Jan and John Hess at NIU Huskie pregame reception
There are two qualities John Hess' mother succeeded in instilling in her son: gratitude and humility. John says his mother put it best when she said: "Self-praise stinks." Throughout his life and in his career and marriage, those words have served him well.
As John and his wife, Jan, celebrate their 51st year of marriage, they continue to demonstrate gratitude. They recently made a commitment through their estate to remember NIU—a place they believe granted them many opportunities in life.
After graduating from high school in Freeport, Illinois, in 1948, John worked on the railroad until he was drafted in 1951. He served in Austria during the Korean War until 1953.
"I was engaged in troop information and education and was tasked with helping GIs get high school diplomas and general education degrees, so I got interested in education," he says. "I decided after getting out that I would pursue it."
Having grown up in northern Illinois, John says the decision to pursue his education degree in DeKalb was easy.
"It was the logical place for me to pursue a teaching degree," he says. "I ended up attending NIU when it was known as Northern Illinois State Teachers College, then Northern Illinois State College and finally NIU. The rest is history, so to speak."
John graduated from NIU in 1958 with a Bachelor of Science in geography and in 1969 with a Doctor of Education.
After graduation, John's first job was teaching at a junior high school in Aurora, where he later served as assistant principal. It was at that school where John met Jan, a fellow teacher, in the faculty lounge.
"We had students in common and they went nuts when we got married," Jan says. "They would follow us around and sit behind us in the movies. It was a lot of fun actually. And we have kept on having fun ever since."
John spent the rest of his career at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, where he and Jan remain today. Jan says they eat at Panera each morning, where she's proud of how many former colleagues and students say hello to "Dr. Hess."
Because his mother was not an advocate of self-praise, to this day, John finds it difficult to pinpoint his achievements.
"If you are good, people will recognize it," he says. "I have become reluctant to talk about my own accomplishments, but I guess having had a successful teaching career as a teacher and administrator, for me, that is my greatest accomplishment." John retired in 2000. Since then, he and Jan have traveled around the world, often through the NIU Alumni Association's travel program.
"I am very grateful for the education I got from NIU, and I hope today's student is grateful for this opportunity," he says. "It opens so many doors for a person to have an education from NIU. The degree has been beneficial for me, and I am filled with gratitude for that, so I wanted to give back."