Longtime University of Illinois and Illinois 4-H supporter Lila Jeanne Eichelberger was honored at a ceremony Nov. 28 at 4-H Memorial Camp near Monticello during the dedication of a 4,000 square-foot hands-on, multi-purpose learning facility, which bears the name Eichelberger Hall.
The building is one of many gifts she and her late husband, Paul, have made to the camp, including donations to support three cabins. She also funds college scholarships for 4-H members. Eichelberger has been a continuous donor to U of I athletics and 4-H for more than 50 years, said Angie Barnard, Illinois 4-H Foundation executive director. Her gifts include funding for the Eichelberger Woman’s Softball Field on the Urbana campus.
“Her legacy is the young people she helps,” Barnard added.
Curt Sinclair, camp director at 4-H Memorial Camp for 25 years, said he shares a common goal with Eichelberger. “We are intertwined by our common belief in the incredible power 4-H camping programs can have in the lives of young people, both campers and counselors.”
Lisa Diaz, U of I Extension assistant dean and 4-H program leader in Illinois added, “4-H in Illinois has a long, proud tradition, and coming to 4-H Memorial Camp is a pentacle event. This is a place where youth gain a sense of belonging; where they’re developing their independence, pursuing their passion and stretching to do things they’ve never done before. They’re going home with lifelong memories and lifetime friends.”
The land for the camp was gifted to 4-H in 1944 by Robert Allerton as a memorial to Illinois 4-H service men and women who lost their lives in World War II. More than 8,000 guests stay at the camp each year, with camps, workshops, trainings, and team building events taking place 190 days out of the year.
“The thread that holds my life together is 4-H,” Eichelberger said. A youngster during the depression, Eichelberger credits her parents with creating opportunities for her to thrive. Her mother was a 4-H leader, and club meetings gave the Mason County 4-H member an opportunity to learn while she socialized with other youth. Her love of camping began as a 4-H camper and counselor in western Illinois.
A bright student, Eichelberger received two degrees from the University of Illinois and stayed at the 4-H House cooperative on campus. She taught home economics in Champaign County.
Many of the guests attending the ribbon cutting spoke of their admiration for the woman they call “Shorty.”
“Shorty never meets a stranger,” said Marcia Seibert, who first met Eichelberger on a bus trip to an Illini football game.
Barbara and Stu Clark live next to Eichelberger, and each morning at 6:30 a.m. there is a knock on their door from the 90-year-old neighbor whose energy and enthusiasm they admire. “Her loyalty to the university and to 4-H is inspiring,” Barbara said.
Barnard praised Eichelberger’s generous spirit and caring compassion to help young people, whether at 4-H camp, at 4-H House, or on the softball field. “We’re going to keep growing 4-H because of this woman and her generous gifts,” Barnard said.