The swearing in of Northern Illinois University’s newest trustee, Wheeler G. Coleman, ended in unusual fashion Thursday.
It was sealed with a kiss.
Perhaps it wasn’t all that unusual, considering that the person administering the oath of office was his wife, the Hon. Sharon Johnson Coleman, a federal judge serving the Northern District of Illinois.
Fittingly, she recalled, that peck came almost 32 years to the day (well, 32 years and two days, for those keeping score) since the couple shared their first kiss, at the McDonald’s on West Lincoln Highway in DeKalb.
“We were a really low key couple. Most of our dates were in the library,” she said with a laugh, recalling that the romance blossomed from a friendship that began in a class back when she was studying for a degree in history and he was looking to earn a degree in computer science.
She graduated in 1981, he in 1983.
“Not only was he this cute, tall, young man with a great voice and a great smile, he was also the most determined and focused person that I had ever met, and have ever met,” she told the board of trustees, prior to administering the oath.
“I say that especially knowing that he was not coming from college educated parents parents, but from parents who had raised their kids in the West Side projects and on the South Side of Chicago. But they understood that their children’s future could be more, and that education was the way.”
The two have come a long way since dates meant textbooks and hamburgers.
While Sharon serves as a federal judge in Chicago, Wheeler is the vice president and chief technology officer for Health Care Service Corporation (formerly known as Blue Cross/Blue Shield Illinois), one of the largest health insurance providers in the country.
The two have supported each other every step of the way along the journey.
“I thank God for Northern, because Northern brought her into my life,” Wheeler says. “I met her here and we’ve been married 29 years. My wife is my best friend.”
So, when the topic of a swearing in ceremony came up, Wheeler knew immediately who he would be looking in the eye when he raised his right hand. “When I heard what today was all about, and what we had to do, I said there is no doubt that my wife is going to swear me in. That is a must.”
It was a proud moment for them both.
“It’s great that I get to do this for him,” Sharon said just before the ceremony. “He has held the Bible for me and stood by my side through passing the bar, being sworn in as a lawyer, as a judge of the circuit court and the appellate court. It’s really a neat thing that I will be swearing him into something he feels so passionate about.”
Of course, she shares his passion for NIU.
“I’m excited about where NIU is going,” she says. “It’s thrilling that we get to be a part of it, but I’ll be in the background … whispering from time to time, my opinions as an alum.”
The Colemans, who live in Chicago, are parents to a 23-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter.