Shirk Family Foundation Gift Ensures Shirk Center’s Future

Athletic Director Dennie Bridges '61

November 23, 2009

The Russell O. & Betty Shirk Foundation has made a major campaign gift to Illinois Wesleyan to establish the Shirk Center Endowment Fund. In combination with University resources, that fund will be used to enhance the Shirk Center Athletic Complex in perpetuity.

Illinois Wesleyan Athletic Director Dennie Bridges '61 offered his thoughts on the Shirk Foundation gift:

"In my years as athletic director at Illinois Wesleyan, there have been a lot of exciting moments. Being involved in the planning and building of the Shirk Center has to be at the top of the list. Most important to me was how thrilled Russ and Betty Shirk were at how it turned out and how it has been used as a community resource.

Initially, we all thought that we would simply be building a facility for Illinois Wesleyan physical education and athletics. We had no idea of how important it would be to the entire community.

The Shirk story began in 1937 in downtown Bloomington when Russell Shirk and his parents acquired a small storefront confectionery shop, the Caramel Crisp Shoppe, that grew into Beer Nuts, Incorporated.

Russ was an alumnus of the IWU class of 1943, a loyal and thoughtful person, and he was best friends with Coach Jack Horenberger. Their friendship and their affection for Illinois Wesleyan were the seeds that grew into the Shirk Center and the Jack Horenberger Field as well as the Shirk Athletic Complex.

Joining our IWU team and the architects, Russ and his son, Jim, began to dream, investigate and design. A lot of good decisions were made. The Shirk Center became the national standard for Division III multi-purpose athletic, recreation and wellness facilities. It has been serving not just Illinois Wesleyan athletes, but all of our students for 14 years.

Russ said that he was surprised at the impact that the Shirk Center had on the community. He told me that every morning he would hear of some high school event at the Shirk Center, he would read in The Pantagraph of a charity event at the Shirk Center and his friends would tell him stories about how they worked out at the Shirk Center or how their grandkids played a game at the Shirk Center. He was so proud.

After the Center opened, the Shirk family continued to lead by helping us develop our outdoor facilities, the Jack Horenberger Field for baseball, along with soccer, softball, football and track. We are the envy of many schools and our athletic facilities are a big factor in student recruitment."