May 5, 2017 | By Chuck Carlson
There is a bond that still holds fast with many Albion College students who were part of what was then known as the Professional Management Program, and which evolved and was renamed the Carl A. Gerstacker Institute for Business and Management.
It was a new and different step for Albion, and the students who joined in knew they were doing something special that could change their lives.
And leading the way were Frank Burdine, ’68, who returned to his alma mater in 1977 to run what was known then as Pro Man, followed in 1978 by John McConnell, an Albion economics professor, who coordinated the program until 1980.
It was a time of limitless futures and opportunities, and for many graduates from the program, it was an eye-opening and valuable experience.
Mark Lewry, ’80, remembers.
“I went to Albion because of the Pro Man program,” he said. “The idea of being able to complete two internships during the four academic years was really intriguing.”
So, along with classmates from that era, he is taking charge of creating an endowed scholarship for Burdine and an endowed professional fund for McConnell that will benefit Gerstacker students.
“Frank and John epitomize what Albion is all about,” said Lewry, who has gone on to a successful business career and is currently chief operating officer for Oil-Dri Corp. in Chicago. “This is in recognition of that. Albion is an environment when you can have a student-teacher ratio where they have an interest in you. You can have lifelong connections. It’s not just academics; it’s relationships. There were a lot of people that Frank and John touched who were Pro Man or economics majors.”
Burdine became Albion dean of students and then went on to work in various human resources roles at Deloitte LLP in Detroit, Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, and GMAC Commercial Finance and American Capital Ltd. in the Washington, D.C.. He retired in 2015 and now lives with his wife Barbara (Gale) Burdine, ’70, In Malvern, Pennsylvania.
McConnell took his business management expertise to DePauw University, Purdue University, the University of Alberta in Canada and the University of Denver. Most recently he was a managing associate at Bentz Whaley Flessner in Minneapolis, where he concentrated on campaign planning, major gift strategy and training. Sadly, just days after hearing of the Albion honor, he died suddenly on March 27.
“He was very excited we were doing this,” Lewry said of McConnell. “And appreciative. It’s sad but we’ll take the positive out of it and we’ll carry on in his memory.”
The Frank, ’68, and Barbara Burdine, ’70, Endowed Scholarship will be awarded to a student in Gerstacker with at least a 3.0 grade point average and who shows financial need. This is over and above the recently announced endowed scholarship the Burdines established that will support a student enrolled in Gerstacker.
The John S. and Bettina C. McConnell, ’76, Endowed Fund will go toward Gerstacker students who are seeking funding to attend business and leadership conferences and seminars and for internship and/or interview incidental expenses.
Burdine, who remains in close touch with Lewry, said he was honored and humbled by the recognition.
“Mark’s a go-getter,” said Burdine, who hired Lewry as an intern at Deloitte when Lewry attended the University of Michigan for graduate school. “It’s humbling when someone shows that kind of recognition and commitment.”
He only wishes his good friend could enjoy it as well.
“I was very close to John McConnell,” Burdine said. “He was a wonderful colleague and friend. I knew him as a faculty member first and I could talk about issues and the progress students were making. When I moved on to other responsibilities at Albion, he was tapped to be director of Pro Man and I couldn’t have been more pleased.”
The plan, Lewry said, is to coordinate a “giving circle” to connect with graduates from Gerstacker and the Economics and Management Department from 1972-84, with fundraising letters going out shortly.
There is also a nine-member committee, made up of alumni from 1979 through 1982, coordinating the process. The hope is to reach $100,000 ($50,000 for each fund) by June 30 with a recognition event planned for Homecoming weekend Oct. 21.
“I’ve reached out to folks I knew, some I knew better than others,” Lewry said. “Some I just called and some I had not talked to in 30-plus years. But that’s the kind of relationship you form at Albion. The connection was there. I don’t think they would have been interested in it if they didn’t have an appreciation for what John and Frank gave to us. This is to celebrate Frank and John.”