by Matt Kupec
December 27, 2019
I have had another Hallmark moment!
What, you might ask, is a Hallmark moment?
Well, I must confess that I have grown a fondness for Hallmark channel movies. The channel which has the same sappy story line for every one of its movies – big city executive finds himself/herself in a very small community with an appealing charm that eventually will draw them away from the big city into the small town forever.
The charm of the small town is both the physical beauty of the town and the surroundings, and of the goodness of the people.
My first Hallmark moment came some forty years ago when I was introduced to Chapel Hill, NC when I attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Known widely as the quintessential college town with a population under 50,000, Chapel Hill had an appeal that endured well beyond my undergraduate days. I returned to Chapel Hill to lead the UNC fundraising program for over twenty years
A year ago, I started with the Southern Illinois University Foundation in Carbondale, Illinois as the in-house fundraising consultant to lead the fundraising program. SIU was just one year away from completing a $75 million fundraising campaign but with great success has now announced a campaign extension with a new $200 million goal.
For me, Carbondale has become my second Hallmark moment.
What is special about Carbondale?
Small Town. Carbondale is a small town with a population of 25,902 residents. It is located in the very southern part of Illinois, some 300 miles away from Chicago to the far north. The downtown is small but charming. Carbondale is a bustling community of unusual shops, diverse commerce, cultural activities, and many other luxuries that would be expected in a large city, yet it maintains the comforts and charm of a small town. The city is the most populous in Southern Illinois outside the St Louis Metro-East region.
The Region. By the time of the American Civil War, Carbondale had developed as a regional center for transportation and business, surrounded by agricultural development. This part of Illinois was known as “Little Egypt”” because of the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, where the town of Cairo is located. There are an abundance of lakes and parks in the area and the Shawnee National Forest is one America’s great treasures.
A recent highlight for the region was that Carbondale fell smack in the middle of the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. The Carbondale area will be the path of the totality of the solar eclipse of April 8, 2024, making it only a handful of cities within the direct paths of both eclipses.
Beautiful Campus. My first stop in Carbondale was to visit the Southern Illinois University Carbondale campus. What a beautiful campus! It reminded me of the beautiful campus at UNC-Chapel Hill. Truly one of the prettiest campuses I have seen. The SIU campus has 1,133 acres of trees and grass and a natural hardwood forest right on the campus. It even has a beautiful lake on campus. SIU is the first University in Illinois to earn Level II Arboretum Accreditation.
Friendly People. I have found the people in Carbondale to be very friendly and welcoming. I had heard for years about how nice people from the Midwest were but I had never spent much time in the Midwest. I have found the people to be very nice and friendly. There is a spirit here that permeates the entire region – a grit, a determination, and a sense of pride.
Moving Forward. The Southern Illinois region, long dependent on the coal industry, is experiencing a transformation as it builds tourism, healthcare, and higher education sectors for the region and beyond. SIU Carbondale will serve as an economic engine in this great transformation. Combining that with the sheer beauty of the land and of its quality of its people give me great hope that some really wonderful days are ahead for Southern Illinois.
Maybe someday Hallmark will make Carbondale the feature of one its movies. For me, that Hallmark moment has already arrived.