Near the end of his annual State of the University Address in 2009, NIU President John Peters caused his Altgeld Hall audience to erupt with several minutes of thunderous applause and cheers.
All it took was the introduction of a man seated humbly in the front row – a man whom the president called “a person we hold dear in our NIU family and in our history.”
“Francis Stroup was a member of our faculty and also served as the men’s swimming coach for many years. He led the Huskies to 13 NCAA College Division Championships,” Peters told the audience.
“Being the loyal Huskie that he was, in 1960 Francis responded to an appeal from the student newspaper to write new lyrics for what was apparently a less-than-inspiring Huskie Fight Song. In 1961, the new song was adopted, and the rest is history,” the president added. “For 45 years, in good times and bad, we have been sustained by his words: ‘Forward, together forward.’ ”
Stroup, who had turned 100 that week, died Wednesday, Dec. 1. He was 101.
He and his late wife, Marjorie, came to NIU in 1959 when he accepted a position as a physical education professor. A year later, he became the first coach of the new men’s swimming team.
During his coaching career in DeKalb, Stroup went 32-32 in dual meets and won two Interstate Intercollegiate Athletic Conferences. In the 1964-1965 season, the native of Holliday, Texas, qualified nine swimmers for the NCAAs and also had a 400-meter freestyle relay team that placed third in the nation.
By the time he retired from NIU in 1974, he had enjoyed a teaching career that lasted 45 years as a public school teacher, an academic instructor in the U.S. Air Force and a college professor.
While at Southern State, he directed studies funded by the Ford Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education. Stroup was the author of two books and wrote a number of articles for professional journals.
He was inducted in the Athletic Hall of Fame at NIU and at his alma mater, the University of North Texas, where he also wrote the fight song.
Stroup graduated in 1929 from North Texas in 1929, where he lettered in basketball, ran track and played football. His songwriting career – he composed about 100 during his lifetime – began in Golden, Texas, where he took his first teaching job.
“You’ve heard the story of the town so small they have to roll the sidewalks in at night? This town didn’t have any walks,” Stroup told the North Texan in 2008. “The lady I stayed with had a piano. Since I couldn’t read music, and there was no radio, I had to make up my own songs to amuse myself.”
After moving to Denton, Texas, he penned “Fight, North Texas” in 1939 as an entry into a contest for a new marching song. By applying new words to an old melody of his, he created what would become his most-performed work.
Stroup went on to compose songs for Drake University, the University of Wyoming and the University of Chicago. In 2000, the Huskie Fight Song was named one of the Top 25 fight songs in an ESPN national poll.
His songwriting formula? “Good songs must be easy to say, easy to sing and easy to remember.”
When “Forward, Together Forward” became the source of NIU’s strength after Feb. 14, 2008, he was touched. “You never know how your words might help someone,” he told the North Texan.
Funeral arrangements are pending.