Wes Scheller didn’t know he was starting a family tradition when he enrolled at Belleville Junior College in 1955. He just wanted to learn a trade and make more than $1 an hour bagging groceries.
But since that time, 18 of his children, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law and grandchildren have attended the school, now known as Southwestern Illinois College.
Making the daily trek to campus this semester is granddaughter Tyme Sampson, 16, of Maryville. She’s heard enough of Grandpa’s stories to know things have changed dramatically.
“It’s a lot bigger, and it has much more technology,” she said, sitting in the dining room of his historic two-story home in Belleville. “Classes are probably more advanced, too. We’ve just gotten so much further with science and math.”
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Tyme is part of the college’s Running Start program, which allows top students to finish high school while taking college classes.
SWIC consists of multiple buildings on a 180-acre campus with two gymnasiums, a theater, cafeteria, fitness center, art gallery and nature trail. But 60 years ago, it shared facilities with Belleville Township High School on West Main Street.
“It was good,” said Wes, 88. “I went to Wash U night school after that, and I didn’t have any problems.”
Today, some people call Wes “Monopoly man” because of his white hair and handlebar mustache. In those days, he was a young Air Force veteran taking advantage of the G.I. Bill to cover college costs after the Korean War.
There was a place called The Derby. It was about a block away from campus, on the South Belt, and they sold beer. That’s where (students) went to relax. Mostly, it was the ones who had been in the service and were over 21.
Wes Scheller on a Belleville Junior College hangout
His first semester at SWIC included drafting, rhetoric, chemistry, trigonometry and a little fun at The Derby.
“It was about a block away from campus, on the South Belt, and they sold beer,” he said. “That’s where (students) went to relax. Mostly, it was the ones who had been in the service and were over 21.”
After attending Washington University, Wes went on to work 40 years in engineering. He and his wife, Joan, reared 10 children.
Seven of those children — Paul, Larry, Gary and Jim Scheller and Susan Denby, Judy Buerck and Jean Sampson, Tyme’s mother — followed in Dad’s footsteps by attending SWIC. Daughters Barb Hubert, Christy Howenstein and Nancy Scheller did not.
Paul got more than an education on campus. He met his wife, Julie, in 1991.
“He was a baseball player, and I was a volleyball player,” said Julie, 45, of Maryville, now a seventh-grade teacher. “All the athletes kind of hung out in one area, right outside the gymnasium. We also ended up having a class together. I invited him to one of my volleyball games, and he came, but he brought one of his sisters, and I thought it was his girlfriend.”
Paul quickly corrected the mistake.
All the athletes kind of hung out in one area, right outside the gymnasium. We also ended up having a class together. I invited him to one of my volleyball games, and he came, but he brought one of his sisters, and I thought it was his girlfriend.
Julie Scheller on meeting her husband, Paul, at SWIC
The family’s other SWIC students included Jean’s husband, Adam Sampson; Gary’s wife, Rhonda Scheller; Barb’s husband, Rich Hubert; Larry’s sons, Mike and “Little” Larry Scheller; Little Larry’s wife, Lindsey Scheller; Jean’s son, Keenai Sampson; Barb’s son-in-law, Mike Sullivan; and Barb’s daughter-in-law, Alicia Hubert.
Like Paul and Julie, Little Larry and Lindsey found romance on campus.
Jean attended SWIC on a volleyball scholarship from 1979 to 1981, overcoming her lack of academic enthusiasm in high school. She gives the college credit for inspiring her to keep going for bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
“I did work-study in the library, and I thought the librarians were so smart,” she said. “They knew everything, and I thought, ‘That’s kinda cool.’ Then I got a volleyball scholarship at McKendree, and I was on my way.”
Jean taught business part time at SWIC before joining the full-time faculty at McKendree University.
“My dad (Rich Hubert) went to SWIC, and recently he was assistant coach for the women’s basketball team,” said Jay, 33, of Belleville. “Last year was his last year.”
Tyme enrolled at SWIC because of the Running Start program, not because of her family legacy, although she enjoyed seeing Schellers in sports photos on campus. Mainly, she liked the idea of having two years of college under her belt by the time she got her Collinsville High School diploma in 2019.
Tyme plans to major in business or economics in college.
“I’m looking at colleges in Florida because I like warmer weather,” she said.