50-year State Farm Center usher: 'If I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't have been here'

Mar. 8—CHAMPAIGN — Mike Anderson has helped people to their seats at State Farm Center's biggest events, from Illini basketball to Garth Brooks to the IHSA state finals.

There's no place the 76-year-old from Paxton would rather be.

"It is fun," Anderson said Thursday during a Class 1A semifinal at the boys' basketball tournament. "If I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't have been here 50 years."

Anderson has worked as an usher in State Farm Center since 1974, rarely missing an Illini men's basketball game.

Since the arena was renovated in 2016, he has worked the Traditions Club section near the eastern entrance. That's where he was perched Thursday, dressed in his usual vested uniform.

When he first started ushering, it often was in the press section. After retiring from the Eastern Illini Electric company, he traveled to games come good or bad weather — sometimes two or three times a week.

"I was gone for a week and missed three games and people said 'Gosh we thought you quit, where were you?,'" Anderson said. "Because a lot of people that are coming look in and see, 'Oh there's the usher that's always in my section,' so they recognize us."

Anderson said it can be challenging to stand for seven-hour lengths, as ushers must arrive at the stadium two hours before games start. He tends to no longer work loud concerts, recalling how he used to fret walking up and down the nosebleed seats before guard rails were installed.

But he's loved welcoming people to the building that he said lacks bad seats. The usher also said he particularly enjoyed watching all the great 1989 Fighting Illini men's games in person and seeing Brooks and Alan Jackson perform.