To some he was known as “Coach,” to others he was known as a father figure, but to all he was known as “Friend.” John Friend, Purdue University Northwest’s athletics consultant, has made quite the legacy in his 37 years serving Purdue Northwest’s athletic department, and has inspired generations after him to carry on his legend.
On Thursday evening, Purdue Northwest Athletics hosted an evening to honor John Friend, celebrating Friend’s countless contributions to the university and the community, as well as the personal impacts he has had on those around him throughout his years as the university athletics director.
Rick Costello, PNW Director of Athletics, said Friend’s years as a coach and athletic director has become a cherished monument in the hearts of the collegiate family.
“He means the world to the community,” Costello said. “He has shaped and molded the athletic program into what it is today, especially in being a NCAA Division 2 school.”
Costello said Friend has created many opportunities for the university to grow, from creating the Powers Purdue Northwest Golf Invitational that has raised more than $1,000,000 for athletic scholarships, to the founding of institutions such as the Community Hospital Athletic and Physical Therapy building and the Academic Center for Excellence.
“He is an icon,” Costello said. “He’s Mr. NWI, he can open any door in Northwest Indiana for anyone. He is someone who is so respected by everyone in the state of Indiana. He’s such an honorable person with great integrity. He’s like a father figure to so many, and a marvelous coach in his day, and an amazing leader. He’s not only a trusted colleague, but a good friend.”
In his honor, Purdue Northwest renamed their Hammond Campus basketball court “John Friend Court,” complete with an etched plaque and Friend’s name now forever preserved on the court’s floor. They also presented him with a photo replica of the newly christened court and a framed certificate of honor.
“I’m honored. It’s very gratifying, this is a great university,” Friend said. “This is the best kept secret in the Calumet area, and athletics has raised awareness of that.”
When Friend began his career at Purdue Northwest in 1980 after being the football coach and athletic director at Munster High School, he said the university was a different place.
“When I started here we had a shoe-string budget,” Friend said. “We only had 3 full-time employees in the department, now I think there’s more than 50. It was a whole different ballgame back then, and I hope I started us in a good direction.”
Friend was one of the first people Jen Madgiak, PNW Associate Athletic Director, met when she began serving the university more than 3 years ago. As a Purdue alumna, Madgiak has also been shaped by Friend’s leadership both in her time as a student and as a colleague.
“You see his contributions every day when you walk on the court and see all of the corporate banners of the businesses he’s built relationships with PNW over the years,” she said. “You can see everything he has done on the campus every day you walk on campus.”
Magdiak said Friend’s legacy of serving the community has spilled over to the college’s young athletes.
“He has been a staple in this area for so long,” Madgiak said. “You couldn't ask for a nicer guy, this is such a great opportunity for friends, family, peers and everyone who he has mentored to celebrate what he means to all of us.”
It was no surprise there was a packed room for the event, and people traveled from all over the nation to pay their respects to Friend’s impact on their lives. Ben Simmons, Purdue Northwest alumnus, traveled with his wife from Houston, Texas to be at the event and reunite with Friend. Simmons was recruited by Friend in 1987 and went on to hold many records for men’s basketball, including the record for the most rebounds in a game. Simmons founded BenX Exclusive Basketball Training and is the owner and Analytics Shooting Coach for the company. With all of the top sports names and Fortune 500 companies he has worked with, Simmons said he has yet to meet a person who measures up to Friend.
“He definitely influenced me and inspired me,” Simmons said. “He breathed spirit into this great university. He’s been a real rare gem of truthfulness, trustworthy and high integrity. He’s someone to look up to. He set a standard for how I want to be with my integrity.”
And Friend is still inspiring the next generation of athletes, coaches and mentors. Sal Cordova, Purdue Northwest senior and cross-country runner, was a 2016 finalist for the John Friend Leadership Award because of his sexual assault awareness campaign, Hand Prints for Hope.
“I hope to work in college athletics,” Cordova said. “When you’re in Purdue Northwest athletics, you are around a lot of professionals who are extremely inspiring, like John Friend. It makes you think, ‘That’s the kind of person that I want to be.’”
For Ashley Gerodimos, Purdue Northwest Director of Strategic Event Operations, those types of stories were the crux of the evening.
“I feel overall his kind leadership will always be remembered,” Gerodimos said. “He always thinks of the students first. It’s evident that everyone here has a special story about John and how he’s touched their lives… The reason I came back to Purdue Northwest is people like John who care about the community and the students. I think that the legacy he will leaves behind is what really sets Purdue Northwest apart.”
For more information on PNW, please visit www.pnw.edu