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Jill O’Rourke

Connections Everywhere

By Barry Engelhardt

“Make connections with people. Get face-to-face and have conversations.”

Jill O’Rourke, a proud graduate of Vandalia High School (Class of 1985), often reminisces about her childhood, describing it as “idealistic.” Her memories are not of grand, defining moments but of the consistent, simple beauty that a childhood in Vandalia provided.

“I adored growing up in Vandalia. I often share my experiences with my children, and they always express their wish to have lived in my era of Vandalia,” Jill says with a laugh. “It was a time of pure, unadulterated joy and innocence.”

While Jill’s children see it as an era, one might wonder if it was more of a mindset. Jill grew up surrounded by friends and family, often spending weekends enveloped in the love and support of aunts, uncles, and cousins. “We just played,” she says, vividly describing lazy summer afternoons spent outside, climbing trees, burning leaves, and visiting lake lots. “Every weekend, we were with family, just celebrating whatever. Every Sunday, we knew there would be a party at somebody’s house. We were always together with friends and family.”

Jill suggests that while her family might not have had much, they had everything they needed and more by traditional standards. A pure and fun atmosphere filled with great traditions provided Jill with a rich childhood and an active high school career filled with homework, sports, and cheerleading.

Jill is the daughter of two proud Eastern Illinois University alumni. She says she is still close with her college roommate, Greta, also a Vandalia native. Greta was Jill’s best friend in high school, and they had been inseparable since birth, laughing and suggesting that they all but shared a crib.

Jill graduated with her master’s degree in communication disorders and sciences, which provided her with the education needed to work as a speech-language pathologist. She now works at Walkers Grove Elementary School (District 202) in Plainfield, Illinois.

While at Eastern, Jill met the man who would become her husband. Upon graduating, they both found jobs in the Chicago area, where they continue to live. Although she hasn’t lived in Vandalia since she was a teenager, Jill’s mother and sister recently moved back home. Valuing time with family, Jill tries to visit monthly.

“It’s just like the floodgates open,” says Jill. “It’s like, holy cow. Going back to Vandalia is just so emotional. I go by all my old homes and the school, and my friends are still there. It’s really great.”

With two children who recently entered the workforce, a third working on his master’s degree, and her time spent working in the school system, Jill has a front-row seat observing children transition from high school to college and into young adulthood. She believes that, within reason, patience and experiencing failure are two of the best ways for children to learn and grow.

Ultimately, she would give today’s youth the same advice she suggests to her children: to connect.

“I would say make connections with people. Get face-to-face and have conversations,” says Jill. “Ask questions. People love to talk about themselves, so go and meet them. Just have some conversations, talk to people, and make connections. You’ll learn from them. I just think it’s a lost art; kids today don’t always know how to have conversations with people.”

Jill O’Rourke’s reflections on her childhood in Vandalia, her professional journey, and her advice to the younger generation paint a picture of a life enriched by strong community ties and meaningful connections. Her story is a testament to the enduring values instilled by the Vandalia School District and the supportive environment it fosters.

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