The university community is invited to gather at 11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 28, in the auditorium of Altgeld Hall to remember the life and spirit of Anne Birberick.
Those who knew Anne well recall her as an outstanding scholar, an administrator devoted to students and someone with a zest for life and an unquenchable desire to travel, have new experiences and meet new friends.
She died June 16, 2021, after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Born and raised in Mesa, Ariz., Anne was passionate about literature and travel from a young age. After studying English Literature and French at Arizona State University, she pursued and earned her master’s and Ph.D. in French from the University of Virginia. Her specialization was 17th century French literature, particularly fairytales and the work of Jean de La Fontaine.
She spent a year teaching at the Universite’ d’Orleans, in France, and one year teaching at the University of Virginia before she joined the faculty at NIU in 1992 as an assistant professor in the foreign language department. She became chair of the department in 2004, holding that position for six years before joining the provost’s office in 2011.
In her role as vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs she managed a remarkably diverse portfolio, said Chris McCord, who first got to know her when he served as dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and later worked with her in the Office of the Provost.
No matter Bierberick’s role, he said, she always put students first.
“Any time a student had an issue, she worked hard to resolve it,” McCord said. “She was never one to say, ‘I don’t have time for this,’ or ‘That’s the rule; you have to follow it.’ The student didn’t always get what they wanted, but Anne always tried to do all she could for them.”
Murali Krishnamurthi, who worked with Anne for most of her seven years in the provost’s office, agreed. “Her legacy is really her love of students; she took her job very seriously. Whether as a teacher or as an administrator, she focused on helping students. That was her joy,” he said.
That trait helped propel her into the vanguard of efforts to increase the university’s commitment to student success.
“She cared very deeply about making sure that students had the support they needed to succeed, and that the students and the institution shared responsibility for their success,” said NIU President Lisa Freeman, who was provost during much of Anne’s tenure in that office. “She planted the seeds for things that we are just now seeing come to fruition.”
That commitment spanned the full spectrum of students, Freeman said. “She wasn’t an elitist. Both honors and CHANCE are special-admit programs, but she never considered one more important than the other. I think she laid the groundwork for the understanding of what it means to be equity-minded.”
While those who worked with Anne can tell tales of the many causes she championed on campus, they also remember her as a close friend who loved travel, live music, dogs, good food, good wine and good times.
“In the Office of the Provost, we had a wide range of personalities, but Anne always found ways to bring people together,” said Freeman, who recalled how at charity auctions (usually for TAILS Humane Society, where Anne served on the board) Anne would make sure she won the bidding for a night of bowling. She would then invite people ranging from those who regularly competed in tournaments, to those who rarely picked up a bowling ball, and make it a fun and memorable night for all.
Freeman says that Anne’s eclectic tastes were also reflected in the music she loved. One weekend, the duo traveled to Ravinia for shows by Pink Martini (which plays classical, Latin and jazz music), the von Trapp Family Singers and Debbie Harry. Krishnamurthi accompanied Anne to one of her last live musical outings, an ABBA tribute band at the Egyptian Theater, where she gleefully sang along to all of the songs.
Perhaps nothing thrilled Anne more than traveling the world. Her destinations included many Huskies football road games, Norway, Chile, Easter Island, South Africa, Vietnam, Italy, China, South Korea, Costa Rica and, of course, her beloved France.
“She had a real passion for all things French,” McCord said. “In 2012, my brother, sister and I took our mother to Paris to celebrate her 75th birthday, and Anne happened to be there at the same time. I have fond memories of her playing tour guide for us. It was a real pleasure being shown around by someone with such a depth of knowledge about the city and its culture.”
Anne was always eager to share her adventures. Freeman recalls that Anne made a point of bringing back small souvenirs to colleagues who rarely traveled, accompanying each gift with a note that explained its significance.
Krishnamurthi said that despite Anne’s fondness for far-flung lands and her roots in the Southwest, she chose to stay in DeKalb because of her love for the friends she had made here.
Krishnamurthi and Anne shared an admiration of French cinema, and she even convinced him to take four semesters of French to help deepen his appreciation of the films. And while both loved to travel, their schedules never allowed them to go abroad together – but Krishnamurthi always indulged his friend’s sweet tooth with candy or chocolates he found during his journeys.
The thing that will stand out in his memory, Krishnamurthi said, are the simple acts of kindness that defined Anne.
“Every single day, she would come by my office and ask, ‘How is Murali today?’ Even up until the end of her illness, she would text me every day to check up on me,” he said. “To me, her legacy will be how much she cared about her friends, her students, animals, NIU and the community.”
Anne is preceded in passing by her father Donald Birberick, her mother Delphine Birberick, her grand-nephew Oscar Griffin and her beloved dog, Cody. She is survived by her brother Richard, niece Brittany and nephews Richie and Donny. Her dog, Payson, has joined the family of Lisa Freeman and Doug Rose.
Anne’s family asks that those wishing to make a gift in her honor consider visiting the Sympathy Store and contributing toward the planting of a tree.