Retired University Architect and former U.S. Navy Seabee Warren Corman, e’50, on Sunday was honored during a “Salute to Service” ceremony during Sporting Kansas City’s 2-1 victory over the LA Galaxy at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.
Corman, 91, was among the combat construction engineers thrust in April 1945 into the Battle of Okinawa, the bloodiest battle of the Pacific campaign, and he has since carried the Seabees’ motto with him in every facet of his life’s work: “If it’s difficult, we do it immediately; if it’s impossible, we take several days.”
Only 18 at the time, with no wife or children waiting for him back home, Corman remained in Okinawa for another year after the end of the war. Upon his return, Corman hustled through his coursework with trademark energy, completing five years of coursework in four and graduating in 1950 with a degree in architectural engineering.
Corman’s early career
Shortly after joining the state architect’s office, Corman assisted with the design and construction of Allen Field House. He worked for the state of Kansas until 1957, when he was lured to Delaware when DuPont promised him a big boost in pay and lifetime employment; a depression hit the East Coast six months later, DuPont closed its architecture office, and Corman then spent two years with a small Wilmington firm.
Once he and his family made their way back to Kansas, Corman spent seven years with two Topeka firms before joining the Board of Regents in 1966.
A return to KU
Chancellor Robert E. Hemenway in 1997 convinced Corman to return to his alma mater as University architect and special assistant to the chancellor, posts he held until his December 2010 retirement—an unlikely event that, in fact, did not last long, as Corman joined the School of Engineering as the dean’s construction adviser, a position he held until 2015.
Now fully retired, Corman maintains close ties with the University as an executive committee member serving the Association’s KU Veterans Alumni Network.
Salute to service
Veterans Network secretary Randy Masten, g’03, a retired Army officer and assistant director of KU’s Office of Graduate Military Programs, nominated Corman for the Sporting KC honor, and was on hand to cheer both his beloved Sporting KC as well as a distinguished Jayhawk who has done so much in service to his alma mater, his home state and his country.
“Randy goes to all the games, and he told me afterward that when I was introduced as a veteran of the last battle of World War II, a guy sitting next to him said, ‘That guy must be lying about his age. He can’t be World War II. He must be Vietnam.’”
Corman chuckles as he shares the anecdote—which he usually does when telling his stories—but he also fights back a sudden well of emotion. For more than 40 years, Corman remained silent about his Okinawa experiences even with his family; now, though still blessed with a nimble step and youthful spirit, Corman knows that he is among the last survivors of his great and brave generation, and so he accepts salutes such as the one he received Sunday in memory of all of his combat comrades.
“They were really so nice,” Corman says of staff and fans at the Sporting KC match, as he regains his voice after a brief moment of reflection. “Everything about the day was nice. Really a wonderful honor.”
Warren Corman was the subject of a cover feature in Kansas Alumni magazine, issue no. 5, 2011, as he closed the books on his long career. You can read the full article online. Photos by Steve Puppe.
When the Alumni Association’s Gold Medal Club gathered April 11 at the Adams Alumni Center for the annual reunion of alumni who have passed their 50-year class anniversaries, participants witnessed a most unexpected site: Warren Corman at a loss for words.
Corman, e’50, was asked by Heath Peterson, d’04, g’09, the Association’s vice president for alumni programs, to step forward and be recognized—not for his work as a Gold Medal Club counselor, but to accept a Mildred Clodfelter Alumni Award, which recognizes Jayhawks who have demonstrated years of dedicated service as KU ambassadors in their local communities.
Though the “Millies”—which honor the memory of the late Association stalwart Millie Clodfelter, b’41, whose service to KU spanned 47 years—had been announced last fall, Corman did not know he would receive his recognition at the Gold Medal Club reunion.
“It was kind of a surprise,” Corman says. “I didn’t know what to say, but it was fun.”
Fun, it turns out, is a key element to Corman’s legendary good humor and easy-going manner. He served as University architect from 1996 to 2010, and before being hired at KU by Chancellor Robert E. Hemenway, Corman spent 31 years as staff architect and director of facilities for the Kansas Board of Regents.
He was a combat veteran as a U.S. Navy Seabee at the Battle of Okinawa, and shortly after enrolling at KU Corman used the engineering experience he gained in the Navy to land part-time work with the state architect, Charles Marshall, who had been a friend of Corman’s late father, architect Emmett Corman, a’25.
“In 1947, on the first day on the job, Charlie called me in,” Corman recalls. “We were drafting on something, I forget what it was, but he said, ‘Warren, are you having fun?’ I wasn’t sure how to answer that. Should I be having fun or not having fun? If you’re having too much fun, maybe you’re not taking your job seriously. I didn’t know what to say.
“I said, ‘Well, Charlie, I’ve only been here a few hours.’ He said, ‘Well, Warren, I want you to remember this: If you’re not having fun in your job every day, you’re probably in the wrong job.’ I’ve never forgotten that. Every day I think about that. That’s why I’m 88 and I’m still working and having fun.”
A 2011 Kansas Alumni magazine cover story about Corman’s retirement as University architect speculated the Corman would never fully embrace a life of leisure in his retirement. Indeed, in May 2012, Stuart Bell, then dean of the School of Engineering, hired Corman as a part-time consultant to help the school navigate its ongoing construction and engineering projects. Michael Branicky, who replaced the departed Bell in 2013, retained Corman’s services.
“I’m adviser to the dean for all the engineering projects,” Corman says. “And it’s been fun.”
The Jayhawk Boulevard facelift has changed more than just the pavement—the KU Info booth has been rebuilt to better serve students who walk the iconic thoroughfare.
Recent construction opened the door to creating a contemporary version of the classic structure. The original booth was a gift from the Class of 1950. The new and improved booth is larger and complies with Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines. “The old booth was perfectly comfortable for one person, but if there was more than one person, you’d better really like that other person,” says Curtis Marsh, KU Info director.
The new space represents KU Info’s commitment to remain a ready resource for students. “This service is here with whatever students need help with. You don’t get judged for the questions you ask,” says Marsh, j’92. “We’re the experts on the KU stuff, but if you want to know how to wash your clothes or cook ramen, we want to help students with any issues they have. We want alumni to call, too, because we love the fact that alumni think of us as a tradition.”
Marsh made sure to honor tradition in the ceremonial opening of the new booth by inviting Warren Corman, e’50, longtime University architect, to clip the ribbon.
KU Info receives an average of 300 inquiries a day. For help, visit kuinfo.ku.edu or call 785-864-3506.