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Purdue landmark, saved and out of storage, heads inside Memorial Union renovation
After being called out about knowing its history, Purdue finds a place for a once-prominent monument to a pioneering dean of students
Last seen, in December 2018, the brick-and-limestone monuments bearing Purdue University’s name and the carved inscription, “Founded 1869,” were being plucked from the corner of State and Grant streets, having celebrated their final weekend as the backdrop to thousands of cap-and-gown photos during fall commencement, the way they had since 1984.
Coming just five months later, in a real scramble that campus facilities teams pulled off in time for the May 2019 graduation weekend, was a $2 million gateway that showcased the Purdue Memorial Union and paid tribute to the school’s 150th anniversary.
With six brick-and-limestone columns flanking a black metal arch featuring the university’s name, the new plaza became an instant magnet for welcome-to-campus moments and graduation poses. Just as Purdue intended.
About that time, as the limestone monuments were being hauled away, there was Betty Nelson, a retired Purdue dean of students, stewing and fretting over where the stones – originally installed as a tribute to her friend, mentor and another dean of students, Beverley Stone – would wind up.
Nelson had called the university to task for what she considered a lack of institutional knowledge and appreciation for history as it swapped out a gateway paid for by student groups in the early-’80s for something – as a university official had called it – not as “underwhelming.”
“My greatest fear was those beautiful limestone blocks would land in the backyard of the Wade Power Plant, being used as picnic tables,” Nelson said.
“Well,” Nelson said, “to my great pleasure, it appears that won’t happen. Purdue is getting this one right.”
In a new plan, “Stone’s stones” will be incorporated in the university’s $47 million renovations of the Purdue Memorial Union, in the works now to remake the ground floor dining areas and build out the campus landmark’s terraces.
One limestone slab will be installed into a ground floor wall that greets visitors coming down the Great Hall stairwell at the State Street side entrance to the Purdue Memorial Union.
The second one will be positioned at the Union’s west tower stairs.
“The stone is a natural fit in the Purdue Memorial Union, and along with the construction of the new terraces, helps enhance the connection between the Union and State Street,” Jay Wasson, associate vice president for Purdue Physical Facilities, said. “The location of the stone at the bottom of the main entrance stairwell anchors the space and serves as a visual reminder of the importance of the university’s history.”
The stones are among some $10 million in naming rights opportunities in the Purdue Memorial Union project, listed by Purdue For Life Foundation, a fundraising arm of the university. Those range in Purdue For Life listings from $25,000 recognitions in the form of plaques, to $1 million to $1.5 million for naming rights of various terraces, to $2.5 million naming rights for the entire Marketplace, the busy ground floor at the Purdue Memorial Union.
Sponsorship of the former gateway stones: $100,000 each.
“Given my fears and how things started,” Nelson said, “I couldn’t imagine a better outcome. There aren’t many busier spots on campus.”
As for the how-things-started part …
The reconstruction of the corner of State and Grant streets, first heralded with a small billboard welcoming donors, was among the first pieces of Purdue’s “Giant Leaps Master Plan.” The plan, unveiled in 2018 by Baltimore architecture firm Ayers Saint Gross for the university’s 150th anniversary, was adopted by Purdue trustees as a guide for the look and feel on campus for the coming 50 years. The plan called for a series of gateways at the edge of campus and throughout West Lafayette, starting with the one to frame the Purdue Memorial Union.
Nelson’s point at the time, as she buttonholed consultants and facilities leaders and as reported in the Journal & Courier: “I’m not sure the university understands what it is doing.”
Her history lesson to administration about the L-shaped landmark about to come down went like this.
Stone retired in 1980, after starting a career at Purdue in the Office of the Dean of Women, advising student organizations. In 1968, she replaced Helen Schleman, who had been dean of women since 1947. When Purdue folded the positions of dean of men and dean of women into one job in 1974, Stone became the first woman to be dean of students at a Big Ten university.
According to “The Deans’ Bible: Five Purdue Women and Their Quest for Equality,” a 2014 book by Lafayette author Angie Klink, students with the Purdue Panhellenic Association spent five years raising money through its annual plant sale on campus to donate the marker as a surprise to Stone four years after her retirement.
The plaque on the monument read, as dedicated in October 1984: “In honor of M. Beverley Stone, dean of students emerita, for her 24 years of loving concern for her students and for her exemplary leadership to Panhellenic, the sororities and the university.”
The monument became an iconic landmark at one of the busiest entrances to campus, one frequently referenced in Purdue marketing, the way the Bell Tower and the fountains are.
After retirement that included a stint on the West Lafayette City Council, Stone died in 2003.
As it prepared to pull the monument in 2018, the university quickly pivoted, promising that the new gateway would honor Stone. And it did when the gateway opened the following spring, with a plaque explaining a bit of the history, including a rendering of the monument that stood there for 34 years.
For the next few years, Stone’s stones went into storage.
“When facilities decided PMU was a good place for the stones, Jay reached out and asked if I would call Betty and present her with the idea,” Greg Kapp, vice president of development with Purdue For Life, said. “She was super-positive and offered to help us with fundraising.”
The stones section in the Purdue Memorial Union project doesn’t have lead donors, yet, Kapp said. (“We do have one lead gift from a couple to name the area that was Pappy’s, but that is our only commitment so far,” Kapp said of the $10 million in naming rights available in the Union.) Kapp said alumni tied to Purdue Panhellenic will get the first shot, before the university opens it to a wider set of potential donors.
Nelson said she’s on board. She said she hoped the university developed an inventory of monuments, benches and whatever else was donated to Purdue in the name of alumni, faculty, staff or friends, so when it comes time to replace or remove them, the university has a record. (“The institutional memory of the institution isn’t always reliable, as administrations come and go,” she said. “Case in point, right here.”)
As for Stone’s stones, Nelson said she’s satisfied with the Purdue Memorial Union solution.
“Those stones are valuable, historic pieces. Beautiful pieces,” Nelson said. “To not find a home for them would have been a real loss. … My hat’s off to Purdue for listening on this one.”
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