MSU loses pioneer in athletics, academics, a 'university jewel'
June 16, 2004 - MSU University Relations

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Gwendolyn Norrell of East Lansing, who at one time was the highest-ranking woman in the history of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), left her mark nationally and on Michigan State University’s academic and athletic programs.

Norrell died Tuesday, June 15, at the age of 84, at St. Lawrence Hospice in Lansing.

Memorial services will be held at 10 a.m. Friday, June 18, at the MSU Alumni Memorial Chapel. Gifts may be directed to MSU University Development for a future scholarship fund.

“Through Gwen Norrell the values and spirit of MSU became real in the experiences of students and her colleagues across campus and across generations,” said MSU Provost Lou Anna K. Simon. “Her enormous caring for students, her unwavering attention to ethics, and her capacity to take the fundamental land-grant ideals and move them into a modern era made her a path breaker of great consequence. She made lasting differences in the lives of individuals and in the MSU community.”

Norrell, who joined the MSU faculty in 1945, made important contributions to almost every aspect of the MSU Counseling Center’s program and to other university services as well. She was a counselor of minority students and other students needing special assistance, setting high standards for all students.

“At a time when MSU was a pioneer in the recruitment of academically gifted freshmen, Gwen played an important role in the creation of the university’s Alumni Distinguished Scholarship (ADS) examination,” said Jim Cotter, senior associate director of the Office of Admissions and Scholarships. “Many years before the concept of recruiting scholars became an accepted practice, her foresight served as a driving force in leading MSU as a national leader in this area.”

Lee June, vice president of student affairs and services, said Norrell was one of the first persons he met when he came to the university nearly 31 years ago.

“Norrell was a pioneer and innovator in many areas, such as the early development of the MSU Counseling Center and the development of the Testing Center,” June said. “She was a leader in outreach efforts in the Detroit area in terms of diversity interests and played an important role in the Honors College. Gwen Norrell was one of the most down-to-earth persons I have known – she was a university jewel.”

Norrell was the first woman to serve as a faculty athletic representative in the Big Ten Conference, and possibly the nation, when she was named to that position in 1979. A professor and assistant director of MSU’s Counseling Center, she served as the faculty athletics representative until her retirement in 1988.

“She was at the forefront of integrating women’s athletics at both the Big 10 Conference and NCAA levels,” said Michael Kasavana, professor of hospitality business and Norrell’s successor as MSU faculty athletic representative. “She was a strong proponent for student-athlete welfare and had the unique ability to negotiate complex issues with university presidents, athletic directors and faculty colleagues. She set a very high standard for faculty athletic representatives nationally and in the Big 10.”

"As well as her involvement in university recruitment, Gwen was a friend to all student athletes. Her business-like demeanor was most often accompanied by a broad smile and engaging manner,” Cotter said. “She will long be remembered as a dedicated teacher, an insightful administrator and one who processed the ability to promote change and unify individuals of diverse backgrounds and opinions.”

Norrell served two terms on the MSU Athletic Council prior to becoming the faculty athletic representative and served as vice president of the NCAA during the 1983-84 and 84-85 academic years. In 1973 she received the MSU Distinguished Faculty Award and in 1976 was presented with the MSU Honorary Alumnus Award. She also received the Faculty Women’s Award for Excellence in 1978.

Norrell has a prestigious scholar-athlete award named in her honor, was president of the Michigan College Personnel Association and chaired a special committee on academic research. She was a member of the American Psychologists, the American Personal Guidance Association and the Michigan Personal Guidance Association

Born Nov. 12, 1919, in Eudora, Ark., she earned her bachelor of science degree in history from Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville in 1942, her master’s degree in counseling from the Teachers College at Columbia University and her Ed.D degree in counseling from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Survivors include her niece, Susan Cossey, Monticello, Ark; and two nephews, Mark Cashion of McGhee, Ark., and Ward Cashion of Covington, La.

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