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From the Fall Issue Online Exclusives From the Alumni Association Looking toward the Bicentennial
Ohio Today

Something to sing about
Alumna receives degree 60 years later

Helen Corns
Helen Townsend Corns receives her associate of arts degree from University President Robert Glidden.
Click here to listen to an MP3 sampling of Corns' work, "The Campus is Lonely Tonight".
By Betsy Vereckey

Music has the unexplainable power to unite generations. Familiar melodies from the past rekindle special memories that were made long ago.

In the case of one Ohio University alumna, music is tying her days on campus during World War II with the University's bicentennial this year - and allowing her to obtain a college degree put on hold for 60 years.

Helen Townsend Corns of Rocky River, Ohio, wrote "The Campus Is Lonely Tonight" in the early 1940s to describe the empty feeling on campus after most of the men had left for war.

The tune is featured on the University's bicentennial compact disc, "Four-Year Heaven: Ohio University Players and The Local Girls Present the Songs of Ohio University."

When Corns arrived on campus as a freshman majoring in drama in 1940, there were only about 3,000 students. Halfway through her college career, her Alpha Gamma Delta sorority sisters introduced her to Don Larson. They fell in love and were married not long after they met. Larson left campus in 1943 to serve in the war.

While Larson was away, Corns wanted to support the war effort. She petitioned Dean of Women Irma Voigt to allow the sororities to perform together for the students during Prep Follies. Ernest Mariani, BFA '43, a Theta Chi fraternity member, helped set "The Campus Is Lonely Tonight" lyrics to music, and Estelle Jones, BSC '45, sang the song in front of the student body.

Just nine months after Larson and Corns married, Larson was killed in the war. Her drama studies suddenly seemed frivolous to her during such difficult times for the country, and she soon left school to work as a secretary at the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (now NASA) at Cleveland Municipal Airport. She eventually became the editor of the company publication, "Wing Tips."

She married Bob Corns in 1947 and raised two boys, Bradley and Robert.

Corns had not thought much about "The Campus Is Lonely Tonight" until Mimi Hart, an assistant professor of English at the University, called her to find out about the song because she was considering using it for the bicentennial CD. Once Corns sang it to her over the telephone, Hart, a member of The Local Girls, fell in love with the tune and decided to perform it on the CD.

After hearing Corns' story, Hart thought Corns should be acknowledged not only for her contribution to the musical culture of the University but also as a representative of the women who sacrificed their education to contribute to the war effort.

"I think the bicentennial celebration should be welcoming. We should reach out to all those who have contributed to the school, and Helen certainly did," Hart says.

Hart then wrote to Nancy Crist, assistant to President Robert Glidden, and with the help of David Descutner, associate provost for undergraduate education, arranged for Corns to receive an associate of arts degree, for which she had completed enough credits during her college days.

"Personally, I think it is great when the President's Office can partner with a college, a professor and a local artist in recognizing the contribution of an alumna from OU," Descutner says.

Corns traveled to campus Oct. 10 to receive her degree in the President's Office, and there she heard, for the first time, Hart's recording of her song. Glidden pointed out that Corns is the first person to receive the graduation medallion that will commemorate the University's bicentennial, as will all students who graduate in 2004.

"I feel like the scarecrow in 'The Wizard of Oz' when he discovers that he has a brain," she jokes of her excitement.

These days, Corns serves on the board for the Beck Center for the Arts, and at Rocky River Senior Center, she leads a class in reading plays.

"You don't grow old," she says. "You become old when you don't grow."

Betsy Vereckey, MSJ '04, is the graduate student writer for Ohio Today Online.

Individuals interested in finding out more about degree completion at Ohio University should contact David Descutner, associate provost for undergraduate education, at (740) 593-1935. Descutner says former students often can complete a nearly finished degree simply spending a summer in class, doing a correspondence class or other methods.

"If you have less than a year's worth of college work, it really is in your interest to complete your degree," he says.

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