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NIU remembers Larry Schlam

March 16, 2015
Larry Schlam

Larry Schlam

The Northern Illinois University College of Law lost Professor Larry Schlam, one of its academic patriarchs, Saturday, March 7. He was 72.

His absence leaves more than an empty office in the faculty suite of the NIU College of Law, but also an empty hole in the hearts of his NIU Law family.

“Professor Schlam is one of the most important figures in the law school’s history – the law school would not be what it is today without him,” said Professor Robert Jones.

Jones recalled how Schlam befriended him the moment he stepped on campus eight years ago. “I owe a tremendous amount to the support and encouragement he gave me over those years. Throughout it all, he was brilliant, insightful, resilient, vibrant, witty, iconoclastic and free-spirited. I will miss my friend very much,” Jones said.

Passion for students

Schlam’s passion for his students ran bedrock deep as evidenced in a recent quote on why he loved teaching.

“The invaluable joy of meeting new, young, idealistic and highly motivated new students each and every year, discovering their unique talents and interesting personalities, and watching them evolve into successful professionals, gives me great satisfaction and, it seems, a sense of ‘eternal youth.’ These are some of the reasons why I continue to dedicate myself to trying to impart my interesting – and often meaningful – experiences and insights to our students.”

He often discussed his love for teaching and the importance of giving back through pro bono service with NIU Law Dean Jennifer Rosato Perea.

“He told me that his students were the reason that he got up in the morning, and he was always energized by his classes. He wanted to instill in students the same dedication toward service that he possessed, and did so informally in hallway conversations and more formally through the opportunities he created for students as director of Pro Bono Initiatives,” she added.

Current students who expected to see Professor Schlam teaching class today following a week-long spring break instead honored him during a remembrance breakfast hosted by the Student Bar Association (SBA) and deans.

“Professor Schlam’s passionate teaching and continuous support for his current and former students exemplified what NIU Law faculty are known for,” SBA President Alyssa Freeman (3L) said. “The College of Law will not be the same without him.”

Passion for music

Photo of a jukeboxMusic was yet another passion. He loved everything from blues and jazz to the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. In addition, Schlam loved to sing and used the classroom to recruit students for the Schlam-Tones, his 1960s doo-wop style a capella music group.

Jason Christopoulos (’11), Ben Meyer (’11), and Zach Glascock (’11) were members of the Schlam-Tones during their time in law school from 2008 to 2011. They joined the group following a casting call in their first-year Con Law course with Professor Schlam, where they eventually made the cut.

“We were not the first Schlam-Ttones,” said Christopoulos, who revered Professor Schlam more as a life mentor than a professor. “There had been several groups over the past 30-plus years, but we were the ones that took it the furthest and the only ones to record an album. It was a blast. Professor Schlam was truly proud of this accomplishment.”

The Schlam-Tones were dedicated to their music, Christopoulos said, practicing a couple hours a week in the hallway and often serenading students and staff that walked by. He recalled Professor Schlam saying on occasion, “There is no greater pleasure on earth than nailing a three-part harmony.” Christopoulos didn’t quite understand it until one day during a great practice session where they “nailed it” and shivers ran down his spine.

They sang for the joy of it, even performing during the Class of 2011 Commencement.

Passion for service

Swen Parson Hall

Swen Parson Hall,
home of the NIU College of Law

Originally from New York, Schlam came to Chicago in the late 1960s and began his legal career working in poverty-stricken communities addressing economic development issues, criminal and police problems and improving neighborhood community services.

He was an advocate for the youth and helped to expand law school clinical programs concerning youth law.

Tapped for his expertise, Schlam served on numerous committees and boards including a recent appointment by former Gov. Pat Quinn to the Illinois Guardianship & Advocacy Commission.

Schlam spent nearly 50 years in the legal profession and academia with more than 40 of those years at Northern Illinois University College of Law, where he was one of the original faculty members. Schlam never stopped challenging his students to think critically and was a great source of institutional wisdom.

Dan Reynolds, a friend and colleague for over 30 years reflected, “Larry was part of the furniture of the place – the last of the college’s active faculty who were ‘present at the creation’ of NIU College of Law, some decades ago. He was always his own man; always spoke his own mind. Losing that voice and that link to the institution’s past marks a major moment for us.”

Celebration of life

A Celebration of Life for Professor Schlam will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, April 9, at Fitzgerald Funeral Home & Crematory at 1860 S. Mulford Road in Rockford.

In addition, the College of Law will host an event in his honor from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, April 20, at Buddy Guy’s Legends, 700 S. Wabash Ave. in Chicago. Additional information will be posted as the dates approach.

For those who would like to share their fond memories of Professor Schlam, email them to [email protected] to be shared with his family and friends and posted, along with current sentiments, to his memorial Web page.