Janet Ernst '78

Janet Ernst


Millikin major: Sociology/Psychology 

  • Other degrees:
    • Master’s degree in human development counseling, Sangamon State University (now the University of Illinois at Springfield), 1984

Current employment: I am a retired vocational rehabilitation counselor (for people with disabilities) for the state of Illinois. Did not hire on with state until 1985, so for seven years prior to that, I worked at two local intermediate care facilities for residents who had been discharged from state mental health institutions. From there, I went to our local mental health center as a case manager. While working for the state, I did moonlight for a couple of years helping the social workers at St. Mary's Hospital in Decatur, completing social assessments, etc., in the evening that they were unable to complete during the daytime hours.

Why did you choose MU?
I am embarrassed to say, especially since receiving this prestigious award, but MU was not my first choice. Although many family members had attended and loved the setting and school, and I had friends already there and some that were planning to attend, I still felt like I should go away. I had been at small local Catholic schools my whole life and had close friends going to St Louis, so I felt the thing to do was branch out and head there. Well, one thing led to another — got my heart broken by my high school sweetheart who was still here, eventually contracted a pretty severe case of mononucleosis, etc., and basically needed some time to regroup and heal, both emotionally and physically. And what better way to do that than during winter term at Millikin (back then if you were not participating in winter term there were no classes ‘til mid-February)! So by February, I was pretty much raring to go and embraced MU wholeheartedly. And then thought, "Well, why didn't I just do this from the get-go?!" Side note: There were five of us who went to St. Louis together from St. Teresa High School. Of those five, only one remained and four of us came back and either graduated from or attended MU. Guess there are lessons to be learned from broken hearts and mono, right? And it all happens for a reason!

What activities did you participate in as a student at MU? 
I did not participate much while at MU (that’s one reason I wanted to be sure and give back later). Since I was a "townie" and lived at home and drove my mom's car, I decided that pledging a sorority and becoming a little sister to a fraternity was the way to get to know folks and become involved. I was a member of Delta Delta Delta and an ATO little sis, but truly had friends in all [the Greek organizations] and enjoyed them all. Because I wanted to eventually reside on campus in the Delta house and have a car, Mom said "you will work." So I basically worked dietary/kitchen in a nursing home 20-25 hours a week. Between the work load, full-time classes, being active socially on campus and still connecting with Decatur, I did not get too involved. However, I embraced as many sporting events as I could, as well as sorority/fraternity exchanges. And I was the Greek Goddess in the spring of 1978. Gotta love that year — disco lives and “Grease!”

What are some of your accomplishments since graduating from Millikin?

  • I have served as president & co-president for MU’s Delta Delta Delta alumnae chapter.
  • I have served on the St. Teresa Alumni Board in the past and am currently serving on the local Catholic Charities board.
  • I also have served on the now defunct Wear to Work board.
  • I have volunteered for the awesome Decatur Celebration and also at Heritage Behavioral Health (formerly Decatur Mental Health).
  • Assisted with fundraisers for the MS Society.
  • Volunteered for Special Olympics and supported Macon Resources Inc. (now MRI) over the years by both attending and volunteering at their functions.
  • I also was a member of H.O.G. (Harley Owners Group) and served as the Ladies of Harley officer for a couple of terms.
  • Volunteered via the YMCA (great tune, and I did see the awesome Village People at Kirkland in May — such fun!).
  • Volunteered to work some of the weightlifting meets that were held both at the Y and at other locales.
  • Some outside involvement with S.A.I.L. (Soyland Access to Independent Living) and the Macon-Piatt Special Education district, but primarily involved through work.
  • Volunteered for some United Cerebral Palsy and Knights of Columbus functions, as well.
  • I supported Gallery 510 fundraisers and helped with one or two.

When not supporting the Big Blue, what is your favorite thing to do?
I enjoy road trips with my husband on the Harley, socializing with family and friends, attempting to spoil my three new great-nephews, dancing and listening to music, attending concerts, playing with my cats, taking walks, exploring both inside and outside, and volunteering at the following: Macon County Animal Care and Control Center; Macon County Humane Society; my other beloved alma mater, Decatur St. Teresa High School; and Decatur Catholic Charities.

Who is your most memorable MU professor or staff member and why?
There truly were many, but I must admit that history with [the late] Dr. Graham Provan [professor emeritus of history] was never a dull moment — quite interesting and at the same time, educational with side lessons in grammar and punctuation! And, of course, all of the behavioral sciences instructors over at the Soc/Psych Annexes (White Houses) where I spent the majority of my time. Without their guidance, I would not have made it out in the world of social work. 

Also, I would be very remiss if I failed to mention Dr. Jan Devore, retired director of alumni relations and former dean of students. While I know we are close in age and she came to MU shortly after I graduated, I am so thrilled and honored that I had the opportunity to get to know and work with her, even though I had moved on to alum status. And I know she would have been a fave had we been there at the same time. I must credit her and her dedication to MU for fostering and continuing to foster my involvement as an alum. She was/is a huge factor in affording me the chance to give back later in life. Since Jan moved on, Mandi Landacre Podeschi ’02, senior director of development, has done a great job of continuing to nurture my involvement. Plus, she nominated me for this wonderful award. Jan nominated my mom for one several years back, and she won, too! (I would still think they were pretty awesome anyway, but, well, you know … )

I have numerous other professors and staff I will be thanking when I receive my award. I could not have done it without them all, but there are far too many to mention here.

What is your most memorable MU experience?
Again, there are so many that it truly is very difficult to pick just one. I must admit, though, that it was quite an honor to win the title of Greek Goddess in the spring of 1978 during Greek Week. While it was not voted on by the entire student body since it was a Greek function, and while it was one big party, it still felt like a scaled-down version of Homecoming Queen & that felt pretty darn good to me! And winning the Big Splash contest (also during Greek Week) off the high dive at Griswold was pretty cool, too! Very brave to don the swimsuit in front of all, but contact lenses were out so “if I can't see them, they can't see me!” Those Mt. Zion boys at the Surf Club every summer helped me perfect that can-opener form, so I ended up winning. My athletic claim to fame other than disco roller-skating.

My most memorable Winter Term class was senior year. While most seniors were off until the second semester in February, I was playing catch-up from having mono freshman year (when I had to stay in bed most of Winter Term)! I took Fitness for Life that was taught by the coaches and headed up by [the late] Ralph Allan [former chair of the physical education department] and Carl Poelker ’68 [former head football coach]. I must admit it was a bit intimidating because there were mostly males and athletes in the class, and then there was me! However, after the initial shock & soreness wore off, I felt great and continued to run for exercise afterward. Got lots of compliments when folks came back to MU in February, so that was an added bonus (besides the better health). Needless to say, it didn't quite last for life, but it did for a while and you never know when I might pick it back up again and get in the best shape ever?! Then I would have MU to thank for it all.

What is one concept you learned at Millikin that you use regularly?
I think I utilize all of the ideas/notions/thoughts mentioned in the next item. I have used them in the past and continue to use them today. Can't say whether all were learned while at MU, but they certainly were further cultivated there and continue to be put to good use.

What advice do you give to current Millikin students about preparing for life after graduation?
Some of these I stole from an editorial in the Decatur Herald & Review a while back, but most are mine and I believe in all of them:

  • Graduation isn't so much a piece of paper as it is recognition of moving from one step in life to another, taking lessons learned and applying them toward a new opportunity and often, a new challenge.
  • The key is not to shy away from either opportunity or challenge but to embrace it, knowing that mistakes will be made along the way, but hopefully they are mistakes we learn from!
  • Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted.
  • Wait long enough and people will surprise, and often, impress you.
  • Help others.
  • Have fun.
  • Never give up.
  • It's the rare person who says, "Oh my God, you were right!"
  • Show gratitude.
  • Be good at something; it makes you valuable.
  • Work hard.
  • Find the best in everybody.
  • Be prepared, for luck is truly where preparation meets opportunity.  
  • And remember, time is on your side. You have your whole life ahead of you!

Anything else you would like to share with the Millikin community?
I am struck by the word “community,” of which one definition is “fellowship.” One definition of “fellowship” is “the quality or state of being camaraderie.” As mentioned earlier, here in Decatur I have always been a part of the Catholic community; i.e., schools, parish activities, KC Hall, etc. In that community, as with others, there has always been a great sense and feeling of camaraderie. Even people who are outside the community and looking in comment on and are impressed with this. This has always given me a great sense of pride. Maybe because Millikin is a smaller university, I don't know, but I have that same sense of camaraderie and pride in being part of the MU community. How fortunate and thankful am I to have such a wonderful source of fellowship, not once, but at least twice in my lifetime! A great big THANK YOU!