A Purdue Alumnus magazine released this spring features 150 unique Purdue-themed items, ranging from John Purdue’s timepiece to a pink mitten that has been in the Purdue Memorial Union since 1982.
In addition to the spring issue that features Purdue-themed objects, the Purdue Alumni Association will be releasing two more 150-themed special editions of the magazine. First published in 1914, the magazine is available exclusively for members of the Purdue Alumni Association.
The summer 2019 issue will feature “innovations” and the fall 2019 issue will feature “things to love” about Purdue, according to Kat Braz, editor of the Alumnus and senior director of creative communications at the Purdue Alumni Association.
“The idea to feature a collection of objects stemmed from Smithsonian Magazine, which released a special collector’s issue in November 2013 highlighting 101 objects that made America,” said Braz via email. “In early 2017 ... I suggested doing a ‘150 things to love about Purdue’ list.”
As a child, Braz loved creative writing. After working at The Exponent and the Lafayette Journal & Courier, she started at the Purdue Alumni Association as the art director in 2011. She currently oversees all messaging for the organization and promotes alumni events.
“I wish I had more time to spend on the magazine, but it almost always feels like a rush job. This one took a little longer to put together. From the time we first started photographing objects ... to the time it went on the press, it was about seven weeks,” Braz said. “We have an immensely talented community of communications professionals working across campus, and I feel fortunate to be among their ranks.”
When planning which 150 items to put in the magazine, Braz said ideas came from all over.
“A number of people shared items from their own personal collections. Some were quite obvious, such as the Old Pump or the original clock from Heavilon Hall, but others were lucky finds that I happened to stumble upon,” she said. “I was certainly not trying to compile a list of the most important objects, nor is it possible to tell the entirety of the University’s history in only 150 objects. My focus was singular — I wanted to find objects that told interesting stories.”
Pete Bill, a retired professor and Purdue graduate, provided about 20 items on the list. In a successful attempt to try to collect the entire series of Purdue Debris yearbooks beginning in the 1990s, he also collected other University artifacts, documents and photographs along the way.
Bill currently has over 2,000 artifacts in his collection, including the first Master of Science degree diploma granted by Purdue in 1886, one-of-a-kind photographs of the Tank Scrap parade through downtown Lafayette, a celebration of a freshman-sophomore rivalry that lasted until 1914, a football helmet belonging to the fourth dean of Purdue’s College of Pharmacy and unique medallions, programs and other parts of Purdue life.
“Each item in my collection is kept in an archival-safe box, sleeve or other container, and I make it a point to share unique documents or photographs with Purdue Archives and the Tippecanoe County Historical Association for digitizing so they have copies for themselves,” Bill said via email.
While Bill had originally used eBay to acquire unusual Purdue objects, he said that his more interesting items have been found in dark corners of antique stores or pawn shops where no one else looks.
“It’s not unlike looking for buried treasure except instead of digging dirt, I’m leafing through old, ratty folders, looking into boxes piled high with other discarded objects or papers, and poking around the back of dusty shelves with a flashlight to uncover that artifact that has been overlooked for years,” he said.
“Purdue doesn’t have the resources to find all of these objects before they end up in a landfill, so it is a beneficial symbiotic relationship between Purdue and avid collectors like myself who scour the internet and brick-and-mortar antique shops to save these items and share them with Purdue so they can, in turn, share the items with the rest of the world through their e-Archives.”
One of Braz’s favorite objects in the magazine was a laundry mailer box that’s stored in the Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections, which belonged to Tom Wilhite, a 1950 graduate and life member of the Purdue Alumni Association.
“I found a reference to the artifact while searching through the archive’s online database, but they didn’t have much additional information about it. So I contacted Wilhite, and he shared a fascinating story of how his father died a few months before Wilhite was due to start classes at Purdue,” Braz said.
Every two weeks, Wilhite carried the box full of soiled laundry to the Village to mail it. And his mother washed the clothes in an old-fashioned wringer machine, drying them on a basement clothesline. ... This two-week ritual continued during the entirety of Wilhite’s undergraduate education. ... This kind of personal anecdote adds such a marvelous context to a simple object.”
Braz said that getting to speak with alumni and hear their stories is the best part of her job as an editor.
“When I can play a small role in collecting and preserving those stories for future generations of Boilermakers to discover, that’s really special,” she said. “Archives already had the laundry mailer box on hand, but the additional details provided by Wilhite may have been lost if it weren’t for this project.”