The man who funded Cornell scholarships for East St. Louis students

News-DemocratMay 3, 2014 

Lou Ann Niemann, my sister in Belleville, thought you could help me. Many years ago, Albert C. Murphy began endowing full-tuition scholarships to Cornell University for East St. Louis residents. My award was back in 1953, and it enabled me to complete a five-year degree in chemical engineering. This was the key to a 28-year career with Monsanto and several other companies. I never tried to research the question pre-Internet or while the Metro-East Journal existed. Cornell was unable to provide background when I asked. Apparently the Murphy funds have been exhausted or redirected to other scholarship funds. Can you tell me more about the man? -- Darwin Novak, of Chesterfield, Missouri

Stories about tycoons who pay homage to their roots are always heartwarming. So East St. Louis residents must have been thrilled to learn on Feb. 5, 1933 -- a week after his death -- that Albert Murphy had left a $200,000 endowment to enable local students to attend Cornell University.

In the early 1900s, Murphy's father operated the Pneumatic Tool Co. at 16th Street and Kansas Avenue in East St. Louis. Later, he organized the Murphy Car Roofing Co., which, according to Albert's obituary in the East St. Louis Journal, "started the family to great riches."

But young Albert wasn't satisfied. Instead, he later became president of the Federal Railway Devices Co. in New York City, through which he amassed a fortune estimated at more than a million, according to the paper.

He died Jan. 26, 1933, in Santa Barbara, California, where he had gone to live with his brother Dwight six months before to try to recover from a lingering illness. Burial was in Mount Rose Cemetery in Chicago.

But that same week, a front-page story in the East St. Louis Journal announced that Murphy had left $500,000 to his wife, Theresa, and that after she died, about $200,000 would be used to help local students attend Cornell. Just why he made his bequest to Cornell is not known, John Carberry, Cornell's media relations director, told me.

Litigation delayed the final settlement, but on Feb. 24, 1938, the Cornell Alumni News proudly announced that it had received a $188,000 bequest from the Murphy family. Each year, it would provide full four-year tuition and housing to two young men from East St. Louis who wanted to attend the Ivy League school.

So, that very first year, the Belleville Daily Advocate ran a story about Henry T. Tschirner, of Caseyville, who declined a scholarship to Harvard to accept the Murphy award to Cornell. Tschirner was East St. Louis High School's valedictorian that year with a GPA of 96.58.

And Albert wasn't the only Murphy who helped East St. Louis. His other brother Walter, who made Chicago his home, aided the city's Beulah Club and gave $25,000 for relief work through the Salvation Army.

St. Louis University Hospital/SLUCare recently has been running TVs ads about a florist named Walter who cut off part of his thumb. Can you tell me if this is a true story and who the florist is? -- Richard Cummins, of O'Fallon

Prominent St. Louis florist Walter Knoll needed a few cheer-up bouquets himself after slicing his thumb down the middle while doing some woodworking two summers ago.

The circular saw blade on the biscuit joiner he was using slipped and destroyed the outside half of his thumb tip, including portions of the bone. Still, his first worry wasn't about the family business that had been going on for generations.

"My biggest concern was I play piano and I really thought my piano-playing days were over," he later told the doctors at St. Louis University. "After a few days it had turned black and personally it was really a low spot because I thought I would have to lose the whole thumb."

Instead, Dr. Bruce Kraemer, the hospital's chief of plastic surgery, gave him a product produced from certain layers of a pig's bladder. In its powdered form, it resembles Parmesan cheese. But it contains collagen, and when applied in a solution to a wound day after day, it prompts the body's own tissues to grow into it while blocking the formation of scar tissue. Eventually the pig-bladder material became part of Knoll's thumb.

The process takes weeks, but by the start of 2013 he was in the roses -- back to playing the piano and reporting little pain and no swelling. For more information and to see the commercial, go to specialist.sluhospital.com/stories/walter-knoll/

Today's trivia

Who owns the 45.52-carat Hope diamond, often called the world's most famous diamond?

Answer to Saturday's trivia: "The Simpsons" will celebrate its 550th episode tonight with a special episode that will transform Springfield into a Lego world. But the dysfunctional cartoon family still has years to go to top the all-time record of 635 episodes by Matt Dillon, Kitty Blake and the rest of the "Gunsmoke" gang from 1955 to 1975. Of course, it helped that back in the old days, "Gunsmoke" was cranking out more than 30 episodes a season compared to 20 or so for "The Simpsons." That's why creator Matt Groening is still playing catch-up even after 26 seasons of Homer and Marge.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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