Gladys Turner is a tireless promoter of Professor Joseph C. Corbin, who is buried in Forest Home Cemetery (FHC). Ten years ago, Gladys raised thousands of dollars to buy a new headstone for Corbin’s grave. She contacted the Historical Society of Forest Park and I helped arrange the dedication ceremony. 

I’ve been helping Gladys ever since. Her latest project began with a letter she sent to me last summer. It contained an application to have Corbin’s grave placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The application was 28 pages long and had some picky requirements. I needed help from a “miracle worker” like Carol Gulyas. Carol’s miracle was persuading the Illinois Department of Transportation to place signs along the Eisenhower Expressway guiding visitors to the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument (HMM).  

Carol took the required photographs of Corbin’s grave, while I worked on the application. After we sent these photos to Gladys, she suddenly told us to hold off on the application. She had enlisted the help of historic preservation experts to have the application completed and submitted for approval.

Amy Hathaway, is a National Register specialist for the state of Illinois. Her job is to do the “grunt work” to complete applications for people like Gladys. Amy wasn’t familiar with Corbin and knew that gravesites are a tough sell for the National Registry. They prefer to honor historic structures, monuments or entire districts.

Corbin’s grave faced long odds of being accepted. He was an Ohio native, who made his mark in Arkansas but was buried in Illinois. They first proved there were no other suitable sites for honoring Corbin. The buildings from the college he founded are gone. The high school where he was principal has been demolished, and his Arkansas home is now a vacant lot. The gravesite was the only eligible location. 

Amy had never worked on a gravesite before. She contacted Ralph Wilcox, her counterpart in Arkansas, who provided her with a gravesite proposal he had written. Ralph’s example was helpful but it was the passion and persistence of Gladys that inspired her. 

Amy was also inspired by the life of Joseph Corbin, who rose to prominence during Reconstruction to become the “father of higher education” for Black students in Arkansas. Corbin founded Branch Normal College, a Historic Black College that was the forerunner of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. When Reconstruction ended, Corbin was forced out of his job and moved to Chicago where he had family.

He also owned property in Chicago and acquired more property when he bought a six-grave family plot in FHC in 1909. He also purchased a handsome granite headstone for $500. He was buried there on Jan. 14, 1911. 

Corbin may have had an illustrious career but it was still an arduous task to have his grave approved for the National Registry. Ralph Wilcox helped by providing the latitude and longitude of Corbin’s grave. Finally, Carey L. Mayer, deputy state historic preservation officer, nominated the application to the National Registry, where it was approved. 

Gladys doesn’t get all the credit for this remarkable achievement, Amy says. She acknowledges how the historical society joined in the efforts to honor Corbin’s legacy. He was featured in the society’s “Des Plaines River Anthology.” He was also portrayed during a “Tale of the Tombstones” tour. 

Meanwhile, Gladys has published a biography of Corbin and promoted his legacy in Ohio, Arkansas and Illinois. She is also continuing her 10-year campaign to have the United States Postal Service honor Corbin with a commemorative stamp.  

If anyone is feisty enough to get it done, it’s Gladys. 

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.