2007 ICC Lifetime Achievement Award:
Elisa C. Denja
Note: This citation was written by LeaAnn
Osburn, who refers to herself as "I" in the following.
There are those individuals whose contributions to the Classics
are seen and recognized far and wide. There are also those
individuals who prefer to serve the Classics behind the scenes, in
silence, frequently not being recognized, but the work of these
quiet classicists is what allows the gears and wheels of our
profession to run smoothly and continually.
Our honoree is one of these unassuming classicists without whom the
rest of us would have a much harder job to do. After obtaining an
undergraduate degree in Latin, our honoree went to Columbia to do
graduate work, specifically so that she could study under Gilbert
Highet. Later she obtained her MA in Latin from Loyola University of
Chicago where she was first the protégé and later the long time
friend of another ICC classicist, Father Raymond V. Schoder at whose
bedside she stayed when he was near the end of his life.
To our honoree, Elisa Centa Denja, family is everything. She cared
for an ailing spouse for many years, now she cares for her elderly
father on weekends at his home in Michigan (by the way he turned 100
last week), and of course she takes care of her grandchildren some
of whom you can see at the back of this room.
My first introduction to our honoree was when I was the local chair
for the ICC convention in 1977 and she was doing the work of taking
registrations from members. Somehow whatever was needed for ICC to
run smoothly that year, she took that on even when it had nothing to
do with registration. At that time she was teaching mythology
classes at Loyola University of Chicago at night as her children
were young then and she continued to teach those night classes for
some twenty or so years.
But family is not just a matter of relatives for Elisa. Starting in
1985 and continuing for fourteen years Elisa taught at the Baker
Demonstration School and the people there were her Baker family. She
presented at ACL several times about the classical extravaganzas
that were held at Baker. I also hear that once she and Rickie Crown
short order togaed 75 middle schoolers for a n event at the school.
The Latin Pedagogy Workshop is also held at Baker and for many years
Elisa was there each summer helping with registration, making sure
doors were unlocked at the right places and times, and obtaining
dollies for those who needed them.
By the mid-1980’s Elisa served as secretary of the Illinois
Classical Conference for a number of years and so the Illinois
Classical Conference became her family too. It was during these
years that ICC celebrated its 50th anniversary with Elisa making
sure that all went smoothly. She also kept the notes faithfully—so
faithfully that a decade later when I asked her a question about
some previous ICC business, she said, “Wait. I have that in my
secretary notes in the Augur.”Elisa knew where that ten year old
Augur was and sent me a copy quickly, as is her want.
Some years later, when ICC was meeting in Rockford, at the 60th
anniversary of ICC if my memory is right, and the guest speaker was
David Daube, an elderly, distinguished professor from out of state,
Elisa made sure that this individual got to every session and meal
he wanted to attend. Whether driving him around the campus or
walking with him to his destination, Elisa was by his side, helping
him as she has helped so many of us. How fitting it is that today at
the 70th anniversary of ICC, we are honoring this long serving
Eventually the Illinois Certamen League was established and given
its link to the ICC, this became still another of Elisa’s families.
Elisa was always there when the certamen meets of the north shore
group met and later, after she retired, she made sure that the
certamen meets went smoothly by becoming one of the regional
directors and by writing all those questions, and by sending notices
of the time and date of the meets to the teachers. Needless to say,
when I needed help running the annual Loyola Certamen Meet, Elisa
volunteered to organize that event too.
After retiring from Baker Demonstration school, along with Rickie
Crown she established an MAT program there for Latin teachers and to
this day still shares the teaching responsibilities for that
program. In her career Elisa has taught high school students in
North Chicago, middle school students at Baker Demonstration school,
and university students at Loyola University of Chicago. But for
many years in addition to all these teaching responsiblities, Elisa
also taught correspondence courses for the Northwestern gifted and
talented program, taking phone calls from these students day and
night, always patiently answering their questions.
In retirement, Elisa is one of the three chairs of the Illinois
Certamen League but she is also still teaching her correspondence
courses and the MAT course and does some editing jobs for Bolchazy-Carducci
I have no doubt missed mentioning something that Elisa has done. I
have not missed, however, what a vital part of the Illinois
Classical Conference and of the classics profession she is. Elisa
Denja, please come and receive ICC’s Lifetime Achievement Award.