As part of a media organization on campus, it’s easy to be swept away in writing about students and professors here on campus. We do not focus enough of our attention on someone who works behind the scenes to make Gannon University the best place it can be. It seems that everyone knows John Coleman as the friendly security guard who never ceases to be excited about “Humpday!” Mr. Coleman has achieved wonderful things throughout his lifetime – he’s won a “Feed My Sheep” Award for representing Gannon spiritually and intellectually. He had the honor of holding the cross at President Taylor’s inauguration, and even received a standing ovation upon graduation. What follows is our conversation.
Q: Did you grow up in Erie? What was your family like?
A: Yes, I grew up in Erie my whole life with my parents and three siblings…my mother came from Mississippi, and my father came from Georgia. We grew up with a pretty strict religious upbringing, but not in a bad way at all. I was the oldest of the three of us kids, so I always felt in charge of the house [Laughs] no leaving the house after dark, no sports unless your grades looked good, etc.
Q: Did you play sports in high school?
A: Oh yes, three of them! I played baseball and even had a tryout for Montreal once. I wrestled and had the chance at a scholarship at Penn State, and played football for Edinboro.
Q: So you attended school in the area?
A: Yes, I started at Edinboro and eventually ended up graduated from Gannon with a degree in Criminal Justice.
Q: Was there something about Erie that you appreciated growing up? Was there something that made you want to stay?
A: Yes, I always thought it seemed like a family-oriented area, you know? Very safe. I suppose things have changed now. You used to be able to leave your doors unlocked at night [Laughs] but I still think it is fairly family-oriented.
Q: How did you become a member of Gannon’s faculty?
A: Well, I had a lot of experience doing security before, and a position opened with Police and Safety. It’ll be 14 years this April that I’ve been working here at Gannon, and 27 years doing security and public safety in general.
Q: Is there any particular highlight from your career that you’re proud of?
A: Well, I once worked for U.S. Security, very closely with the former Homeland Security Director [Tom Ridge], securing Erie areas for him and his family. Homeland Security was not an easy department to tackle at the time, and I was very enlightened by what he did for our country.
Q: Students and faculty alike have noticed your love for our surrounding community. What kind of things drew you in, and continue to draw you in, about Gannon’s campus?
A: As with Erie, I feel that Gannon is very family oriented. Everyone made it feel like such a home to me, and that’s the thing about Gannon – once you’re here, you don’t want to leave! [Laughs] I enjoy coming to work because I know the students are my future. I tell ‘em all the time. It’s been very rewarding in that sense. I’m still looking to grow, you know, career-wise, always looking for different avenues to go down. But I’m happy here, doing anything I can to help the students and protect and serve.
Q: What are some of your favorite (and least favorite) parts of the job?
A: Well, my least favorite part of the job is having to deal with students negatively, you know? ButI love every part of my job. The things I do on campus are limited, but I am very fortunate to be in the place I am.
I’m also incredibly proud to be in charge of Guest Services, Gannon’s escort program. We are open seven days a week if students would like someone to walk them home, and if anyone reading is interested in joining, they can apply online.
Q: In your life experience, do you have any advice for students who are reading this?
A: The biggest advice I would give to the students is to take advantage of all four years here. We are surrounded by so many resources on campus, and the students are so busy and so proud of how they work. Students are our future. I care about you, and I care about people personally, because you’re the one who’s growing up here now and are going to go on to do great things, and look back on representing the university.
We are so lucky to have things like the new Florida campus and the Forensic Investigation Center. Gannon is global. If people don’t think Gannon is global, they need to open their eyes, because we’re like a freight trains and we’re barreling down unlimited tracks.
Q: Do you have a family of your own now?
A: Oh, yeah! I have seven kids and 10 grandchildren. John is an engineer, Julia and Emily are at Erie Insurance, and Emily is here at Gannon finishing her Master’s in Business Administration. I have one incoming Mechanical Engineering, and one sophomore at Villa who we’re very proud of. She wants to be a lawyer. Rebecca graduated here two years ago with a degree in Theatre Communications, and now she’s doing Hairspray in Chicago.
Of course I have to thank my best friend, mentor and partner, Mrs. Elizabeth Coleman. She’s always been there; she was the first person to believe in me outside of my family. She’s a scout leader now, and she helped instill the belief in me that if I can do something for you, I’m going to try and do it.
Q: Is there any specific direction or progress you’d like to see Gannon make?
A: I would love to see more minority students participate from the Erie area. Academically and athletically, we are surrounded by such talented people in our community. And I know, it is about the money, but there are ways that we can help you with that. We do a wonderful job our reaching out to students internationally, so now let’s take some time to reach out to our own community.
Q: Is there anything you’d like to add?
A: I guess I’m just happy to see Gannon consistently growing and evolving. We are in a very good place, and President Taylor has been doing a wonderful job.