The list of Illini alumni who’ve gone on to fame in life beyond the athletic fields and arenas is long and distinguished.
Former Normal University High School basketball standout John Felmley definitely belongs on the University of Illinois’ honor roll for career achievement.
Born on this date 126 years ago — June 27, 1895 — he was the son of David and Auta Felmley. His father served as the president of Illinois State Normal University from 1900 until his death in 1930.
After graduating from high school, John matriculated to the University of Illinois. He lettered in 1917 for coach Ralph Jones’ Big Ten championship-winning Illini basketball team, but then was called to military service in the Navy during World War I. He came back to letter again in 1920 as a forward, but it was a rocky season for him health-wise. UI’s yearbook, The Illio, reported that Felmley’s illness from the Spanish flu sidelined him at midseason and caused the 1920 Illini to fall off sharply after a 5-0 start and finish 9-4. His basketball teammates included legendary stars Chuck Carney, Tug Wilson and Burt Ingwersen. Felmley also served as captain of Illinois’ tennis team.
Following his graduation from Illinois in 1920 with a degree in architectural engineering, Felmley joined Bloomington’s Simmons-Dick Company. He was vice president and secretary of the J.L. Simmons Company from 1926-35.
In 1936, Felmley formed his own company and constructed numerous building throughout central Illinois. He was joined in business by Champaign’s Ray Dickerson in 1952 and the company changed its name to Felmley-Dickerson.
Tragically, Felmley’s life ended on April 11, 1958, when he drowned in a boating accident in South Carolina. Police reported that Felmley was making an adjustment to his boat’s outboard motor when he lost his balance and fell into 50 feet of water. He and his wife had traveled to South Carolina to attend the wedding of their son.
Felmley-Dickerson was eventually joined in business in 1947 by Felmley’s nephew, James Meek, a UIUC civil engineering graduate. Other administrators who joined the company included former Illini basketball alum Richard Foley in 1943, UIUC grad and current company chairman John Meek in 1973, Missouri Western University grad Jason Brewer in 2001 and Purdue University graduate James Meek II in 2009. The latter now serves as the company’s president.
Felmley-Dickerson’s major projects in Bloomington have included the State Farm Insurance buildings, Wesley Methodist Church, Illinois Wesleyan University’s Memorial Center and Bloomington High School. A Bloomington newspaper article in 1958 reported that the company’s Dickerson projects had totaled more than $75 million worth of construction.
Because of Felmley’s association as an alumnus of the University of Illinois, the company also had a major hand in numerous UIUC campus projects, including the iconic Assembly Hall. A list of some of Felmley-Dickerson’s most notable construction at the Urbana-Champaign campus:
➜ Noyes Lab/Chemistry Building (1939)
➜ Electrical Engineering Building (1949)
➜ Bevier Hall/Home Economics Building (1957)
➜ Peabody Drive Residence Halls (including Scott, Snyder and Weston) (1961)
➜ Assembly Hall (1963)
➜ South addition of the Illini Union Building (1963)
➜ Roger Adams Laboratory renovation (1971)
➜ McKinley Health Center renovation (2002)
➜ Law Building classroom revitalization (2020)
➜ Education Building’s O’Leary Learning Center (2020)
➜ Carle/Illinois College of Medicine renovation (2021)
Sunday: Jerry Mettille, basketball (76)
Monday: Mike Bellamy, football (53)
Tuesday: Josh Beetham, football (20)
Wednesday: Amer Delic, tennis (39)
Thursday: Allison McGrath, track & field (22)
Friday: Ashley Plummer, football (60)
Saturday: Kelvin Atkins, football (61)
By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore (Third Edition now available in stores). Get more Illini birthdays, trivia and historical tidbits daily on Twitter @IlliniLegends and @Spartifacts2021. His website is www.SportsLLL.com.