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Quintessential People

Paul Corwin: Powered Up


by Lisa Stamos | Photo: thomas balsamo

For someone who says he wasn’t a great student at Lane Tech in Chicago, Paul Corwin says he learned enough there that it allowed him to pass high-level entrance exams to enter the United States Navy. It was in the early 1960s, and by ’65, there was a massive draft call for the Vietnam War, so Paul decided to sign up for the Navy’s nuclear power program. The commitment was a six-year enlistment. “If I hadn’t, I’d have been in Vietnam under different circumstances,” he said.

“I was flown to the Philippines, and got on the USS Cavalier, a World War II transport ship and we spent four months in Da Nang Harbor in Vietnam.” Paul said. “Our role there was to provide a safe haven for the Marines and C.B.s, the Naval Construction Battalion that was the construction arm of the Navy.”

After that, Paul attended three years of training to learn how to operate a nuclear power plant and was then selected as an instructor and was redeployed from Long Beach on the USS Bainbridge. “That’s the ship’s name that’s on the hat I wear,” Paul said. He qualified as a radiation safety technician and oversaw all radiation matters. The USS Bainbridge was stationed in Vietnam waters for seven months. “There were no incidences with radiation on the ship. The main challenge, though, was how to co-exist in tight quarters with 500 other men on this vessel,” he said. The most exciting part of his Naval experience was the ride back to Long Beach. “We were caught in rough seas with 40- to 50-foot waves. Our ship was bobbing and rolling, and we could not go outside. It was the highlight of my Navy career,” Paul said.

Life on the USS Bainbridge was so structured that it was years later, in doing research for a presentation, that he realized that during those seven months onboard, the ship traveled 50,000 nautical miles. “We were in the South China Sea, Indian Ocean, and chasing Russian submarines. Being a nuclear-powered ship, we could travel long distances, and never had to worry about fuel,” Paul said.

As his time with the Navy was ending, Paul had a tough choice. “I could have stayed and made chief, but I opted out and felt it was important to go to college,” he said. “Many said they were going to college after the service but didn’t.” Paul went part-time to school, and worked at the Com Ed station in Zion, Illinois. At the time, there was long-range planning for a nuclear plant there, and he was with the first crew hired. Paul met his wife of 41 years, Milly, at the Zion Station. She grew up near Waukegan.

After receiving an associate degree in chemistry at the College of Lake County, Paul completed his bachelor’s degrees in biology and environmental science at Carthage College. His first job was with a consulting firm. “Nuclear power was booming in the U.S. at the time.” He and Milly went to Texas for a six-week project and stayed for 10 years. There, he received an MBA from Southern Methodist University and was immersed in a different culture. He and Milly lived in a small town outside of Dallas.

“In Texas, the first thing someone asks you is ‘hi, who are you?’ and then, ‘what church do you go to?’” Paul said. “Then they say, ‘you’re not from around here, are you?’ I would say I’m from North Texas—that is, Chicago—which always got a laugh because Texans think the whole country is theirs.” Years later, in Chicago, Paul attended an alumni event with the dean from SMU. “We were at some fancy place in Chicago with the MBA crowd. While in the receiving line, Paul reached the dean. When he introduced himself, he said, ‘you’re not from around here, are you?’ The dean was laughing so hard he had tears!”

A World War II Baby

Paul Corwin was a World War II baby. His mom was an only child who grew up in Chicago, and she met his Army Air Force dad there, who was on leave. “They were a cultural mismatch,” Paul said. “He was from a poor coal mining town in Pennsylvania.” After the war ended, his dad wanted to move back to his home town, and she didn’t, following a visit there. Paul never saw his dad again after the couple split up. He was a baby at the time, having only one photo of his dad holding him. “There were a lot of couples who should not have married during the war,” he said.

Years later, while on a business trip in Erie, Pennsylvania, Paul decided to search for the possibility of remaining family, found the town southeast of Pittsburgh on the map, and made the drive. There, walking up to an old woman sitting on the porch of her double-wide trailer, he saw she was crying. She knew who he was without a word. In fact, she even knew his name without an introduction. “You’re Paul Allen,” she said. There were so many Corwins there, they used middle names as last names. Within minutes, several aunts and uncles joined the conversation.

Paul’s dad was one of 21 children, 13 of whom survived their entry into a world with no running water or electricity. Unfortunately, Paul learned from his relatives that his dad had passed.

From Texas to Illinois

In 1995, Paul and Milly moved to a rental property in Long Grove with their dogs. But they wanted a ranch-style home, like the ones in Texas, and found one in a Barrington subdivision. Here, they started attending church at Saint Anne, making social connections.

Today, Paul is semi-retired. “I still do some projects with large power plants, where I help the owners in dealing with regulations, permits, environmental issues, and training,” he said. “But I noticed that there was no community service on my resume.” That changed when Paul connected with Barrington’s VFW Post #7706.

“Now, without a doubt, the most important thing I do is to be there for a veteran who passed away,” Paul said. “We will do whatever the family wants, whether it’s to fold the flag, or standing by the casket. When my step-father—who was like a real father to me—died, his whole submarine group showed up. It was so touching, and it planted a seed with me,” he said. Though Paul was not comfortable with public speaking, after readings at funeral services, it has become second nature.

Today, the highly-trained nuclear consultant spends more time organizing parades. “Like Bob the DJ, a friend of mine, I decided to call myself ‘Paul the Event Planner’! It’s funny how things change,” Paul said. He also works with Barrington middle school and high school students with the VFW’s national essay contests held locally. One of his favorite opportunities was helping 5th graders at Countryside Elementary School with their business ideas and how to create and market them. “I have no children of my own, so this was the most rewarding thing,” he said.

In addition to helping at funerals and working with students, Paul and his VFW friends are constantly serving their greatest audience—fellow veterans. “In three years, it will be our Post’s 75th anniversary. I hope to have enough momentum to carry us through,” he said of their mission to recruit new members. “It is important to our village to have a VFW. We’ve been very well-received.”

Today, Paul is happy that his health is good, and he can be of service to others. For hobbies, he enjoys model trains. “I’m a train guy, with my trains in the living room to my wife’s chagrin. And I’m a golf guy, too. I look forward to getting out on the links.”

Here are some words others have shared about paul corwin.

Peggy Crawford, Collaborator

Paul Corwin is a man dedicated to his country, his community, and the purposeful example he sets for children. For sure, it’s important that he served many tours of duty in the United States Navy in Vietnam. It’s also noteworthy that he was selected to train on the nuclear division within the ranks of the Navy. But, closer to my memory of Paul’s genius was his willingness to participate in my annual Veteran’s Day Choral shows at Hough Street School, and later at Station and Prairie Jr. Highs.

Paul would gather all the veterans from Barrington and beyond to come together in their various service uniforms and with their flags. They would Present the Colors at the beginning of each afternoon and evening show, and close each concert with the Retiring of the Colors.

Hats of to you, Paul, and all the veterans who made lasting impressions on children and their families in our community. Paul’s presence every fall was a huge piece of my teaching about patriotism, nationalism, songs of the country, and peace. And, the end result was always beautiful and meaningful music that touched everyone with a message of peace and its cost.  

Karen Darch, Friend

I know Paul as we are both members of Saint Anne Church in Barrington. I have come to know him best over the last several years as the “go to” veteran for all the Veteran activities in the community.

Paul has been a tremendous asset for our community as a leader of VFW Post 7706 and a very active veteran and patriot. He has been the man who organizes and directs the wonderful veterans’ events—the Veterans’ Day program, the Memorial Day service at Evergreen Cemetery, parades and school engagement—for the past several years. Thoughtfully, and with passion and persistence, Paul has enhanced these programs as well as continued to engage our students through patriotic essay contests and award recognition. In a recent Memorial Day service, he had a “battlefield cross” built as part of the ceremony. In the most recent Memorial Day event he had a student essay contest winner participate, sharing her thoughts with the assembled crowd. He has truly added greatly to Barrington and its patriotic heart. Paul’s efforts do not end there. He is an active volunteer and participant at Saint Anne, as well. He serves regularly as a Eucharistic Minister, and in the words of one Saint Anne staff member “is an incredibly helpful volunteer for many other parish activities”.

Jack Davenport, Friend

I know Paul Corwin through the Davenport funeral home. Paul is very active in the Barrington VFW Post 7706, which provides military honors for veterans at their funerals. I have great admiration for Paul, who is very dedicated to our veterans. He always provides a heartfelt military send-off to our veterans, which means a lot to their loved ones, as well as those like me who have served our country.  

I always enjoy seeing Paul representing the veterans in the Memorial Day and Fourth of July parades in Barrington, no matter how hot or rainy the weather. He also supports many veteran causes in our community and speaks at our schools to our young people about the importance of military service. Our community is blessed to have Paul in it, who always thinks of and honors others.

