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
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
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."