When Gerald Day learned Springfield High School's Latin program was in danger of ending, the scholar couldn't let that happen to his alma mater.
So in early 2003, he packed his bags and moved back to Springfield from Miami to help save a program that many other schools have let fade away.
Today, Latin at Springfield is alive and thriving for more than 100 students because of the dedicated teacher.
'I've never thought of myself as anything else,' he said. 'Since the time I was 10 years old, (a Latin teacher) was all I wanted to be, except for a B-52 pilot. And I was serious about that.'
Luckily for his students, Day stuck to teaching.
Since he was 7, Day said he has been enthralled with Latin. As a boy, he used to flip through his older brother's Latin book. Even though he couldn't read the words, the pictures of ancient Rome fascinated him.
Since then, he has been dedicated to Latin. Even while a forward observer in Vietnam, Day kept his Latin dictionary in his pocket every day of the war. He still has that dictionary.
During his 25 years of studying the language, Day has taught numerous courses at several academic levels, though he describes Latin as his true passion. In the middle of the 2002-03 school year, he was asked to fill a sudden vacancy at Springfield.
The school's classics program since has expanded greatly.
Although the program's numbers were considerably low when Day took over, the first full group of students to take his class the following year almost exceeded the maximum limit of 35.
Interest continued to grow, and this school year, Day had to expand his first-year class into two periods. He expects to have two full first-year classes next year, too.
If expansion continues at the same rate, he said Springfield will have to hire another Latin teacher, which are few and far between.
As the only full-time Latin teacher in District 186, Day is one of just a handful of Latin teachers in downstate Illinois.
His students say they are reaping the benefits.
Stephanie Luke, a third-year Latin student, said Day's teaching has helped her in many ways.
'When I took the SAT and ACT, the verbal was a lot easier, since the majority of the English language comes from (Latin),' the Latin club secretary said. '(Latin also) will impress people and colleges more than other languages.'
Stephanie, a junior, said she appreciates the laid-back environment in Day's class but likes the academic challenge at the same time.
'He's just kind of a 'live and let live' guy,' she said. 'Still, we do a lot of stuff, and we get things accomplished.'
Nothing better describes Day's view of the classics than his 'Penthouse Story,' which all of his students hear on their first day of Latin class.
As Day explains, the penthouse is the top floor and most expensive room or apartment in a building, just as the study of the classics is in the academic world.
Most people can't afford to stay in the penthouse; likewise, most people can't stay in or reach the penthouse of accomplishment in the study of the classics because it's too hard, he says.
To Day, the study of the classics isn't just Latin, although he makes sure it is the core of his classes.
He emphasizes that Latin classes should not turn into 'playing Roman'; instead they should focus on learning the language and literature that dominated the Western world for more than 1,000 years.
'I enjoy the fact that it turns into a literature course ... of the great works in their native language,' said second-year Latin student Sam Schoenburg.
Greek and Roman history and culture often are topics brought up in Latin.
'You really can't be a classicist unless you've had both (Greek and Latin)' said Day, who teaches Greek to his upper-level students every Friday.
Sam said he also likes Day's tangents on how Roman events and history relate to and often reflect current events.
'I love going off (on random topics) on days when we have intellectual discussion about history,' he said.
Day also is involved with Springfield High's Latin Club. As its sponsor, he helps guide students in preparation for regional and national junior classical league conventions.
Every Friday, students use Day's room to practice for Certamen competitions, which are the classics' equivalent of Scholastic Bowl.
Both Stephanie and Sam are members of the Certamen team.
'Latin Club should be the play part of the broader educational experience of studying the classics,' Day said, noting that the club promotes study but should never replace it.
When he's not teaching, Day's personal life is just as interesting as his professional one.
Living most of the summer in Miami with his Antiguan wife, whom he describes as an 'island girl,' the scholar has a passion for model railroads, which fill an entire room in his house, and for R&B artists such as Ashanti and Usher.
He has master's degrees in the classics and history and a doctorate in medieval history, and has taught at the Universities of Illinois, Miami and Vermont, along with studying at Harvard University.
Today, Day is dedicated to helping his students' work toward the same academic prestige.
As Sam said, 'Latin raises us to a new academic standard."