Sandburg History

Carl Sandburg College is named for poet and Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg, who was born and raised in Galesburg. The son of Swedish immigrant parents, Sandburg was born on January 6, 1878, in a small cottage near the rail yards where his father worked. The cottage, on Galesburg's south side, is preserved today as an Illinois historical site.


Sandburg published numerous volumes including, Chicago Poems, Cornhuskers, Rutabaga Stories, The People, Yes, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and The War Years and Always the Young Strangers. He received two Pulitzer Prizes — in history for his Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (1939) and in poetry for his Collected Poems (1951). The central theme throughout Sandburg's works is his belief in the essential goodness and drive of the common man and woman. His writing is full of optimism for the future of the human race.


Carl Sandburg and his mentor, Professor Philip Green Wright of Lombard College, also located in Galesburg, envisioned the establishment of "a People's Industrial College, where people of all ages would be taught, in addition to literature, philosophy, sociology, science, music and art, something about industry and farming, such as agriculture, horticulture, bee culture, cabinet-making, metalworking, pottery, architecture, printing and publishing, and bookbinding."* The two men felt that this "People's College" should be located by a river or on a lake.


Though Sandburg died in 1967, the college's ties with its namesake remain strong. In 1978, Sandburg's youngest daughter, Helga Sandburg, and her husband Dr. George Crile established the Lilian Steichen Sandburg Memorial Scholarship in honor of Helga's mother. It's awarded each year to a second-year student who shows exceptional talent. In 1979, Helga Sandburg was awarded the college's first honorary associate degree. She returned to the campus in 1988, 1994 and in 2006, as the commencement speaker at graduation exercises. 


The referendum creating what is now Carl Sandburg College was passed by the voters of Knox and Warren counties in September 1966. The first classes were held on Sept. 24, 1967, in a variety of facilities in downtown Galesburg, IL. Since then the college has expanded considerably both in the scope of course offerings and in territory in an effort to meet the educational needs of the residents of West Central Illinois.


In 1969, the college occupied the site on South Lake Storey Road in Galesburg on which the permanent Main Campus would be constructed. The permanent facilities were opened in 1976. In the meantime, the college annexed 16 additional high school districts in 1974, which eventually resulted in the establishment of additional facilities to ensure the delivery of services for all residents of what is officially Illinois Community College District 518.


What is now the Branch Campus in Carthage, IL, offered its first classes in the winter of 1974. In the spring of 1995, Carl Sandburg College returned to its roots in downtown Galesburg with the opening of the Educational Technology Center in cooperation with Knox College and Community Unit School District 205. The Main Campus has also undergone major recent renovations to keep Carl Sandburg College on the cutting edge of the technological revolution by adding an Allied Health building, expanding the Fitness Center, a Student Center and Computing Center, and the college just celebrated a ribbon-cutting for the new automotive center and broke ground on its new Science & Technology Center, slated to open in the fall of 2024.


In the spring of 2006, Carl Sandburg College celebrated its 40th Anniversary. Helga Sandburg gave the commencement address. The first Carl Sandburg College historian, Fred Visel, was named. A time capsule was commemorated and is on display in the library. The second president of Carl Sandburg College, Dr. Bill Anderson, was commissioned to begin writing the college's history. The Carl Sandburg College Foundation established the Founders Circle, inducting six honorees: Dr. Carl Eisemann, Jr.; Eltis Henson; John Lewis; Russell Lind; A. Lewis Long; and Bob Peck.


A dream come true


Carl Sandburg College was established by the authority of the Illinois Community College Act of 1965 and was approved by voters in a September 1966 referendum. One year later, in September 1967, classes began at various locations in Galesburg, including the former Brown's Business College and the Central Congregational Church. Enrollment was approximately 350 students.


In 1969, most of the school's operations were moved to temporary buildings on its newly selected campus site at Lake Storey, north of Galesburg.


District voters approved a $42.5 million bond referendum in February 1971 to support the construction of permanent buildings at Lake Storey. In 1974, the 1,000-square-mile college district was expanded to roughly 3,000 square miles to include all or part of the following high school districts in western Illinois: Abingdon, Alexis, Avon, Bushnell-Prairie City, Carthage, Colchester, Dallas City, Farmington, Galesburg, Hamilton, Industry, Knoxville, LaHarpe, Monmouth, Nauvoo-Colusa, Northwestern, Roseville, ROWVA, Southeastern, Southern, Spoon River Valley, Union, Warren, Warsaw, Williamsfield and Yorkwood. Ground was broken in December 1974 for 120,000 square feet of permanent buildings in Galesburg. In 1976, the 30,000-square-foot John Lewis Gymnasium and fine arts building was constructed. From 1985-1990, a new physical plant facility, athletic fields, and the state Animal Disease Control Laboratory were added to the Galesburg campus.


In Carthage, a new building was constructed for college programs on a lease agreement. This facility was purchased by the college and changed from an extension center to the Branch Campus in 1994. In the fall of 1995, Carl Sandburg College developed a consortium between Carl Sandburg College, Knox College and C.U.S.D. 205. The consortium worked together to establish an Educational Technology Center in downtown Galesburg. The Center features state-of-the-art technology offering computer training, distance learning instruction, meeting facilities and satellite teleconferencing. In December 1996, Carl Sandburg College signed a 10-year lease to house the Cosmetology and Mortuary Science programs in downtown Galesburg. This new, larger location will enable both programs to expand and serve more students.

*From Margaret Sandburg's unpublished manuscript Biography of Carl Sandburg. 

College Historian
Fred Visel


Born in Medzev, Slovakia, Visel received primary and secondary education in the public and parochial schools of Cleveland, Ohio. He earned his BA from Bowling Green State University; MA from the University of Iowa; and MS from Illinois State University. His military service includes two tours of duty as an infantry officer in Vietnam; graduation from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College; and is now a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Visel taught history full time at Carl Sandburg College from 1971 to 1984, and served as Dean of Learning Resource Services at Carl Sandburg College from 1984 to 1999. Visel currently serves as an adjunct instructor in history at Carl Sandburg College and was designated as the Carl Sandburg College Historian.