Leaving Their Mark: Former Illini Athletes Jill and Kelly Mark Make a Lasting Impact on Alma Mater

By Mike Pearson

Count Kelly and Jill Mark among University of Illinois alumni who have stepped forward and given back to their alma mater.

Due to their generous donation, a special section of Ubben’s expanded basketball facility will soon be known as the Mark Family Women’s Locker Room and Team Lounge.

Jill (Estey) Mark broke a program record of 550 assists
during his time competing for the Fighting Illini.

When asked why they decided to give back, Kelly, a former runner and hurdler for the Illinois Track and Field team, and Jill, a record playmaker for the basketball program. UI women’s ball, wanted to give back to where it all started for them and hopefully make others pay forward and give back to Illinois.

Former Jill Estey was recruited from the University of Illinois at Plymouth Salem High School in Michigan in the late 1980s by coach Laura Golden, and ended her career in 1993 under the guidance of the ‘Coach Kathy Lindsey. She greatly appreciates what the two women have done for her during her career.

“I chose Illinois for their outstanding engineering program and the opportunity to play for Coach Golden at a top athletic institution. I was fortunate during my basketball career to have excellent support coaches in Coach Golden and Coach Lindsey. ”

It was this world-class training in mechanical engineering that helped Jill land a job with the Ford Motor Company in her native state. Nowadays, Jill spends her time running her web design business in Chicagoland, Jill Mark Design, which specializes in personal websites and small business.

On the pitch, she performed spectacularly, handing out a record 550 assists so teammates like Mandy Cunningham, Sarah Sharp and Kris Dupps could score baskets.

It was Jill’s basketball skills that first caught the attention of her future husband. Kelly tells the story.

Kelly Mark head shot
Kelly Mark during her time on
the Illini track and field team.

“After training (on track) some teammates and I went to IMPE to play basketball,” he said. “On the last court, the girls ‘basketball team was playing a pickup match against a bunch of guys. I saw Jill playing for five minutes and said to a friend next to me’ You see this woman… I want to marry her. ‘ About a month later, we met in a sorority / fraternity mixer at Joe’s Bar before the Ohio State football game in 1991… and the rest is history. “

Kelly, a product of Batavia High School, understood the value of his education as a business marketer, but he maintains athletics was at the heart of his personality.

“I was a kid who walked in and broke my ass, worked as hard as possible to try to be good, but I never really got to college level,” he said. . “Track and field is a great teacher for life when it comes to being knocked down and getting up, being trained, learning from mistakes and focusing on improving. It has always been. at the heart of who Jill and I are. “

After earning his MBA from Harvard University, Kelly moved to Motorola where he most recently oversaw the company’s global services and software operations. Last summer, he retired after 22 years, allowing him to spend more time with Jill and her family while their kids go to college, travel and enjoy the outdoors.

When someone asks Kelly where he attended school, a tour of his office shows his pride in the University of Illinois. “It’s Illinois that counts. That’s what started us. It’s the cauldron that created our family and everything we’ve accomplished in life together.”

Kelly and Jill Mark cheered on the 1993 Illini football team to victory in Michigan.
Kelly and Jill Mark cheering on 1993
The Illini football team to victory in Michigan.

Jill says she is thankful that she and her husband can help improve the experience of future Illini basketball players a bit with their gift.

“We wanted to do something that was memorable for us,” she said. “Being able to give back to the program that has given me so much means a lot. Back then we had nothing close to the facilities they have now. I hope our donation will allow the athletes the opportunity to ‘being in an environment is supportive and experiencing something that most people will not be able to experience. “

Kelly and Jill always tell their children, Sydney and Ryan, to “Dream big … Never follow. It’s the way we’ve tried to live our lives. “

“You have to aim for the things you want and truly love in life. The University of Illinois has given us the opportunity to dream big and never follow through. It set the stage for our life. We just encourage everyone to look back and understand what the school has done to put them in their lives. we recognize that and that is why we gave back. We just want others to have the same opportunity to do what we were able to do in our life. “

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