SIU community reacts to Montemagno's death - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

SIU community reacts to Montemagno's death

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CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Despite battling cancer, those close to Carlo Montemagno said he was in good spirits and enthusiastic about the future of SIU.

He was also hard at work the entire time.

But Montemagno's condition got worse earlier this week, and overnight, he died at the age of 62.

"It was surprising," SIU senior Joe Locher said. "I knew he had trouble with the cancer but I didn't know the severity of it."

Locher remembers him as an enthusiastic man, especially at sporting events.  

"He was always there and he cheered with us in the front row. He was starting cheers with us.He had his own megaphone," Locher said. "So as far as getting into it, in a good way, with students and things that we like to do, I appreciated it."

Locher said Montemagno hosted students at his house and even gave him a ride to a football game once in his golf cart.

"I look at these students and I get the chance to talk to them, I get energized," Montemagno said during move-in weekend in August. "I see the staff and the faculty volunteering their time, welcoming them into the Saluki community and I get excited."

Toni Deblieck, a graduate student studying nutrition, catered Montemagno's suite at a football game just two weeks ago.

"He was just quiet. He was very polite. Very nice," Deblieck said. " (He) made some jokes. A very down to earth man."

She was shocked to hear the news of his death, too.

"It's just sad. He handed my diploma to me (as an undergrad), and I catered his game, got a picture with him," Deblieck said. "It's just sad how life happens like that."

Montemagno ran into some opposition during his tenure as Chancellor, one that started just last summer.

He proposed a dramatic reorganization of the campus and at least initially, faculty members weren't on board.

"It's really easy to get into this negative feedback loop where you talk about why the glass is half full, and not really discuss the fact that the glass truly is half full, not half empty," Montemagno said in November 2017. "We have the ability to fill this glass up."

SIUC Faculty Association President Dave Johnson said in a statement that his thoughts and prayers are with Montemagno's family, and we should learn all the lessons we can from Montemagno's time at SIU, both positive and negative.

SIU board member J. Phil Gilbert considered Montemagno a close friend.

"His heart was SIU, not only for the campus but the entire region and community," Gilbert said.

Fellow SIU board member Joel Sambursky said Montemagno always showed compassion for others, including Sambursky's son, Teddy, as he battled health issues after he was born prematurely last year.

"Dr. Montemagno should be rightfully praised as a visionary, genius, engineer, and leading expert in nanotechnology, but I also got to know him as a good man who cared deeply for SIU," Sambursky said in a post on Facebook. "He is someone that I am thankful to have gotten to know this past year and I am better for having the opportunity to do so."

Carbondale Mayor Mike Henry hopes SIU continues Montemagno's work.

"I think he'll be viewed as an innovator; as a person who was initially looked at as being dictatorial but who we found out was very willing to sit down at the table and listen to faculty and staff and listen to what their concerns were with his initiatives," Henry said.

And he says fundamentally, Montemagno was a good man.

SIU interim president Kevin Dorsey said he will call a special board meeting soon to appoint an interim chancellor.

"He created a roadmap to secure the university's future; earned the respect and commitment of faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members; and was an unwavering proponent of the university's mission," Dorsey said in a statement. "He was a distinguished, international expert in nanotechnology and bioengineering."

The university will host a vigil honoring Montemagno Friday at 5 p.m. at the Student Services Building pavilion.

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