April 26, 2004

SIUC to honor retired Student Center director

by Tom Woolf

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- John W. Corker, retired director of Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Student Center, is about to realize what he calls "the culmination of 42 years in my field -- trying to do the best that I can."

On Wednesday, April 28, the Student Center's Gallery Lounge (just outside the ballrooms) will become the John W. Corker Lounge. The dedication ceremony is set for 3 to 5 p.m.

Corker, who lives in Carbondale with his wife, Susan, retired in 1995 after spearheading the growth and development of the Student Center for 19 years.

"My personal philosophy has always been that we are a program, not a building," Corker said. "We have no walls, no jurisdiction, and we work with people anyplace, anytime."

Corker came to SIUC from the University of Massachusetts, where he ran the Murray D. Lincoln Campus Center for three years. Prior to that, he spent eight years as associate director of the Illini Union at the University of Illinois. He also served as director of the Oakland Center and of housing at Michigan State University-Oakland and as director of housing at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

When Corker took over the SIUC Student Center, he had a "big, beautiful facility" with lots of unused space. Unsuccessful efforts to incorporate hotel rooms into the facility in the early 1970s meant Corker and his staff "had a lot of space available to us to do creative things."

During his first month on the job, he established four objectives for the Student Center that continued to guide the development of the facility and its programs during his tenure.

"Our objectives were to supply essential services, provide social, recreation and cultural programming, serve as an extension of the classroom and provide community service," Corker said. "Today, the more than 8,000 programs they do each year in the Student Center can be related to those major objectives."

During Corker's years as director, annual revenues grew from $4.5 million to $13 million. Unused spaces were converted into the craft/wood shop, graphics/marketing offices, international student complex, the WIDB student radio station, student government and programming office space. In 1977, Corker initiated the Art Purchase Awards, through which student artwork is permanently displayed in the building.

The popular Sunset Concert Series debuted in 1978, and the Student Programming Council took shape in 1979.

Corker remains actively involved in the Student Center. For the past year, he has been leading the effort to raise $100,000 to refurbish the lounge that soon will bear his name. His wife launched the campaign with a $10,000 gift in honor of her husband. The surprise announcement of the gift, and the unveiling of a commemorative plaque in the lounge, came during a reception for Corker on his 70th birthday.

Current Student Center Director T.J. Rutherford envisions refurbishing the lounge with new wood paneling, light sconces and a new ceiling. He wants to create a strong Saluki motif, with furniture in maroon tones. Plaques will honor everyone who contributes to the project.

"SIUC was very supportive of me and gave me a lot of freedom and flexibility to operate," Corker said. "This lounge is the ultimate honor."