November 17, 2005

Embargoed until 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, ILL -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale today (Nov. 17) announced the largest gift in the history of its College of Mass Communication & Media Arts, donated by a Southern Illinois native who became a groundbreaking Chicago journalist.

The college received more than $1.22 million from the estate of the late Virginia Marmaduke, a colorful, tenacious woman known as "the Duchess" who worked her way into the hard-bitten, male-dominated newsrooms of Chicago's top newspapers during World War II. The University recently received the final portion of the donation following the settlement of Marmaduke's estate.

Marmaduke previously donated $70,000 to the University to support scholarships and guest lecturers on campus. This new donation will increase funding for the Marmaduke student scholarships and lecture series. It also will establish a media center named for Marmaduke, who died in November 2001 in Pinckneyville at age 93.

"This generous gift from the estate of Virginia Marmaduke is the biggest gift ever that this college has received. It will have a major impact on our goals of achieving excellence," said Manjunath Pendakur, dean of the College of Mass Communication & Media Arts. "The Duchess clearly understood how to make her money work toward that goal."

Although she spent most of her professional career covering crime and celebrities in the Windy City, Marmaduke's ties with Southern Illinois were strong. Born in 1908 in Carbondale, Marmaduke's family moved to Chicago in 1918. She went to college at the University of Iowa to hone her natural ability as a writer, all along with the idea of pursuing a career in journalism.

Marmaduke returned to Southern Illinois in 1930 with her then-husband, whose family owned the Herrin Daily Journal. The pair went their separate ways 13 years later during the height of World War II and Marmaduke headed back to Chicago to be near her parents. She landed a job at the Chicago Sun, where she declined to cover so-called "women's news," a common destination in those days for female writers.

As the first female news reporter for the Sun and likely the first to cover crime in the city, Marmaduke earned the nickname "Duchess" from an editor who thought "Miss Marmaduke" was too much of a mouthful to shout across the newsroom. She compiled a long list of professional honors, writing memorable accounts of "blood, guts and sex – not necessarily in that order," as she once said. A story on children with cerebral palsy was read into the Illinois General Assembly record and she interviewed two U.S. presidents, Queen Elizabeth II and numerous celebrities. She worked at the Sun-Times after the two papers merged and briefly worked at the Chicago Tribune. To this day, she remains the first lady of Illinois journalism.

In the 1950s Marmaduke embarked on a broadcast career, hosting a radio advice show and later worked in television. As her celebrity grew she served on numerous charitable and civic boards and as the host of the Illinois pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair.

Marmaduke returned to Southern Illinois in 1965, moving into a two-story log cabin on land that belonged to her family for more than a century. She became a strong booster of SIUC during the decades that followed, and often prowled the halls of the Communications Building speaking to students and faculty. She established a scholarship and lecture series, contributing directly to the education of future journalists.

The college will direct the majority of Marmaduke's estate gift – $850,000 – to her scholarship endowment, aimed at juniors in the School of Journalism and the Department of Radio-Television. The contribution will increase the total endowment for the Virginia Marmaduke Mass Communication & Media Arts Endowed Scholarship to about $897,000. The added amount will make more scholarships available to students who qualify.

Another $77,860 will support the Virginia Marmaduke Lectureship Endowed Fund, bringing its total endowment to $100,000. The fund allows the college to bring in top media professionals from around the world for lectures.

About $293,000 will fund the new Virginia Marmaduke Media Center Activities Endowment, which will pay for research into media issues.

"As dean of this wonderful college, I am thrilled because this major gift will help make a difference by rewarding high- quality students and faculty," Pendakur said.

Creating friends who understand the University, its mission and its challenges is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.