CARLINVILLE - The generosity and foresight of a prominent Blackburn College alumnus has led to the display of a commemorative photo on campus of one of the most remarkable students in the school’s history.

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Robert Allison, a Blackburn student-athlete from a century ago who excelled despite missing an arm, is depicted in a striking photo that now hangs in the lobby of Lumpkin Library.

The display is the conception of Clarence “Pete” Hughes, a 1958 Blackburn graduate who took an interest in the story of Allison, whose legacy has been overlooked for decades.

Hughes contacted Tom Emery, a freelance writer and historical researcher from Carlinville and a close friend, to handle the organization of the project.

"This was Pete’s idea, from start to finish,” said Emery, a 1993 Blackburn graduate. “He deserves all the credit, without question. I was just happy to do the legwork.”

Allison was a Blackburn student in the late 1910s who had lost his left arm in a coal mining accident in Pennsylvania. Left with an uncertain future, he heard from a friend about “a little prairie college out in…Illinois, where young men and women with plenty of grit and gumption, but not much ready cash, are given a chance to work for their education.”

He promptly joined the football and baseball teams at Blackburn, “getting my share of home runs,” as he said. A right fielder, Allison thrilled local fans as he caught fly balls in his gloved right hand, tossed the ball in the air as he threw off the glove, then caught the ball before it dropped to the ground. He was then able to throw the ball back into play.

Incredibly, Allison landed a job in one of the local mines, returning to the work that had cost his arm. He would get up at 1 a.m., work at the mine for several hours, then return to Blackburn for morning classes. Afternoons were then spent studying.

Allison later attended both Illinois State University and Illinois Wesleyan, earning a law degree. A Pekin resident, he was elected to the Illinois legislature from 1934-54. Allison died at age 66 in 1959.

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The display in Lumpkin Library places Allison’s story in the spotlight, and helps correct a longstanding myth. For decades, many incorrectly believed that Blackburn’s one-armed player was Pete Gray, who appeared in 77 games in Major League Baseball in 1945.

However, thorough research by Blackburn staffers and alumni, as well as researchers of Gray’s life, have found no connection of Gray to Blackburn.

Inspired by Allison’s story, Hughes wanted to create a proper memorial for others to enjoy the story. Hughes’ life is an inspiration in itself.

A product of tiny La Fayette, Ill., Hughes and two brothers overcame an impoverished background to all earn degrees from Blackburn. An athletic standout, Pete Hughes is the only 2,000-point scorer in the history of Blackburn basketball, men or women.

The student marshal of the Blackburn Class of 1958, Hughes then embarked on a distinguished career as an educator, and later earned a master’s and doctorate from the University of Illinois.

His career included service as a superintendent at Annawan (1973-82) and Morris (1982-91), as well as a total of twenty-three years in the teacher education department at Eureka College. From 1970-73, he directed the teacher education department at Blackburn.

Along the way, Hughes coached the Annawan boys’ basketball team in two stints totaling seven years 1959-68, with a sparkling 159-27 record and four consecutive district titles.

In 1977-78, Hughes coached the Annawan girls’ basketball team to a 16-3 record with twins Lisa and Lynette Robinson, who went on to become the first women’s athletes to sign full scholarships at the University of Illinois. He coached the Blackburn men’s basketball teams in 1963-64 and 1970-71.

Hughes and his wife, Carol, have been married for sixty-five years. A classmate from the Blackburn Class of 1958, Carol Hughes is also a career educator, and has held statewide leadership positions in Delta Kappa Gamma. They are the parents of two children and four grandchildren.

Hughes’ sponsorship of the Allison project is one of many contributions he has made both to Blackburn and Eureka.

This was absolutely the right thing to do,” said Emery. “Pete Hughes is an exceptional individual, one of the great people you meet in the world. The story of Robert Allison needed to be understood, and thanks to Pete, now it will be. I was just proud to be a part of it.”

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