DeKALB – Francis Stroup sat mildly in a large event room at Oak Crest DeKalb Area Retirement Center Sunday as the choir from his church sang to him in honor of his 100th birthday.
When the choir sang a few of the songs local composer Stroup has written, a hint of a smile played about his face as his lips barely moved to the words. And when the choir launched into a saucy number titled, "That Old Feelin' (Is What Keeps Me From Feelin' Old,)" his toes started tapping – until the soloist playfully wrapped a pink feather boa around his neck.
"He said, 'Take that off of me,'" the soloist, the Rev. Linda Slabon of the Unitarian Universalist DeKalb Fellowship, laughed after the song was finished.
Stroup will celebrate his birthday on Tuesday, and attributed most of his longevity to "a good gene pool."
"I had an aunt on one side and an uncle on the other side who both lived to 93," he said. "If you don't complain much, you have a longer life."
Stroup began writing music for fun when he was a student at what was then North Texas State University. In 1939, 10 years after his graduation, he wrote a new fight song for the college, now the University of North Texas, that is still in use today.
In 1959, Stroup and his wife moved to DeKalb so he could take a job as a physical education teacher at Northern Illinois University, and in 1961 he wrote the "Huskie Fight Song," which was adopted as the university's fight song in 1963. A line from the song, "Forward, Together Forward," was adopted as a slogan of support as the community came together after the Feb. 14, 2008, campus shooting that left five students and the shooter dead.
Music has always played an important part in Stroup's life. He was instrumental in creating the music program at the Unitarian Universalist church in the early 1990s, Slabon said.
"He really wanted to make sure the church had a music program," she said. "For Francis, having a minister is good, but music is essential."
The choir was happy to join the dozens of well-wishers at Sunday's party to sing for Stroup, church music director Toni Tollerud said.
"The choir loves to perform his songs. It's a real treat," she said.