Though finding love on a web-based dating app is a fast-growing trend, the Black Colleagues Association (BCA) is talking with Redbird couples who found each other the old-fashioned way—face-to-face. More accurately, these Redbirds discovered love on (or near) the Quad and still fondly remember their time at Illinois State University.
As we look forward to sharing the warmth of the holidays, the BCA Report is kicking off “Redbirds in Love,” an ongoing alumni series, starting with Al and Murrieal (Gordon) Orendorff.
For those on campus in the early 1980s, Murrieal “Scoope” Orendorff ’76 was a safe space for young, Black Redbirds, first in Admissions, and then in Student Affairs.
Whether she was recruiting students as an admissions officer or encouraging them to develop leadership skills and social responsibility through student organizations, Murrieal was always student-focused.
In fact, before she started working with students, Murrieal was a Redbird herself. She and Al ‘77 were both communication majors and two of very few African Americans in their classes. They both wanted to cover news, but in a practicum class (that ultimately became the vehicle for Murrieal to land a position at WBBM-TV in Chicago), she was assigned to the weather desk.
Familiarity with the state’s geography was an important skill that Murrieal had yet to master. That became obvious on the set of student-run station TV-10 one day.
A native of Lincoln, Al—who loved the science of weather—was assigned to coach Murrieal, who hailed from Chicago’s South Side.
“Here I am stumbling through the forecast, and Al comes up and says, ‘Well, if you are talking about Decatur, you should be pointing here. Decatur isn’t over there,’” Murrieal recalls with a laugh. “In my world, there was Chicago and St. Louis.”
Al said he wanted to see Murrieal succeed, but he had other motivations as well. “She was really, really cute and had this gift of making you feel like she was the only one in the room—she still does.”
With Al’s pointers, Murrieal made it through the practicum at TV-10 and returned to Chicago to work for WBBM after graduation. Al went to work for the NBC-affiliate, WEEK-TV, in Peoria, and then moved to media relations at Bradley University.
When she returned to Central Illinois in 1979 to work for State Farm as a part of the insurer’s management training program, Murrieal became re-acquainted with Al. They married in 1981 and within weeks, she accepted a position as assistant director of Admissions at Illinois State University. She worked with and recruited students from Hovey Hall before moving to the Bone Student Center with the Division of Student Affairs.
Now four decades on, the Orendorffs are not only celebrating a milestone 40th wedding anniversary, but all the relationships they created at Illinois State University.
“My friends and I talk about this all the time,’’ Al said. “We owe our lives to Illinois State. We were all, to differing degrees, undecided and adrift, and those four years helped us figure it out.”
Clear about their own purpose, the Orendorffs say they are proud of the mark they’ve left in both academia and industry.
As a student working at the campus radio station, WGLT-FM, Al gained experiences that elude most professionals. Highlights include interviews with Martin Luther King Sr. (father of the civil rights icon), feminist icon Gloria Steinem, and U.S. Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress.
The high-profile interviews were part of the University’s speaker series that gave Al a front-row seat to history. The intimate conversations also fueled his career as a broadcast journalist with Chicago-based WGN radio, where he covered Barack Obama’s first inauguration.
Desiring to make a global impact, Al left media in the early 2000s and moved to corporate communications, working for prestigious financial services giants such as Aon and Genworth. Today, Al is chief communications officer for Zurich North America.
While Al has built a solid communications career, he also takes pride in working alongside Murrieal as she has continued coaching and mentoring throughout her career.
Now, as founder and owner of One Career Coach, LLC., Murrieal can see the beautiful mosaic of her life’s work, which began at Illinois State.
“I feel like it’s all coming full circle because I’m seeing so many of my students who are so successful,” she said. “They are part of my personal story and my professional success as I continue to coach and mentor aspiring and experienced leaders.”
She and Al point to their own mentors at Illinois State when asked about inspiration.
“Our successes are because of so many people like Dr. Charles Morris (who retired in 1995 as vice chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs) and Dr. John Cragin who would not let us fail,’’ Murrieal said.
“They were amazing people,’’ Al said. “They advised us and guided us with their wisdom. They gave us gold.”