After 52 years of teaching Morris’ children, current Immaculate Conception School art teacher Joe Corsello will be honored for his time, commitment and abilities in the classroom by the legendary Dolly Parton in Tennessee this June.
“I am thrilled to death,” Corsello said with a smile.
The Morris teacher will be the sole national recipient of the 2012 Dolly Parton Chasing Rainbow’s Award. A ceremony recognizing Corsello will be held mid-June in the Chasing Rainbows Museum at the Dollywood amusement park.
He will be treated to a luncheon with Parton and will be given a permanent backstage pass, Corsello said. He will receive the award and other surprises, too.
“Your students have received a better education because of your sincere dedication to the profession and we praise you for this,” said Edna Rogers, director of Dolly Parton’s Chasing Rainbows Award, in a congratulatory letter to Corsello.
She also wrote that Corsello’s travel arrangements will be reimbursed, his hotel will be paid for and his transportation to and from Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., will be provided.
“Dolly has overcome many obstacles in her life and is making a difference in the lives of children. Now Dolly, in turn, gives this award personally every year to a teacher who has overcome obstacles in his/her life and is making a difference in the lives of children,” Rogers said.
Corsello’s wife Norma said he was the only child of 12 that attended and graduated high school and college. Only one other sibling completed grade school. His parents were immigrants from Italy and couldn’t speak English.
On the last day of school of his 52nd teaching year, Corsello remembered that his original intentions were not to become a teacher at all. In fact, he wanted to be an interior decorator for Marshall Fields.
He said he would regularly visit Chicago when he was younger just to watch the decorators at Marshall Fields hard at work. He dreamed about setting up the famous window displays, but in a conversation with one of those decorators, he was encouraged to go to college first.
“Then my number came up for the Korean War,” Corsello said.
While in Korea, he and two other men worked at an orphanage. Not knowing what to do with children who he could not communicate verbally with, Corsello decided to show them how to finger-paint.
“They understood me and I didn’t even speak their language,” Corsello said. That was when he thought he might like to be a teacher someday.
When he came home from Korea in 1955, Corsello headed for Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Ill., to major in fine arts and minor in education.
“It was the best decision I have ever made,” Corsello said.
After graduation four years later, his first teaching job was at Morris Community High School. At the time, he was the only full-time art teacher in Grundy County. Corsello taught art at MCHS for 33 years and has been at ICS ever since.
He has now taught Morris’ children for three generations. If a certain little girl goes to ICS next year, she will be Corsello’s first fourth-generation student.
Jack Galloway, current sixth-grader at ICS, said Corsello taught his grandfather and his mother before he enrolled at ICS in first grade.
Jack “really likes” taking art with Corsello, so much that Jack even attends after school art classes with Corsello. The student’s favorite project with Corsello over the six years was a cartoon assignment.
“I think he deserves it,” Galloway said about Corsello receiving the award.
Classmate Katelyn Witthuhn agreed.
“I think it’s a great honor for him. I think I’m a great artist because I learned from him,” she said. “I think he’s a great teacher.”
In 1977, Corsello was named Man of the Year by the Morris Chamber of Commerce. In 1978, he was honored as the Illinois State Teacher of the Year. In 1997, he was named a Distinguished Member of the Illinois Art Education Association and was also a co-founder of the Corsello-Prenzeler Art scholarship for college-bound students at MCHS, according to Jerry Weller, former U.S. Congressman, in an address to the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives Wednesday, Jan. 28, 1998.
“Joe (Corsello) played an important part in shaping the minds of Morris High students as an adviser to the art club, student council, yearbook and athletic clubs,” Weller said, according to capitolwords.org.
“Joe Corsello has touched the lives of so many people in Morris and throughout the 11th Congressional District.”
Norma will be heading down south with Corsello next month, along with his daughter Trudy DesLaurier and Trudy’s daughter, as well. Norma said their daughter, Holly Howard, may be joining them, too.
Corsello and Norma have three children and five grandchildren. The teacher said he was privileged to have had four of his grandchildren in class at ICS. The fifth, Luke, lives in Thailand currently with Corsello’s son, Carter, and his wife.
“When I had my grandkids in class, they called me grandpa,” Corsello remembered. “So the other kids would call me grandpa, too.”
As students were walking out of his classroom on their last day of school Wednesday, May 16, each waited in line to give him a hug.
“I don’t want to leave art,” one little girl said.
Corsello will be teaching for at least one more year at ICS. He isn’t sure yet when retirement will be.
“If I can make the steps, I am going to teach one more year,” he said.