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Mar 10, 2017 2017-03 Alumni Business Administration Faculty

Paul Magelli Celebration of Life

Paul Magelli On January 21, the family, friends, and colleagues of Dr. Paul Magelli gathered in the Business Instructional Facility to honor the life and achievements of a renowned scholar, mentor, and friend.

In his welcoming remarks, College of Business Dean Jeffrey Brown recalled his friend and colleague, whose life had such a positive impact on so many. However, Magelli’s greatest impact is universally recognized as being his passion for students: “More than anything, it was his mentoring of thousands of students over the years, each of whom had his full attention when they were with him, and each of whom could drink from his fount of wisdom.”

Magelli’s daughter, Dr. Merrell Magelli, provided the biographical background of Paul Magelli’s life. From his early days as the son of a coal miner to his later years as a renowned mentor of thousands. She told stories of a man who was unafraid of a challenge, as shown during his time as president of what was then Metropolitan State College (now University) of Denver. Seeing the need for a school song (which the college did not have), Magelli simply got on the phone and called Marvin Hamlisch to ask the composer to write a school song. A bod move—but a successful one: the composer complied.

And, as so many at the event could attest, Magelli was always at work at something, often spending time in the evening working on some project. But he always worked happily on these projects. As Merrell Magelli explained, “He always said, ‘If you’re going to be doing something the rest of your life, you better enjoy it. Otherwise, better find something else to do.’”

Dean Emeritus and Professor of Finance and Professor of Economics Larry DeBrock spoke of the impact that Magelli had on students and business education. In particular, Magelli created what is now known as Illinois Business Consulting (IBC) in 1995 to give business students hands-on experience solving real problems for real clients. IBC is now the largest professionally managed student consulting group in the nation, and it has become the model for similar programs at other institutions.

Through IBC, said DeBrock, “Paul has mentored thousands about what it means to be a professional and how to handle what you have learned with real hands-on experience.”

Dean Jeffrey Brown College of Business Dean Jeffrey Brown provided the welcome for the Celebration of Life in honor of Paul Magelli.

DeBrock also described the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership that Magelli helped found, which led to dozens of new courses across the university and at Parkland College on the topic of entrepreneurship. He was also instrumental in founding Sinoway International Education (SIE), a program for teaching accredited US college-level courses in China over the summer, giving students an opportunity to do summer work when back home. Thousands of students from colleges across the nation have taken advantage of these courses. In all he did, said DeBrock, “the thing Paul thought most about was students, students, students.”

Dr. Alfredo Clavell of the Mayo Clinic spoke of the efforts Magelli engaged in to help in research on heart disease. He recalled Magelli telling him “I hate heart disease, and I’m not going to die because of heart disease.”

Clavell described how, for more than 20 years, Magelli fought to maintain his health and to help with research into heart health. Magelli had been scheduled to participate in a study associated with a climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2016 that would study heart health of people a variety of ages as they went up the mountain. Magelli’s own health prevented from taking part in this climb.

Beatrice Dosu Narh, the business director of Raymond Narh MD SC, had worked with Magelli while a student at Illinois. She praised his ability to bring out the best in others. “He was unique ability to connect with people from all walks of life. His warmth, empathy, and love for humanity was unparalleled,” she said. “When you spend time with Dr. Magelli, he makes you feel like something. You leave feeling uplifted, encouraged, and loved. Moreover, out of sight was never out of mind.”

She introduced a video compiled from submissions from many students that Magelli had interacted with and mentored over the course of his career. All praised his positive influence and the strength of character that he modeled.

Marching Illini Members of the Marching Illini gave a brief concert to end the Celebration of Life.

The next speaker, Michael Tokarz, founder and chairman of Tokarz Group LLC, met Magelli long after completing his Illinois degree. Magelli was in New York and was looking up Business alumni. They hit it off, and Tokarz became an enthusiastic fan of Magelli’s work and enthusiasm. He urged the audience to remember and perpetuate Magelli’s enthusiasm for mentoring. “On this day, in an effort to perpetuate the Paul Magelli spirit of mentoring, I ask that we pause and pledge to recognize our teacher, mentor, leader and uncompromising friend. He is a world-class human being who lived so vigorously in support of us all.”

Tokarz then led those in attendance in person or online in the following promise in honor of Magelli:

I so promise! The spirit of Paul Magelli will never pass. It will continue to live on in all of us as our teacher taught us well. I know he will always be with us and will continue to love us from afar and direct us for eternity with the beacon of his guiding light.

The final speaker for the event was Paul Magelli, Jr., who urged those who revere Paul Magelli to take what they have learned from his father and pay it forward. “If there’s anybody that’s paid it forward, I’ll argue that it’s my father,” he said. “The question I think my father would ask is what we’re going to do with that gift and with that investment that he’s made in each of us to unlock our potential.” The celebration ended as Magelli surely would have wanted it to, with members of the Marching Illini leading attendees into the BIF Commons for selection of songs and some refreshments. Prominent among the refreshments were favorites of Magelli’s: frozen custard from Jarling’s Custard Cup and cheesecake.

A recording of the Celebration of Life event in honor of Paul Magelli is available for viewing.

Contributions are welcome for the Dr. Magelli Tribute Fund.


Paul John Magelli was born on June 28, 1931, in Mount Clare, Illinois. He was the eleventh of twelve children, and he had an identical twin brother, Pete. In 1956, he entered the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign as a freshman. He received his bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Illinois in 1959. He continued his studies in economics at Illinois, earning his master’s degree in 1960 and his PhD in 1965.

He went on to a number of administrative positions in colleges and universities across the country, rising to serve in a number of administrative positions, including dean of the Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Wichita State University; vice president for academic affairs at Drake University; president of Metropolitan State College of Denver; and president of Parkland College. While at Wichita State University, Magelli also served as the president of the Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences (CCAS) from 1982 to 1983.

Upon retiring from Parkland College in 1989, Magelli returned to the University of Illinois. At Illinois, he served as an assistant dean of the MBA program, assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, associate dean and director of budgets, and visiting professor of economics.