passionate about what I do,” she says. “I believe I am one of those fortunate people who landed in the right place. I can’t see myself doing anything else. It’s a part of who I am.”

See the complete profile of Higginbotham in the Winter 2002-03 issue of the Millikin Quarterly magazine.

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Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL