Category Archives: Customs and Traditions

Stories about Purdue customs and traditions.

(Dis)Content in the Heartland: Protest and Peace at Purdue by Devan Lindey

The traditional narrative of college life in the 1960s seen through journalistic coverage blurred the narrative by painting it as the “summer of love” and “days of rage.”[1] This image continued into the 1970s as the United States became more entangled in Vietnam. Protests riddled campuses across the country in retaliation to escalation in Vietnam and funding of military research at universities. John Thelin in Going to College in the Sixties argues we need to consider the tameness of college in the Sixties with fraternities, athletics, and admissions processes. I intend to examine a Purdue student tradition, the “Senior Cords,” to juxtapose the on-campus protests with the more mundane side of student life to give a more nuanced picture of student life in higher education.

More extreme attacks did occur at Purdue. In response to a flag desecration a “Student Affairs Committee of the Faculty Senate” was assembled to investigate. Personal intimidation as well as threats ensued while a member of the Committee was chased in their car and nearly ran off the road. Additionally, “a dean’s home was splattered by shotgun pellets.”[2] However, most of the protests in response to on campus issues or international events were far more tame than outright threats on lives. When President Nixon announced the invasion of Cambodia, students acted. We witness a spontaneous reaction by students in protest when over four hundred students rallied which resulted in some window breaking at the armory.[3] However, this event was followed shortly thereafter by a more peaceful retort to Nixon’s action when students distributed fliers calling for the campus and surrounding community to non-violently protest through the boycott of any store not displaying a particular sign.[4]

Handbill calling for a boycott

Despite promotion of peaceful methods of protest and boycott, students did advocate for more hostile methods. The assistant to the then President Hovde announced that some students were urged through handbills to equip themselves with “guns, knives, razors, etc.” in response to arrests.[5] Students did peacefully sit in the Union as a form of non-violent protest. However, the administration saw potential for violent confrontation to develop. While we must keep in mind that this source is officially from the administration and could therefore skew information to support its own actions, other sources corroborate such fears of the administration. Specifically, we can point to a handbill circulated by students titled “Police-State Terror at Purdue,” proclaiming that “Purdue must be destroyed.”[6]

Handbill calling for the destruction of Purdue

Administrative response to threats at the Union

Despite the tumultuous affairs of protests and violence, campus life for many continued unimpeded. Classes and teaching continued while many students either unaware or simply ignoring the dissent of others immersed themselves in campus life.[7] To view this side of student life, one can look to the “Senior Cords” worn by senior students on campus. The students adorned these clothing items with imagery of student organizations, personal interests, and popular culture of the time.

The Purdue Archives contain myriad pairs of pants and skirts worn by students that all contain elements revealing the more mundane and non-radical nature of student life, a contrast with the dominant narrative of the time. As an example, we can consider Richard Gehlbach’s “Senior Cords.” When we analyze the iconography of his pants, we witness a student engaged with on campus activities such as Collegiate 4H. Additionally, Gehlbach adorned his pants with popular culture images of Yogi Bear and the spies from Spy vs. Spy of the “Mad” magazine.[8]

His pants contain various other images showing the other side of student life that we need to take into consideration to grasp a more thorough picture of student culture in the protest era.

Gehlbach cords, front

Gehlbach senior cords, back

Purdue was no stranger to discontent though the protests at the campus were less volatile than others at Berkeley and Kent State. However, in contrast to this traditional narrative, student life often remained unbothered. An observance of student culture through campus traditions reveals a much more complex image of the protest era on college campuses. The “Senior Cords” are one such source through which we as scholars can engage with Thelin’s idea of the normalcy of student life. Some students truly remained content with having the typical college experience as exhibited through the “Senior Cords.”


[1] John R. Thelin, Going to College in the Sixties (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018), xiii.

[2] Robert Topping, A Century and Beyond: The History of Purdue University (Purdue University Press, 1988), 329.

[3] Skip Wollenberg, “Nixon sends G.I.’s to Cambodia.” Purdue Exponent, 1 May 1970. Accessed via

[4] Student Protest Materials, 1967-1984, B1F3, MSF 495, William Buffington Collection of Student Protest Papers, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries and Special Collections, West Lafayette, IN.

[5] Student Protest Materials, 1967-1984, B1F4, MSF 495, William Buffington Collection of Student Protest Papers, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries and Special Collections, West Lafayette, IN.

[6] Student Protest Materials, 1967-1984, B1F3, MSF 495, William Buffington Collection of Student Protest Papers, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries and Special Collections, West Lafayette, IN.

[7] Robert Topping, A Century and Beyond: The History of Purdue University (Purdue University Press, 1988), 333.

[8] Senior Cords, 1965, Box 1, 20180212.3, Richard A. Gehlbach senior cords, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries and Special Collections, West Lafayette, IN.


Primary Sources

Purdue University Exponent student newspaper. Accessed via

Student Protest Materials, 1967-1984, Box 1, MSF 495, William Buffington Collection
of Student Protest Papers, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections,
Purdue University Libraries and Special Collections, West Lafayette, IN.

Senior Cords, 1965, Box 1, 20180212.3, Richard A. Gehlbach senior cords, Purdue University
Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries and Special Collections, West
Lafayette, IN.

Secondary Sources

Thelin, John. Going to College in the Sixties. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018.

Topping, Robert. A Century and Beyond: The History of Purdue University. Purdue University
Press, 1988.

Blog post by guest blogger Devan Lindey. 

This blog post is by Devan Lindey, a third year PhD Candidate in the History Department at Purdue University. The blog post reflects Devan’s archival research in the course ILS 695, Digital and Analog Archives. Devan studies the history of higher education and legal history.

Note: In Spring 2020, students of the Digital and Analog Archives course (ILS 695) conducted research into hidden or lesser known aspects of student life in Purdue history. Each student conducted original archival research on their individual topics and selected source materials from the archives to digitize. Originally, the plan was for students in the course to create an online exhibit using the digital humanities tool, Omeka. Due to the interruption of COVID-19 in March, the course was partially reworked. Rather than creating a group online exhibit in Omeka, each student was given the option to translate their individual research papers into a different form of digital scholarship: published blog posts.  We are excited to share shortened versions of these research papers on the Purdue Archives and Special Collections blog!

Sweet Shop Still Sweet Spot on Campus after 90 Years!

                                                                                                                                                                          The Sweet Shop has been a favorite meeting spot on campus for generations. Ninety years later, it is still going strong. If the walls could talk, they might tell tales of romance, struggles, friendships made, and futures forged. The Purdue Memorial Union opened in 1924. At that time, the dining facilities in the Union consisted of a cafeteria area with a soda fountain and a banquet service, all operating as one unit.

The first true Sweet Shop appeared in its own separate space in 1927, and was expanded to its present size in 1957. It has always been a special meeting spot on campus and a part of Purdue history. When it first opened, Purdue students often referred to it as the “Sweet Shop Lab.”  They would schedule time in the “lab” for the social side of their education.

As students wrote in the Purdue yearbook, the 1932 Debris:

“The ‘Sweet Shop’ provides a delightful rendezvous for Purdue students. The shop is a nook where students drink a cooling ‘coke,’ meet new friends and release themselves from the usual scholastic atmosphere. This service is in constant demand, and many leisure hours are spent enjoying the companionship of the ‘Sweet Shop.'” (pg 217)

Here are some of the earliest photographs of the soda fountain (Pre-Sweet Shop days).

From the Purdue Memorial Union publication, “Unchanged Traditionally, Yet Traditionally Changing,” 1974.




  Early 1920s





Photograph provided by the Purdue Memorial Union.



The soda-fountain was along one wall of the cafeteria in the early 1920s.





Photo provided by the Purdue Memorial Union




A full house reflects the popularity of the “lab.”





1925, Frank “Pappy” Fox starts working in the Sweet Shop.

Pappy (left) serving students, Debris 1950

Frank “Pappy” Fox was a beloved fixture in the Sweet Shop for over 30 years. He also managed the Barber Shop and Billiards Room from 1925-1959.

Per a Memorial Union brochure, “Frank served up sound advice and sympathy for student problems with his coffee, sandwiches and sodas. In return, the students showed great pride and respect for the Sweet Shop and quickly added a ‘Sweet Shop Lab’ to their schedules. Everyone who worked for Mr. and Mrs. Fox saw their sincere interest and devotion to the student body. Many ‘Sweet Shop Coke™ dates’ developed into romances under the happy guidance of ‘Mommy’ and ‘Pappy’ Fox.”  (Sterrett, Jeff., Gick, Becky, and Mindrum, Bob).

Fox planned the original menu for the Sweet Shop, which was never changed during his management. He developed his own chocolate sauce and blend of coffee. The early Sweet Shop’s favorite and standard snack was a ham salad sandwich. “Pappy dispensed 150 gallons of coffee per day and seven 40-gallon barrels of Coke™ per week.” (Sterrett)

The Purdue community owes “Pappy” much for his dedication to the Sweet Shop and those he served over the years. After renovations, the Sweet Shop became known as Pappy’s Sweet Shop, as a way to honor Fox.


Purdue Alumnus, September/October, 1959

Fox Honored during Homecoming 1959


There has been some speculation from unverified sources that Pappy was a bootlegger during prohibition and used the sweet shop as a cover. When the Sweet Shop was most recently renovated, that tidbit was even used in their marketing, and this is what appears today on a door by the cash registers (click the image for the full view):

Photo taken by Mary Sego

Images from the Sweet Shop through the years


Debris 1944


Debris 1955

Per page 83 of the 1955 Debris, “The Sweet Shop took on a more refined atmosphere as prom-goers rested their weary feet between dances.”

Pappy’s circa 1955 (Purdue Archives photo PPBUC00845)

The Sweet Shop was expanded in 1957 and the next redecoration took place in 1967.


Attendees of the 1960 Military Ball stop in the Sweet Shop for a drink.

Debris 1960

In order to provide efficient service to the many students who used the Sweet Shop, paper disposable-ware was introduced in the 1960s. This was a first in college union food service. (Anderson, Deborah J., Westbury, Edmond P., and Hughes, Melvin M., p. 7).

1970s and 1980s

During the 1970s and 1980s, the Sweet Shop resembled cafeteria-style food-service.

Debris 1986

Debris 1977








2000s – Diner-Style

Debris 2005

Pappy’s in 2004 (Purdue Archives photo PPBUC02352)


Sterrett, Jeff., Gick, Becky, and Mindrum, Bob. 75th Anniversary : Purdue Memorial Union. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University, 1999.

Anderson, Deborah J., Westbury, Edmond P., and Hughes, Melvin M. “Unchanged Traditionally, Yet Traditionally Changing.” West Lafayette (IN): Purdue University, Purdue Memorial Union, 1974.

Debris Yearbook, Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN., 9 June 2017.

Blog post by Mary A. Sego, Processing Assistant, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections.  Mary would like to thank Bob Mindrum, Director of the Purdue Memorial Union (1995-2016), for his contributions of photographs, brochures, and most importantly, personal stories in the compilation of this blog post.


Celebrating 60 Years of Purdue Pete

University Bookstore Pete

1940 University Bookstore “Pete”

When Purdue Pete ran out onto the football field September 24, 2016, he was 4 days shy of his 60th birthday. Pete was actually born in 1940, as a logo for University Bookstore. University Bookstore owners Doc Epple and Red Sammons hired artist Art Evans to create Pete as an advertising logo. He appeared on different products and dressed to portray the different majors.

Petes in Costume

Vertical Files, Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries. Original copies courtesy of University Bookstore.

The logo became popular, and Pete made his way from University Bookstore to the pages of the 1944 Debris student yearbook. He also became officially known as “Pete” at this time, when Doc Epple was asked what his name was.  Pete may have also served as an image of strength for Purdue during World War II.

1944 Pete

1944 Debris

War Pete

1944 Debris











Purdue Pete took on human form in 1956 when athletic director Guy “Red” Mackey gave the go-ahead to create a sports mascot to inspire fans at home football games. Larry Brumbaugh (ME ’57) was selected to be the first Pete by the Pep Committee. Brumbaugh was tasked with creating a costume for Purdue Pete. After doing research and contacting various costume companies, he was still at a loss as to what Pete should look like. Mrs. John Keltner from Brumbaugh’s hometown of Union City, Indiana, made a head out of chicken wire and papier-mache. The head weighed 36 pounds, and the chicken wire made it cumbersome to move.  Purdue Pete made his first public appearance on September 28, 1956, at a pep rally before the Missouri game.

Two other students donned the first version of the Purdue Pete costume, David Hull (AAE ’58) and John Knote (LA ’59).

Happy Birthday Pete

Pete and Golden Girl









Tragedy struck in 1962 when Pete’s head flew out of the Boilermaker Special on the way back from the Iowa State game and was never found.  This led to a makeover in 1963.

Big Head Pete

1976 Debris, page 252

The new Pete had a larger head, rosy cheeks, and a smaller open-mouthed smile. This Purdue Pete costume was in use circa 1963-1976.  His big head limited the movement of the student portraying him, and his head even served as a target for snowballs at a Michigan game.

1976 was the dawning of yet another Purdue Pete. This Pete was created by Van Betulius (A ’76) with the help of an artist from Evansville. His head was all fiberglass, and his look was more boyish and less like something from the pages of a cartoon strip. Unfortunately, the head weighed 50 pounds.

Boyish Pete


Photo courtesy of











Purdue Pete saw a few more changes in 1977, his hat got bigger, his eyes were bolder, and his ears were less flat. Pete’s head was five feet high, and still weighed around 50 pounds. This Purdue Pete costume was used circa 1977-1980.

Pete friends

1979 Debris, page 121




Pete on Boilerrmaker Sp

1980 Debris, page 73








A new decade in 1980 saw the creation of a scowling, meaner Pete with thick eyebrows and furrowed brow. The new head, weighing only 10 pounds, was a welcome relief for those who wore it. Keith Butz, art director in the Telecommunication Center, worked with Donald Carter, a designer in the office of publications, to create the tougher Pete. This Purdue Pete would be around 1980-1983.

Mean Pete 2

1981 Debris


Pete Kiss

Debris 1983










In 1983 Purdue Pete sprouted hair and a construction hard hat. His scowl was replaced with a slight smile. The chin strap made his eyebrows wiggle up and down. This head weighed 12 pounds. This Pete costume would remain in use until circa 1989.

Touchdown Pete

MSP 160, Purdue University Athletics Collection, Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries

In 1989, the Aviation Technology Composite Manufacturing Laboratory created a 5 pound head that was easier to move around in. They continue to make several heads out of composite materials over the course of a year and fix any damages that occur. Starting in 1995 the individuals who were selected to portray Pete were allowed to paint their own hats. This version of Purdue Pete continues to this day.

Purdue Pete Sept 2012

Purdue Pete doing research in the Purdue Archives and Special Collection, September 2012. We welcome all researchers!









2011 Pete

Image courtesy of



There was an attempt to replace Purdue Pete in 2011 with a softer, more kid-friendly Pete. He donned a one piece suit, and big bulky shoes. Fans made it known that they were partial to the current Pete and demanded that the Purdue Pete they had known and loved be returned!




In 2014 Purdue fans rallied to help Purdue Pete win the Chicago Tribune’s Big Ten best mascot contest. Purdue Pete won with a landslide 5,422,716 votes: 74% of the total.

Surfer Pete

2004 Debris


Over the years Purdue fans have made it known that Purdue Pete is an important member of the Purdue family. Kids flock to him, he pumps up the fans at sporting events, and he is a loyal ambassador for Purdue in general.  We in the University Archives wish Purdue Pete a Happy 60th!  Boiler Up!





If you would like further information on Purdue Pete, please see:

Purdue Alumnus

Purdue Alumnus, January/February 2011



Composite lab

Aviation Technology Composite Manufacturing Laboratory


Purdue University ECN





The Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center would also like to thank Tom Frey, Manager of University Bookstore, for sharing his file on the original “Pete.”

Submitted by Mary A. Sego, Processing Assistant, Purdue Archives and Special Collections.

Taming Electricity: A Purdue Student’s Career in Electromagnetic Compatibility

Electricity, or the flow of electric charge, is arguably the most important invention behind the spectacular advancement in technology witnessed over the last century. It has truly revolutionized our lives on planet Earth, and the way we explore other worlds in the universe. Today, as we sit in our comfortable climate-controlled buildings talking to people on the other side of the globe, we take electricity for granted. We also tend to overlook the hard work of countless engineers and scientists for harnessing the power of electricity. Donald Heirman is one such electrical engineer who worked on some fundamental problems in electrical circuits.

The EMC "can of worms"

The EMC “can of worms”

One interesting problem faced by engineers early on was the relationship between electricity and magnetism: they are intertwined, each is a by-product of the other. When an electrical circuit is powered up, it produces a magnetic field. This can create “disturbance” in a nearby (or even in the same) circuit, and cause performance degradation. If this seems too technical, recall experiencing cross-talk on a 90’s landline telephone, or static noise-lines on a TV. The phenomenon is known as Electromagnetic Interference (EMI), and becomes of greater concern as electronic devices shrink in size. Lots of electrical components are in close proximity of each other, and hence prone to electromagnetic interference.

Mr. Heirman working in a "noise-free" environment c.1979

Mr. Heirman working in a “noise-free” environment c.1979

“Taming” electricity is hard work but vital for the smooth functioning of our modern lives. That is exactly what Donald Heirman dealt with during his career at AT&T spanning more than three decades. Having graduated with BS (1962) and MS (1963) degrees in EE from Purdue, Mr. Heirman joined AT&T Bell Labs as a young electrical engineer. Over the years, he worked on some of the most important and exciting projects at AT&T including the development of an Open Area Test Site facility, and a Transverse Electromagnetic (TEM) cell for the Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) analysis of devices. His work focused on electromagnetic interference testing and compliance, and stretched to a range of systems including computer processors, early telephone systems, antennae, road vehicles, and medical devices. Mr. Heirman was also the founding manager of Lucent Technologies (Bell Labs) Global Product Compliance Laboratory. In this role, he was in charge of the company’s major EMC and regulatory test facility, and its participation in national and international EMC standardization committees.

Mr. Heirman started his EMC career at a time when there were few legal limits on EM emissions from electronic devices (the FCC did not have EMC standards for electronic devices until 1979). His passion led him to join (and later lead) international efforts towards EMC standardization. He continues to work with all major national and international standards organizations including ANSI, IEEE and IEC. His many contributions to global electro-technical standardization in the field of EMC have been acknowledged in the form of some of the highest awards in the area.

Click to see the Bicycle Water Race c.1961

Click to see the Bicycle Water Race c.1961

Mr. Heirman’s papers ( provide a fascinating peek into the life and career of an EMC engineer. In addition, the papers offer an unparalleled insight into the history and evolution of EMC standards. The collection also includes some of Mr. Heirman’s amateur videos showcasing life at Purdue University during the early 1960’s. These videos are a rare glimpse of some of the events (sports at Purdue, the Purdue grand prix, ground breaking of the Purdue Airport, and the 1961 visit of President Eisenhower), and traditions (pie throwing, Iron Key, bicycle water race) at Purdue University. The video clip on the right shows just one such tradition (now forgotten): the bicycle water race.

Mr. Heirman currently runs a training and consulting business by the name of Don HEIRMAN Consultants. He continues to be a key player and educator in the field of EMC. His papers are part of the Donald N. Heirman Collection in the Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center at Purdue Libraries. The collection is open for research.