Fogelberg’s ‘old lover’ recalls youthful romance in Peoria | Entertainment

PEORIA — To Jill Greulich, it seems almost unimaginable that Dan Fogelberg would have turned 70 earlier this year.

She thinks back to their youthful romance, wistfully memorialized in song years later, thanks to a chance encounter at a Peoria quick mart on Christmas Eve.

During and after their days at Woodruff High School, she was a hand-holding eyewitness as Fogelberg would plop down along the Illinois River to strum his guitar and muse big dreams. Steeped in those recollections, she can hardly envision a septuagenarian Fogelberg.

Indeed, amid a long career as a respected artist, Fogelberg — who died at age 56 in December 2007 — always carried a certain boyish charm. Even as the decades and albums rolled by, many of his followers (especially in his hometown of Peoria) continued to harbor a mind’s-eye view of him as a long-haired, wide-eyed young man looking to strike it big.

“I certainly remember him much younger,” Greulich told the Journal Star.

Many fans feel the same way, perhaps a result of his strong sense of privacy. He kept interviews to a minimum, focusing only on his music. Record buyers could listen and witness him grow as an artist. But as far as his personal life, he never shared — or, thus, changed — much publicly.

“I really don’t find myself that fascinating, to be honest with you,” he said in a 1985 radio interview. ”… It just isn’t that fascinating to tell people who I am. I think I’ve done that musically, to a point. And also it’s obvious I want to preserve my privacy.”

So, when he would visit kin in Peoria, he would keep a low profile.

“I’m deeply honored that the people in Peoria are excited that we’re coming in to play,” he told this paper in 1995. “I just don’t want everyone making too big of a deal of this. Just come to the show and listen to what I can do. That’s what it’s really about.”

In that way, as far as a public persona, he always stayed the same, almost stuck (or at least, slowed) in time.

Locally, that phenomenon was reinforced by the nostalgia underpinning two of his biggest hits, “Same Old Lang Syne” and “Leader of the Band.” Those songs, both of which hit No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, are deeply steeped in Peoria inspiration.

Outsiders and non-fans wouldn’t have any clues as to the characters and settings of those songs. But Peoria knows – and savors – those connections, especially “Same Old Lang Syne,” each December.

Jill Greulich understands the power of the past. During her Woodruff days, she was Jill Anderson, courted by a teen Fogelberg already scribbling his fledgling song lyrics. After their 1969 graduation, they went their separate ways to college – he to study art and theater at the University of Illinois in Urbana, she to Western Illinois University to major in elementary education – but continued an on-again, off-again relationship.

Greulich recalls that they often would grab a spot along Grandview Drive, just her and Fogelberg and his guitar, and watch the Illinois River roll by.

“We spent so much time there, Dan playing or just talking,” she says. “We could talk for hours.”

Over time, he’d share snippets of melodies and lyrics, many of which ended up on his 1972 debut album, “Home Free.” One song seemingly leaped from their visits to Grandview Drive: “The River,” which starts, “I was born by a river, rolling past a town. …”

“He was so proud of this,” Greulich says.

They’d seek out other nature scenes, often jumping into a car and wandering out of town.

“(We’d go) driving back-country roads and loving the new visions we learned,” Greulich says.

They’d sometimes stay in. They’d bake cookies, which he especially appreciated when sick. And he’d create paintings for her, depicting “something that had significance for us,” she says.

Sometimes, the relationship seemed as if destined to move far forward.

“(We) joked about having twins in the future and naming them Romeo and Juliet,” she says. “Many times we would act out scenes from the play! Ah, youth.”

But the couple split for good when he left Illinois to pursue something else: his music, in Colorado.

Meanwhile, she eventually graduated from college and moved to Chicago to work as an elementary teacher. There, she got married, and Dan Fogelberg faded into her mental scrapbook.

Until Christmas Eve 1975.

You know the story, if you’ve ever heard “Same Old Lang Syne.”

She and her husband had come to Peoria to visit her parents, who still lived near Woodruff. For a home full of guests, her mom asked her to run out for eggnog.

A few blocks away, the Fogelberg clan started to make Irish coffees, but needed whipping cream. So, Dan Fogelberg – visiting for the holidays – volunteered to seek the missing ingredient.

By happenstance – and because almost every other business on the East Bluff was closed – the two ended up at the Convenient Food Mart at the top of Abington Hill, at Frye Avenue and Prospect Road. She got there first, and Fogelberg noticed her shortly after arriving.

After hellos, they bought a six-pack – Olympia, a brand then enjoying a strong national advertising push – and sipped it in her car as they gabbed away. They eventually returned to their families, and that was that. Once again, Fogelberg faded into her memories.

One morning, driving to work, Greulich turned on the radio. A new song popped on.

“That sounds like Dan,” she thought.

She listened to the lyrics, about two former lovers who have a chance encounter at a store.

“Oh, my gosh!” her head screamed. “That really happened!”

But the song didn’t affect her life. By then, she had not only divorced the husband mentioned in the song, but married Chicago-area native Jim Greulich. They soon would move to a St. Louis suburb, where she would teach second grade.

Jill Greulich remained out of touch with Fogelberg until several years after the song’s release, when they had a reunion backstage after a concert. Their chat was as pleasant as it was illuminating. In part, he explained a few liberties he had taken with the song. For instance, though her eyes are actually green, the lyrics turned them blue, which he found easier to rhyme.

They smiled and went their separate ways. Over time, Fogelberg fans wondered more and more about the identity of the “old lover.” But Greulich, out of respect for Fogelberg’s artistry and privacy, stayed mum.

However, she broke her silence in the wake of his death, revealing her role in the song to the Journal Star. At the time, she said, “I’ll always have a place in my heart for Dan. … Dan would be a very special person to me, even without the song.”