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Jim Cornelison: A Patriot On And Off The United Center Ice

By Justin Breen | January 10, 2013 8:03am

OLD IRVING PARK — Most people know Jim Cornelison for his famous 90-second renditions of the national anthem at Chicago Blackhawks games.

But since becoming the Hawks' full-time singer five years ago, Cornelison has made much larger contributions away from the United Center ice.

The Albany Park resident has put much of his focus on helping war veterans, young and old.

"I can really make a difference in people's lives," Cornelison said during a recent dinner at McNamara's, one of his favorite hangouts.

One is 89-year-old Mount Greenwood resident Norm Lasman, who survived a well-documented kamikaze attack while stationed on the USS Bunker Hill aircraft carrier.

Lasman met Cornelison at a Blackhawks game in 2011 and asked him to sing the anthem at an "Honor Flight" fundraiser that June. Cornelison agreed, and Lasman said his participation drew extra support and helped the organization, which flies World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. free for a day of honor, raise $115,000.

"Only wish I knew him longer in my life," said Lasman, who said he calls Cornelison several times a year. "I've let him know that he's one of the greatest people I've ever met."

Cornelison has steadily built a massive contact list of other organizations to assist.

He's an ambassador for the Illinois Patriot Education Fund, which raises scholarship funds for disabled veterans' families.

"There's not a military effort that Jim wouldn't try and help if he knew about it," said North Center resident Mark Slaby, who founded the organization.

Cornelison, 48, is the Honorary Commander of the United States Air Force Band of Mid-America, which helps promote the Air Force throughout the Midwest.

"It was so exciting to connect with someone like Jim, whose heart is really there to help other people," said Major Cristina Moore Urrutia, the band's director.

Cornelison also is a frequent performer at Naval Station Great Lakes, where he not only sings, but serves food to recruits.

"He enhances the lives of kids who are away from their home, a lot of them for the first time," said Bob Sullivan, a former Executive Officer at Great Lakes. "When you think of someone who promotes our country, our military, that's Jim. Jim is a symbol of that."

Perhaps Cornelison was meant to be such a symbol.

His father's family history in America dates back to his great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather Garrett Cornelison, who was married in New Jersey in 1726 and died in Virginia in 1779. Garrett Cornelison's grandsons, John, Williams and Garret, all served in the Revolutionary War from 1775 to 1779.

Cornelison's father, Roy, was part of an anti-aircraft artillery unit in World War II. His mother, Kathryn, was an Army nurse in the same war.

"There have been an awful lot of very strong, patriotic people in both of our families," said Kathryn Cornelison, 90, who lives in Yakima, Wash. "Jim always has been very giving and feels strongly about wanting to help people."

Cornelison expects his Rolodex to expand even more in the coming months. He's built countless connections at Hawks games, where he does meet-and-greets with many of Chicago's elite on suite levels after he sings.

He also was named an honorary member of the World Presidents Organization Chicago chapter, which has 290 members, many of whom are or have been chief executives of major companies.

"We've embraced Jim for sure," said Streeterville resident Pat Borg, the WPO Chicago Vice Chairman and the President/Owner of NEFF of Chicago, which makes luxury cabinets. "We're lucky to have him at our events."

With the NHL's four-month-long lockout about to end, Cornelison will be entertaining and inspiring Hawks fans soon.

But he's been far more pleased with his non-publicized achievements.

"Until this, the most compelling thing I had done in my life was singing," he said. "To find something like this that provides me with a real purpose is very fulfilling."