Tag Archives: reminiscence

Reflections on Boiler Pride…

Editor’s Note: Writer Mary Sego is an archival assistant and processing specialist within Archives and Special Collections.

As a Purdue alum and thirty-one year Purdue employee, I always reflect upon Purdue as a new semester begins. I remember back as this Hoosier farm girl took her first steps onto a large campus with hopes and dreams waiting to be fulfilled. I followed in the footsteps of 4 older siblings, and 1 younger followed me. This meant 48 move-in trips for my parents and 16 continuous years of having at least one student on campus, sometimes two or three. I am now seeing the hopes and dreams being realized for the next generation, as now two younger relatives have chosen Purdue for their college educations.

Working in the Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center has been an incredible opportunity. I have had the honor and pleasure to have processed 123 collections, including the Neil A. Armstrong papers, along with nearly 700 faculty and alumni folders. I have seen alumni, researchers, faculty and staff, along with the general public come into the Archives, and beam with pride and fascination. I have gone through boxes of unprocessed collections packed by donors that love their alma mater, and only want the best for the generations of Boilermakers that follow in their footsteps. Many feel it is their obligation to give back to the University and their fellow Boilermakers, because they feel Purdue gave so much to them.

Mark Brown on STS-28, August 1989

Mark Brown on STS-28, August 1989



Many of the alumni astronauts have given their collections to Purdue, in hopes that those that follow can learn from the many, many treasures found in their collections.  Indeed, several have taken Purdue memorabilia into space with them, and shared their Purdue pride among the stars. They are truly loyal and dedicated alumni!


Orville Redenbacher, 1928 grad in his Purdue Band uniform

Orville Redenbacher, 1928 grad in his Purdue Band uniform


Other faculty, staff and alumni have also given their papers and collections to Purdue. The names Amelia Earhart, George Ade, John T. McCutcheon, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, and Orville Redenbacher are known to the world. Former Purdue presidents, and many other faculty, staff and alums also have their papers in Archives and Special Collections. Their contributions, and therefore their collections, are treated with equal care and respect as any other.



Ralph S. Johnson, circa 1935

Ralph S. Johnson, circa 1935


Some of the alumni and faculty may not be as well known, but are important none the less.  One such person is Ralph S. Johnson who worked his way through Purdue as a Memorial Union food service worker.  He graduated from Purdue in 1930 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical and Mechanical Engineering and went on to become the chief pilot for United Airlines in 1935. During the early years of WWII, he was responsible for developing and testing a myriad of programs aimed toward air safety. He was awarded a Purdue honorary Doctorate of Engineering in 2008.

Also found in the Purdue Archives are the papers of Charles A. Ellis, educator, structural engineer, and mathematician who joined the Purdue faculty in 1934. Ellis was an expert in bridge design, co-designing the Montreal Harbor Bridge and almost single-handedly designing the structure of the famed Golden Gate Bridge.

Pamphlet from the Purdue University School of Medicine collection

Pamphlet from the Purdue University School of Medicine collection

Few realize that the founder of Arnett Clinic in Lafayette, Dr. Arett C. Arnett, graduated from the Purdue University Medical School. In May, 1906, one hundred and twenty-two students received their diplomas from Purdue University and successfully passed the examination of the State Board of Medical Registration.

In the spring of 1907, Purdue graduated sixty-eight men and four women. In that class was Arett C. Arnett who helped establish a Lafayette clinic in 1922, later known as Arnett Clinic. One can find memorabilia from this class in the Purdue University School of Medicine collection.

Another collection, the John Y. D. Tse papers, comprise a compilation of ten poems and memoirs written by Tse as reflections upon forty years as a management professor, founder of the Krannert Graduate School of Business, entrepreneur, and benefactor to Purdue University. Within the volume are also photographs, reprints of letters written to Dr. Tse by colleagues, an address written by Tse for the 25th anniversary of the Krannert School of Management, and reprints of newspaper clippings and articles about and by Dr. Tse

Many wonderful scrapbooks have been donated to the Purdue Archives, all containing numerous personal items and anecdotes.  One example is the Simeon V. B. Miller scrapbook (1900-1906), which contains memorabilia from Simeon Van Buren Miller’s college career at Purdue University. Involved in the train wreck of 1903, Miller compiled numerous newspaper clippings from the wreck. Simeon Miller followed in the footsteps of his father and two brothers as a member of Phi Delta Theta, and therefore his scrapbook contains a concentration of ephemera from the fraternity.  He was president of the Class of 1905 during his sophomore year, and so the scrapbook also contains items from his tenure as class president. Other miscellaneous items, such as fee statements, dance cards, items from the athletic association and athletic events, score cards and fee statements, newspaper clippings on the tank scrap, and numerous other programs are also included. One can certainly learn a great deal about a person and Purdue from a single scrapbook!

This is just a small sampling of the items that can be found in the Virginia Kelly Karnes Archive and Special Collections. We are here to help you and welcome a visit! You can learn more about Purdue and those that have walked the campus. Feel free to just stop by and say hello!

Our wish for you this semester is to reach for the stars, explore and enjoy your time at Purdue! We hope one day you will consider donating your papers to the Purdue Archives, and helping your fellow Boilermakers for generations to come!

Clipping from the Jerry L. Ross papers

Clipping from the Jerry L. Ross papers







A Tragic Telegram and a Goofy Movie

Last year, near the anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, I started digging. It was a momentous occasion–Earhart is one of the more famous historical figures who spent time at Purdue and whose life is documented in our collections. I was searching our databases, looking for some materials from around the time of Earhart’s round-the-world flight. Often if I find something interesting, I will share it with our followers on Twitter. As I scanned the list of search results, I came across this:


I wasn’t prepared for it. The telegram, sent from George Putnam, Earhart’s husband, responding to his son, David Binney Putnam, was sent shortly after contact was lost with Earhart’s plane. It reads: “THANKS DEAR BOY IT HELPS THERES PLENTY OF HOPE YET LOVE DAD.”

When I read it, I felt a sense of dread sinking into me. Knowing that Amelia was not coming back–ever–made George’s hopes all the more tragic. But reading this note, with its short, desperate prose, and knowing that it was just a family thing in that moment, between father and son and an absent stepmother, gave the document a sacred quality. I shouldn’t be reading this. I wasn’t meant to read this. But why feel this way? It’s history. It’s public.

History is often interesting to read about from a distance. We can reflect on how day-to-day life has changed since a famous person’s time, such as Earhart’s heyday of the 1920s-30s. We can joke around about silly fashion and customs from the past. The past is removed from us; we don’t have access to it, so it feels foreign and alien and often quite backwards. We cannot understand why, for example, Purdue students used to race around Memorial Mall on tricycles while people threw buckets of water at them. It makes no sense.

But some things make too much sense. And its in those moments of discovery, when history recorded in writing or film becomes less distant. It comes closer to our own experience as people and becomes less alien. It’s someone we know. It’s how we feel now. For all its strangeness, the tricycle water-bucket race does appeal to a certain sense of goofy fun. The people in the film look like they’re having a good time–and why not? They’re racing around a circle or throwing buckets of water on people. It’s not just hilarious because it’s strange; it’s hilarious because it looks like it might be fun to do.

George’s letter to David about Amelia made sense. The hope still hanging over both of them, the hope that she might show up, somewhere, adrift in the sea, or stranded on an island–a little worse for wear, but still smiling–that hope made more sense than anything. If you’ve ever lost someone, you know about hope. And you might have also felt that same sense of sinking dread I did when you read the telegram, knowing she didn’t come back. That the hope was disappointed. And in that moment, Amelia Earhart wasn’t just a famous missing person. Not just a feminist role model. She was more than her ideals or legend. She was someone like you or me.


And we lost her.

This year marks the 78th anniversary of Earhart’s final flight.  For me, that short telegram reveals so much of the power of history and the importance of preservation. History research does more than just generate academic knowledge and understanding–all of which is important, good, and necessary for our society. It is notes like George’s that tell us what history can be: a moment of human connection transcending time.

The telegram can be viewed online with other materials from the time of the initial search for Earhart’s plane.  These materials are within the full George Putnam Palmer Collection of Amelia Earhart papers, as well as the Amelia Earhart at Purdue Collection, and can be viewed in Archives and Special Collections digital repository e-Archives.