By Tom Maguire | Associate editor
He lives on Long Island Sound but his heart still sails toward Binghamton.
And James Corgel has had some terrific role models, including late Bishop Frank J. Harrison, a close family friend; late Father Theodore M. Hesburgh, the longtime president of Corgel’s alma mater, the University of Notre Dame; Msgr. Michael T. Meagher, pastor of the Parish of Saints John and Andrew; Richard Bucci, longtime friend and retired leader of Catholic Schools of Broome County; his late father, T. Richard Corgel, a self-made man; and his older brother, Thomas R. Corgel, Jr., a two-time New York State championship basketball coach for Binghamton High School.
“Helps form your character being around those people,” said Corgel, of Westport, Conn. He saw the pathway that people ahead of him followed, “and it looked like a pretty good game plan. … Tons of coaching by brilliant people. I’ve been surrounded my entire life by brilliant people.”
With such linkages to greatness, he figures it is logical to do something big for Binghamton, where he graduated from Catholic Central High School before it merged with Seton Catholic.
He and his wife have recently set up the James and Christine Corgel Endowed Scholarship Fund for two students to attend Seton Catholic Central High School. The $200,000 endowment will provide each student with a $5,000 scholarship for each year the student is enrolled. Preference is given to Latino or African-American candidates. Additionally, special consideration is given to applicants who come from underrepresented households.
Elizabeth Carter, Ph.D., the president of Catholic Schools of Broome County, welcomes the scholarship. “It’s our Catholic mission,” she said, “because we are taught by our teacher Jesus Christ, that we are to help all people, especially the poor. He mentions that endlessly.”
Corgel said that he and his wife, will not select the scholarship award winners, but they prefer these characteristics for the candidates:
1. Do they have goals? Do they realize their life is ahead of them and do they have plans to achieve more? They must want to “achieve as much as the world allows” them. “You have to want more before you can achieve it,” Corgel said. “You have to set your sights; that’s what I mean by goal-oriented.”
2. Are they competitive? “Nothing is easy in life,” he said, so “just be competitive.” Competitive does not mean being belligerent; it means being fair and honest, taking advantage of God-given skills, and maximizing “whatever I have with my DNA.”
3. Are they open to asking for help? “Every time I asked for help I got it,” he said. When he was 10, 12-year-olds taught him how to catch a fly ball. At 14, 16-year-old boys taught him how to shoot a basketball. In high school, a tutor was there if he needed help in math or science. And God invented college juniors, he said, as the best coaches away from home to help a student decide which major to pursue or which courses to take. “I didn’t find it hard to ask for help, and I didn’t find it hard to give it away as well later on,” he said.
4. As they grow and mature, do the candidates always look to reach down and help younger brothers and sisters?
But the generosity — where did that come from?
“I’m 66 years old and I’ve had 19 years of Catholic education that really is the backbone of who I am today and why I do the things I do,” he said from his home a mile from the beach.
He added: “I don’t think my life has been fancy or extraordinary. … Now that I have the capability, I want to help other people do the same; why not?”
Corgel was born and raised in Binghamton. His father was an athlete at Ithaca High School, served in the Army, and worked as a steamfitter before ending up as a senior executive for a mechanical contracting firm out of Albany.
James was the valedictorian of his eighth-grade class at St. Patrick’s Academy in Binghamton. He won a $150 scholarship — a lot of money in those days — to attend Catholic Central High School.
Then the “liberal arts guy” — “kind of study everything so you can do anything kind of guy” — graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a four-year degree in American studies. He loved studying history and government. But encouraged by his advisers and role models to get a master’s degree in business administration, he spent another two years at Notre Dame, and “it paid off well.”
He joined IBM in 1975 as a 24-year-old computer salesman, and he worked there for 38 years. He retired in the summer of 2013 having worked his way up to a senior-executive job with the company. “I had good sponsorship, role models, good mentors … and a lot of ambition, I don’t deny, and it paid off; I was rewarded well. … It was a very fortunate career.”
Best of all, he met his wife when they both worked in Chicago. Christine, from Michigan State University, was a marketing executive at IBM for 33 years. They were both 38 when they got married for the first time; they are about to celebrate their 29th anniversary.
Post-IBM, Corgel launched a career-development consultancy. The proceeds go to a University of Notre Dame scholarship in the name of his father, for people of color — young men and women from his hometown of Binghamton. If no one from Binghamton applies for the scholarship, it goes to someone else who needs it; currently, it goes to a Chinese-American female senior from Endwell. Corgel has also endowed the rector position in the Notre Dame hall in which he lived. Further, Corgel serves as a guest speaker from time to time in Notre Dame’s executive MBA program, offering advice on career development. He also is a trustee of the Westport Historical Society and the American Management Association.
When he meets with recent graduates who received his Notre Dame scholarship, “their look on their face is as sincere as you ever see, so that’s meaningful.”
Regarding future recipients of his Seton Catholic scholarship, “I want to … meet them sometime down the road and see how they’re doing.”
He will not be surprised by their look of sincerity.