Community mourns death of Thornburgh, EIU Journalism Department founder

2011-01-15T06:00:00Z Community mourns death of Thornburgh, EIU Journalism Department founderBy ROB STROUD and DAVE FOPAY Staff Writers

CHARLESTON - The community is mourning the loss of Eastern Illinois University Journalism Department founding father Dan Thornburgh, who also led the preservation of the Five Mile House and other community projects.

Thornburgh, 80, who died Thursday following a long illness, arrived at EIU in 1959 as director of information and in 1965 became director of journalism studies, which was part of the English department at that time.

Subsequently, Thornburgh pursued the creation of a journalism major in 1974 and then a separate journalism department in 1979. He chaired the new department from 1979 to 1984.

"He worked so hard getting that done. He would teach way more than he was required to teach just so the students would have the classes available. He was a guy who really had a vision to create an outstanding major and department," said John David Reed, who was hired by Thornburgh in 1972 as a journalism instructor.

Reed, who later served as chair of the journalism department, said Thornburgh also obtained accreditation for the journalism department in 1982 from the Council on Education for Journalism and Mass Communications, and led the expansion of the student-operated Eastern News into a daily newspaper.

"We did all that just so there would be more opportunities for students to participate," Reed said of the Daily Eastern News.

James Tidwell, current chair of the journalism department, said Thornburgh's lasting contributions to the department can be seen in the journalism scholarship and visiting professionals funds that bear his name, and the plaque that recognizes his financial support for the renovation of Buzzard Hall.

Tidwell said Thornburgh also founded the EIU chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America, which also bears his name. Thornburgh served as director of university relations from 1984 to 1993.

"His legacy is unbelievable. There is no question about that," Tidwell said.

Reed said Thornburgh, known as "D.T." to his students, encouraged them to get involved in journalism in the community level after entering the workforce and was very active in his own Charleston community.

Some of Thornburgh's community involvement included serving on the Charleston City Council from 1973 to 1977, serving as a long-time member of the Charleston Rotary Club and as a district governor for Rotary, and being a member of the Coles County Historical Society and the Lincoln-Sargent Farm Foundation.

In addition, Thornburgh was the "impetus" of the effort to restore the Five Mile House, said Cal Smith, member and past president of the foundation that conducted the project.

Smith said he and Thornburgh had just finished work cleaning Charleston's old City Cemetery a few years ago when the idea came up.

"Dan came up to me and looked me right in the eye and said, ‘Cal, it's time to save the Five Mile House,'" Smith said. "He was aware that we were letting a historical site go to pot."

Without Thornburgh's idea and the work that resulted, concerns that the longest-standing building in Coles County might have been demolished could have become a reality, Smith also said.

Current Five Mile House Foundation President Tom Vance said Thornburgh remained active with the organization, though in a more limited way. Thornburgh did much of the fundraising for the restoration project, including obtaining state and local grants, Vance noted.

"He was one of the real inspirations for the whole effort," he said.

Thornburgh was the first president of the foundation and served another term in the position as well.

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(2) Comments

  1. rmdrive
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    rmdrive - January 18, 2011 10:47 am
    regret unable to return for services and to see the family, but sincere sympathies on your loss of a wonderful man. He leaves behind a wonderful example of how to live a life for all of us.--- the family of Harold and Helen Prather
  2. rmdrive
    Report Abuse
    rmdrive - January 18, 2011 10:44 am
    I was blessed in my life to have know Dan as a professor, an adviser, a personal friend, and good friend to both of my parents during their lifetimes. He was there to encourage me as a student, as an adult, and a grieving daughter. He loved life - respecting the lessons of events of history and the pleasure of cornbread and beans on weekly luncheon dates with my father for years. Heaven is a better place for its newest resident and earth a little sadder without this gentle and wise soul!
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