Adding to a Legacy: Ursinus to Honor Jef Corson P’04 with Bear2Bear Impact Award
John E.F. “Jef” Corson, a longtime Ursinus College trustee, philanthropist, and past interim president, will be presented with the 2024 Bear2Bear Impact Award for Leadership and Service on May 9.
Jef Corson spent more than four transformative decades on the Ursinus College Board of Trustees, but looking back, his Collegeville journey started with a little humility and a very big question: “Am I the right person to make a difference?”
Resoundingly, the answer was, “Yes,” and this spring, the college will bestow one of its highest honors upon Corson: the Bear2Bear Impact Award for Leadership and Service. The award recognizes distinguished individuals or organizations who have had an extraordinary impact on their local, national, or global communities through leadership and service and have been unparalleled supporters of Ursinus and its mission.
“Ursinus College is a better place today thanks to the leadership of Jef Corson, who throughout his career has been driven by ensuring the success of every student,” President Robyn Hannigan said. “He has long embodied and championed Ursinus’s spirit and values, and I’m thrilled that the college will honor his contributions not only to Ursinus, but the community at large, with the Bear2Bear Impact Award.”
Corson was approached in 1983 by Ursinus College President Richard P. Richter with a proposition: Would he follow in the footsteps of his father, Philip Corson, namesake of the college’s administrative building, and join the Ursinus Board of Trustees? The younger Corson was 43 at the time, and relatively early in a business career which, at that point, included an executive vice president role at G. and W.H. Corson, Inc., and serving as principal at the firm Abbott and Cobb, a large producer of vegetable seeds in North America.
Corson said he thought he was too young and didn’t have enough influence to have an impact on behalf of the college. Everyone else on the board was older and more connected. But Richter’s response was, “That’s why we need you.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Throughout his tenure, Corson served as the Ursinus board’s secretary, treasurer, vice chair, and chair, and was even tapped as the college’s interim president in 2010.
As Richter had hoped, Corson helped move the board forward and change with the times. Trustee membership began to include more diverse backgrounds and perspectives, and Corson was instrumental in establishing several new campus buildings. Through the Corson Foundation, Jef committed $1 million toward the Innovation and Discovery Center, a state-of-the-art hub for science and technology that continues to shape today’s Ursinus experience and develop future innovators.
Although he did not attend Ursinus as an undergraduate student, Corson received an honorary degree from the college in 2012. He is currently the president of both the Corson Investment Company and the Corson Foundation. He has also held volunteer leadership roles with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) (board member), the Montgomery Hospital (board chair), the Einstein Healthcare Network (board member), and the Einstein Medical Center Montgomery (EMCM) (board vice-chair), as a well as several other community organizations.
“[Jef Corson] once said, ‘There’s nothing more important than developing the next generation of people. Supporting young people gets the biggest bang for your buck,’” said Jef’s son and current Ursinus trustee, Flynn Corson ’04. “This perspective is central to his love of Ursinus. But his decades of leadership there has extended that love well beyond the student community.”
“Ursinus is his favorite place, and he has committed a significant portion of his life to thinking about the experience of its students, faculty, staff, administration, and board,” Flynn continued. “Because he knows that not only is the strength of the community such a unique differentiator in the landscape of higher ed, but it … determines the success of its students.”
The award will be presented at the sixth annual Bear2Bear Benefit & Bash on Thursday. May 9, at the RiverCrest Golf Club and Preserve. All proceeds from the event support the Bear2Bear Student Emergency Fund, which assists students facing temporary financial hardship because of an emergency or crisis, providing special grants for students who have exhausted all other sources of funding.
Previous winners of the Bear2Bear Impact Award were Joan and Will ’61 Abele, Joseph DeSimone ’86, Nancy Opalack ’71, Michael T. Piotrowicz ’78, and Donald E. ’55 and Joan B. ’57 Parlee.