Dan and Nancy Balz
Dan Balz 1968 B.S., 1972 M.S. Journalism
Nancy Balz 1970 B.A. English, 1972 M.S. GSLIS
Angelica LaVito’s first introduction to Dan Balz came in the form of a book report for her Journalism 200 class. She choose the book specifically because Dan was an alum of the College. Then she received the letter informing her that she had been awarded a scholarship the Balzes had endowed. Angelica was thrilled.
Dan and Nancy Balz met in the basement of Illini Hall where The Daily Illini was housed at the time. Nancy and a roommate visited the offices, and Dan happened to be there. “I count myself lucky to have been there at the time,” Dan said.
It was the mid-1960s, a time of unrest around the country. “Protests came a little later to the Illinois campus than to some other universities, but no place was immune from what was going on. It was an exhilarating time to be on the campus. Everyone’s life was touched directly in some way by what was happening in the world,” Dan recalled.
Dan and Nancy both grew up in Illinois and had older siblings who had attended the University of Illinois, making their decisions to enroll here easier. Dan received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism. Nancy was an English major and received her master's from the Graduate School of Library and Information Science.
“We remember lots of things from our time there,” Dan said. “Wonderful professors, challenging coursework, football and basketball games and dances and movies, cold winter walks across the Quad, coffee in the Union, late nights at The Daily Illini and even later nights at Uncle John’s Pancake House after the paper had been put to bed. I found a home at the DI and in the College of Media, which set me on the path toward my journalism career.”
Both Dan and Nancy have had interesting and successful careers. Nancy has worked for the Library of Congress, the University of Maryland, Kramer Books and Oxford University Press. She retired from the Montgomery County Public Libraries in 2010.
“I have always felt, and continue to think, that being in a library then or today, is a special experience,” Nancy said. “Where else is one so completely surrounded by the creations of so many authors, writers, illustrators, artists, scholars, journalists, dramatists, humorists, commentators, both living and from the past, from both near and far? I enjoyed it every day.”
Dan is currently chief correspondent at The Washington Post. He joined the paper in 1978 and has served as national editor, political editor, White House correspondent and Southwest correspondent. He is the co-author of two books, “Storming the Gates: Protest Politics and the Republican Revival” and “The Battle for America 2008: The Story of an Extraordinary Election.” His latest book is “Collision 2012: The Future of Election Politics in a Divided America."
“So much of what I learned about being a journalist came from my time on campus," Dan said. “I benefited both from extraordinarily helpful professors — some who had worked on newspapers before joining the faculty and others who had followed an academic path to university teaching — and from the practical experience of writing and editing a daily newspaper.”
Dan and Nancy returned to campus for the 2015 Honors Reception. “We very much enjoyed meeting our first-time recipient,” Nancy said. “If that’s a prelude of what the others will be like, we’ll really look forward to this. We’re meeting smart, engaged, articulate future journalists. It’s very exciting.”
At the annual event, Angelica and her family sat with the Balzes. “They were so great talking with me and my mom and my aunt,” Angelica said. “Being able to keep in touch with them has been so great. Getting a scholarship is a validation of hard work. Your work doesn’t go unnoticed. It does help financially — any amount helps. Such a generous gift is something I really appreciated.”
“We think that she and other recipients will come out of here prepared to make their way successfully in journalism,” Dan said. “Journalism is an institution right now that is in a considerable period of change and transformation. Our hope is that the university will prepare them not just to be ready the year they leave campus and get their first job, but to be ready for whatever comes after that. They will know how to adapt and change and will be part of the generation that solves some of the problems that we’re grappling with at this point.”
Dan’s advice for aspiring journalists: “Read everything you can put your hands on; be curious about the world around you; be skeptical but not cynical; understand new technology, but don’t become a slave to it. Remember that the best of journalism is original reporting, fresh analysis and storytelling that compels someone to read it.”