Illinois State University is saddened at the passing of esteemed alumnus Andrew Purnell ’57 after a long illness.

Purnell was slated to receive an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters during the Founding Celebration activities in February. He was the focus of a 2019 profile in the Illinois State Magazine. Read the feature here.

As a student at Illinois State, Purnell became one of the founders of the student chapter of the NAACP, and served as the chapter president. The organization challenged segregationist practices in the community that once relegated black customers to eat, swim, or take entertainment only on certain days of the week.

After graduation, Purnell was drafted into the United States Army. With a degree in mathematics, he was assigned to classified work in mathematics and statistics. After leaving active duty, Purnell taught high school mathematics and pursued his master’s degree in administration, later taking his role as a school administrator. Along with his work, he has served as a chaplain for penal institutions and mental health hospitals.

Purnell later worked to establish the ISU Black Colleagues Association (BCA) in 1984, an alumni affinity group dedicated to keeping Illinois State affordable and accessible to black students. With more than 300 members from across the nation active today, the group actively raises money for student scholarships and support to empower black students.

Long considered an invaluable alumnus, Purnell has been active in the Alumni Association. For his dedication to students and the University, he was inducted into the University’s Steve and Sandi Adams Legacy Hall of Fame. He received the Alumni Association Mercier Outstanding Service Award, and was named Alumni Homecoming King in 2013.