In Memoriam: Carolyn J. Springborn


A prolific artist, life member of the University of Illinois Alumni Association and friend of the Department of Chemistry, Connie Springborn valued education and gave generously to help others continue learning and conducting research.

She and her husband, chemistry alumnus Robert Springborn (BS, ’51), shared the same generous spirit, together creating a legacy in the Department of Chemistry that benefits generations of students.

Chemistry at Illinois has lost another friend and supporter with the passing of Carolyn “Connie” Springborn on July 22, 2020. She was preceded in death by her husband, who passed away on January 21, 2018.

In 2007, the Springborns generously gave $10 million to the department, creating the Robert C. and Carolyn J. Springborn Fund for Student Support, which established the Springborn Graduate Fellowship, one of the department’s most prestigious fellowships. It provides not only a stipend, but also a waiver of tuition and fees, and support for the Springborn Fellow to travel to conferences and other laboratories to perform research.

Professor Steve Zimmerman was head of the department when the Springborns made their gift.

“Connie was a wonderful person and a great partner to Bob,” Zimmerman said. “They both were extraordinarily generous and focused on supporting students at their respective alma maters. They gave major gifts to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University where Connie obtained her Masters degree and, of course, to Chemistry at Illinois, where Bob was an undergraduate. They very much enjoyed visiting with the students who benefited so greatly from their generous support.”

Bob and Connie met in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she was attending MacMurray College on a scholarship. She transferred to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to study drawing while Bob completed his degree in chemistry. Later, she graduated from Tufts University, and Bob earned his doctorate at Cornell University.

The couple moved many times as Bob's career developed.

A sculptor and art collector, Connie continued her artwork and studies while raising their family.

Bob worked at Monsanto, Borg-Warner Chemical and W.R. Grace before joining Debell and Richardson, Inc., a plastics research and development firm, which Springborn purchased in 1972, expanding the scope of the company, which eventually became Springborn Laboratories with international locations.

The Springborns traveled and lived all over the world, but the couple maintained their connection to Illinois, including the chemistry department, where their legacy of giving continues to open doors for generations of graduate students.

In 2011, the Springborn program expanded to support the Springborn Postdoctoral Fellowship, which supports recent PhD graduates with strong leadership skills and a willingness to work independently yet collaboratively. That same year, the Springborns received the LAS Dean's Quadrangle Award, which honors people who have demonstrated profound support for the college's diverse mission and who have personified throughout their lives and careers the unique benefits and responsibilities that define a liberal arts and sciences education.

The Board of Directors of the University of Illinois Foundation recorded into its permanent records a tribute to Connie Springborn after her passing.

“Expressing her loyalty to the affairs of the University in 2007, Carolyn J. Springborn became a member of the President’s Council, the University’s highest donor recognition organization,” the tribute states. “For her contribution to the continuing greatness of the University of Illinois as expressed through her personal character and sharing of resources, Carolyn J. Springborn will be remembered with affection.”