Debby Rivera, Friend

What a pleasure it has been, for over 15 years, to not only serve Paul (as a customer at Ambrosia) but to have him as a friend! Paul is truly one of the most considerate, thoughtful gentlemen you could meet, tirelessly going out of his way to help others. 

Paul is creative and funny, and quick to smile and laugh which of course is contagious. Sharing a cup of coffee and conversation with Paul is always a highlight of my day! 

Working with Paul on the Patriot Papers, Memorial Day Poppy’s or Veteran Sloppy Joe Dinners, has been such an honor, witnessing such dedication and optimism.

In our Barrington community and throughout, Paul serves from his heart, without expecting a thing back in return...well, maybe an extra dollop of whipped cream in his coffee.

Maureen Roberts, Neighbor

I first met Paul Corwin, my neighbor, over a decade ago while walking my dog. He would come down his driveway to greet both my dog and me. Paul, a Vietnam veteran, often took advantage of these “meet and greets” with neighbors to tell them about Poppy Sales week, or to sell tickets for the VFW Sloppy Joe Dinner. And when not marketing VFW Post events, no one is surprised to see Paul chipping a golf ball on his front lawn.

As I got to know Paul, I learned more about the VFW Post 7706, and how Paul is serving as Post Commander for a second time. I also discovered how closely Paul and the VFW Post work with and support the Barrington community, with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, with schools, and with the township. I have always had an affinity and deep respect for our veterans, and my friendship with Paul Corwin has increased that 10-fold. A little known fact about Paul—he loves trains! Thank you for your service to our country, Paul. I’m glad that you are my neighbor.

Bob [the DJ] Roig, Friend

Ever since meeting Paul many years ago, I have been amazed at his never-ending, always-giving spirit. Our relationship started when we both recognized each other at various functions throughout Barrington. Whether it was at a Fourth of July function serving others at the tent, at Cruise Night promoting something special coming up, at Saint Anne Parish serving for a Sunday morning mass, or working together for the Memorial Day ceremony at Evergreen cemetery, Paul was always at the ready. He served in the Navy and clearly still serves in life, and you’ll know Paul when you meet him as he always seems to be smiling.

Paul reached out to me after humorously pointing out that he sees Bob the DJ everywhere and needed my help revamping and enhancing the ceremony for Memorial Day as part of his service in the VFW. Every year he makes wonderful changes to an already beautiful event that he has been in charge of organizing and running for years! I am proud to be included and try my best to keep up with the model he examples. Our morning meetings at Ambrosia to go over details, or just catch up on what’s funny that particular week in our lives, are well-cherished.

The two words I would use to describe Paul would have to be dedicated and loyal. Oh, and humble… And giving. Did I mention dependable? Well, you get the idea.

Jack Schaefer, Friend

Paul Corwin makes me smile every time our paths cross. I first met Paul years ago when he was selling poppies for the VFW just prior to a Memorial Day weekend. Not content to just exchange the poppy for a donation, Paul extended himself to meet me and we discussed our military experiences. His genial nature and warm personality rang true and brightened my day. I left our short discussion with a smile on my face and a new friend.

Over the years I’ve admired Paul’s dedication to serving the veterans through his leadership of the Barrington VFW Post 7706. Keeping up the mission of the VFW is a passion of his and he does it well. Whenever our paths cross in town these days, I always look forward to an update from Paul about someone we mutually know or some humorous incident that he was involved with. We’ll laugh or shake our heads for a while and then part. Small town doings, perhaps, but dispensed from a genuinely good guy. He puts smiles on faces, and that’s priceless.

Tony Silvestri, Neighbor

Paul is a friend and neighbor who is always busy with his volunteer efforts. He can be found meeting with neighbors and raising awareness for various causes. He is busy with the VFW and involved with the Memorial Day Parade and Fourth of July functions in our Village of Barrington. He can also be found on election day at the poles working to help the voters. One of Paul’s passions is to be able to play golf (he practices by hitting balls into my yard). A patriot and dedicated caring person, I am proud to call him a friend.

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Publisher’s Note: Quintessential People™ is a heartfelt collaboration between our publication and portrait artist Thomas Balsamo. Our goal is to share exceptional images and words that ring true about some of the finest, most inspiring people in our community. For more information, contact QB at publisher@qbarrington.com, or Thomas Balsamo (Portraits By Thomas) at 847-381-7710, or visit www.portraitsbythomas.com.