Krannert Center: Visionary Philanthropist

Herman C. Krannert was a businessman and philanthropist in the Midwest of the United States who made millions in the corrugated fiber products industry and subsequently made generous contributions to education and the arts.

Among other substantial contributions, eleven buildings bear the Krannert name, most of them at hospitals and universities in Illinois and Indiana, including the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University, and the Krannert Art Museum and Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

After graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering, Krannert was hired in 1914 by Sefton Manufacturing Company, a Chicago-based firm that made paper boxes. At age 30, he was transferred to Anderson, Indiana, and became the youngest Sefton employee to be promoted to plant manager. During his years in Anderson, Krannert met and later married Ellnora Decker, an Indiana native and graduate of Brenau College.

Krannert’s work at the Anderson plant was rewarded with the company’s president offering him a position as a vice president and director, with the caveat that Krannert would be required to vote as the president voted. Feeling that this directive was unprofessional and unethical, he left the company.

In addition to overseeing the company, Krannert was involved in several civic and other business interests. He received an honorary doctor of law degree from the University of Illinois in 1965, in addition to honorary degrees from Indiana, Butler, Purdue, Evansville, and DePauw Universities, and from Indiana Central College. Mrs. Krannert received honorary degrees from Indiana Central College and from Evansville, Butler, and Indiana Universities.

Among other substantial contributions, eleven buildings bear the Krannert name, most of them at hospitals and universities in Illinois and Indiana. Mrs. Krannert’s appreciation for the arts largely influenced the Krannert’s’ contributions to the University of Illinois, and she was influential in the design of the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. Commenting on this gift to the University, Mr. Krannert said: “We feel that it is a privilege to contribute to my Alma Mater to enlarge and to improve the cultural facilities for future students.”

Herman Krannert was a University of Illinois College of Engineering graduate who made a name for himself in the shipping business—in particular, by pioneering the use of corrugated cardboard through his Inland Container Corporation.

In the early 1960s, Herman and his wife Ellnora (for whom our guitar festival is named) decided it was time to honor Herman’s alma mater with a new gift. The University of Illinois brought several ideas to the table, among them a new engineering laboratory, a conference center, and an expansive, inclusive home for the performing arts at Illinois.

In the Krannert’s’ own words, “We chose the Center for the Performing Arts because we are convinced that education through participation in culture is one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences people can enjoy—and, in these complex times, a most needed one.”

Nearly 50 years later, these sentiments continue to resonate, and the same spirit that guided the Krannert’s’ decision has been made manifest in all those who continue to sustain the Center through memorial gifts, estate gifts, corporate donations, Marquee Circle and Loop membership, and performance and initiative sponsorships.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *