With the passing of Andrew Purnell Jr. ’57, many Redbirds felt like their wings had been clipped. Often described as an elder statesman, Purnell’s vision to help educate Black Redbirds impacted thousands of lives. From his time as a student in the 1950s helping to find the ISU NAACP student chapter to his work in the 1980s establishing the ISU Black Colleagues Association (ISUBCA), he has left a legacy to remember. So much so that the Alumni Association recently announced the newly established Andrew Purnell Jr. Trailblazer Alumni Award as a part of the Alumni Award program.
Illinois State University President Larry Dietz and members of the ISUBCA recently participated in a virtual memorial service, paying homage to the founder. Dietz reflected on the university’s plans to bestow an honorary doctorate to Purnell for a “magnificent life’’ of service and purpose.
Recalling Purnell’s work with the BCA and close collaboration with the university, President Dietz said Purnell was “Illinois State’s most brilliant reflection of our core values of diversity and inclusion.”
Purnell’s fellow Redbirds including past and present ISUBCA presidents, share their farewell messages honoring the invaluable alum.
- “Andrew walked softly but had a resounding presence. His words were few, but always powerful.” ISUBCA President Rhona Israel ’83.
- “Andrew was the guardian angel father to us all, and what he instilled in this organization must be carried on.’’ Karyn Aguirre ’86, 2016-2019 ISUBCA president
- “He was a man who understood what it meant to be Black in a predominantly white environment. Andrew knew how to navigate, and he passed critical knowledge on to us.’’ Reginald Summerrise ’86, 2010-2013 ISUBCA president
- “Andrew was such a humble man. He never wanted to take credit for the success of the ISUBCA and let us know we all played a role.’’ Alice Spann ‘78, 2014-2015 ISUBCA president
- “Andrew was a fantastic photographer which made him a wonderful historian and archivist for Illinois State, especially for the Black campus experience. He has photographs in his collection spanning the period from the 1950s through 2020.’’ ISU Board of Trustees Chair Julie Annette (Robinson) Jones ’90, 2006-2009 ISUBCA president
- “I’m glad we often celebrated and honored him in life because his passing has created a void … that can never be filled.” Janessa Williams ’89, 2001-2003 ISUBCA president
- “He created the model for the entire university. As an affinity group, the ISUBCA contributes more than any other affinity group and is the model the university uses for engagement.’’ Mike Willis ’82, 1999-2001 ISUBCA president