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Alfred O. Therkildsen: Enhancing Student Research at Emiquon

Mr. Therkildsen
Above: Mr. Alfred O. Therkildsen, generous donor, with his stepson David Barrows, UIS’ VIce Chancellor of Administrative Affairs.

UIS’ First Building Named for a Donor

In the fall of 2009, Alfred O. Therkildsen gave a generous gift to enable UIS students to do research related to The Nature Conservancy’s wetland restoration at Emiquon. Because of his generosity, UIS’ field station at Emiquon was named the Alfred O. and Barbara Cordwell Therkildsen Field Station at Emiquon.

The picture at right shows Mr. Therkildsen at the field station with his stepson David Barrows, UIS’ Vice Chancellor of Administrative Affairs.

We thought you would enjoy meeting this wonderful donor whose gift will so noticeably enhance UIS students’ academic success.

Mr. Therkildsen’s Story

Alfred O. Therkildsen was born in Schenectady, New York, and grew up on his family’s farm south of Albany, New York.  During World War II, he was stationed–among other places– in Louisville, Kentucky, where he met his first wife, Sarah.

Although he had started college at Princeton when the war began, rather than returning after the war he was married instead.  He and Sarah had two sons and a daughter.

After Sarah’s death in 1965, Mr. Therkildsen married a long-time family friend, Barbara Cordwell Barrows, who brought three sons with her into what would be known, according to Alfred, as the “Therkil-Barrows family. ” Dave Barrows, UIS’ Vice Chancellor of Administrative Affairs, was one of those sons.

The family moved to Illinois when Mr. Therkildsen was transferred to an Olin Corporation plant in East Alton, Illinois.  He worked there through several reorganizations and then took a job with the Illinois Department of Revenue, from which he retired in 1986.

A Family Gift

Barbara Cordwell Therkildsen’s parents, Arthur H. Cordwell and Zelma Pack Cordwell provided the funds that would eventually be given to Emiquon through a trust that they left to their daughter, Barbara.

Mr. Therkildsen has great praise for Barbara’s parents, especially Mr. Cordwell.  “Dad Cordwell was an interesting man,” he says.  “He put himself through Rutgers University as a civil engineer.  While there, he was a Phi Beta Kappa student

He worked as an engineer on the Holland Tunnel between New York City and New Jersey.  He then worked as an executive for the telephone company for many years.”

Mr. Cordwell loved gardening, and it is fitting that his hard work has contributed to an environmental concern like The Nature Conservancy’s restoration at Emiquon.

“He was the only man that I ever knew,” says Mr. Therkildsen, “who could pick two rows of strawberries at the same time, using both hands.  In the end, he died in the garden, doing what he loved to do.”

To Honor Barbara

The Cordwells’ inheritance passed as a trust to Barbara Cordwell Therkildsen and then to Mr. Therkildsen, who decided to give to Emiquon in Barbara’s memory.

“Barbara is the key to the gift,” Mr. Therkildsen says. 

“It was her stewardship and management of the trust that made it possible for me to make this gift, and so I made the gift in her memory.”

Barbara Cordwell Therkildsen will be an inspiration to the many women students and scientists who work at Emiquon.  Barbara returned to school at a later age for a nursing degree and then worked in a doctor’s office for many years.

While in school, Barbara was listed as the outstanding student in her class, and her name appears on a plaque at Lincoln Land Community College.

“She was such an outstanding student,” says Mr. Therkildsen, “so I figured we would just continue that—she’ll be remembered at Lincoln Land, and now she’ll be remembered at UIS as well.”

Also Honoring David Barrows

Also remembered through the gift is Dave Barrows, who designed the field station and is remembered on the plaque pictured on the previous page.

“I think all the world of him,” says Mr. Therkildsen, who calls Dave Barrows his guardian angel.  “Whenever I need help, I call Dave.  There’s never any question.  He drops everything to come if I need him.”

It was Dave Barrows who first proposed the gift to Mr. Therkildsen.  “He called me one day,” says Mr. Therkildsen, “and said, ‘How would you like to have your name on a building?’”

Upon hearing that Dave had designed the building, Mr. Therkildsen decided it would be a wonderful way to celebrate his family and especially Barbara.

Mr. Therkildsen’s Hope for the Gift

Beyond remembering Barbara and her parents and honoring Dave, Mr. Therkildsen hopes that his gift will help the Emiquon restoration to succeed and that the research that occurs at the Therkildsen Field Station contributes to that effort.

“In this day and age,” he says, “when every inch of grounds seems to end up in a housing development or a strip mall, it’s nice to know that the Conservancy’s floodplain restoration efforts will continue.”

A Word of Advice

Mr. Therkildsen has some advice for the students who will benefit from his gift:  Follow every opportunity, especially when the opportunity comes because of someone’s thrift and good management.  “The opportunity can open up the world to you.  It’s up to you what you do with it.”

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