History of Purdue United Way

United Way of Greater Lafayette celebrates its 100th anniversary. Learn about the extensive history of Purdue’s campaign on campus in partnership with the organization.

On April 22nd, 2023, United Way of Greater Lafayette celebrated its 100th year of service to the local area, commemorating growth and community impact. With the help of community partnerships, including collaborations with Purdue University, United Way of Greater Lafayette has raised over 180 million in support of the local community and now works with 27 agencies. Purdue is proud to support the United Way network of organizations that empower individuals for a more vibrant and equitable community for all.

From the Heart of the Community

United Way efforts in Tippecanoe County began in 1923 when a group of residents banded together to raise $23,000 for community-building projects. Since then, United Way of Greater Lafayette has updated its name and approach to helping the community, but at its core, its aim is the same as its founding residents’.   

In 1936, the Federation of Agencies was created. The 1940s saw the establishment of the Community Chest organization, a vehicle for business leaders to distribute funds to local organizations in need of support, like the YMCA, YWCA, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, The Salvation Army, Flower Mission, Lincoln Community Center, the South End Community Center, and the USO. Most of these agencies still work with United Way today.  

In 1966, two community organizations, the United Fund and the Council for Community Services, merged to become United Community Services. United Community Services changed its name in 1974 to the name closest to what we know today as the local United Way: United Way of Greater Lafayette and Tippecanoe County.

Purdue and the Tradition of Giving Back

Purdue impact can be seen early in the history of the United Way organization and its predecessors. Although it’s not clear when the university’s involvement began, Purdue participated in the previously mentioned community fund established in 1923, which served nine local agencies in the area. 

Employees of Purdue also served as campaign chairs on the community campaign for several years, starting with Donald Mallet, who served in 1961.  In 1974, Frank Burrin served as community chair, followed by Charles Wise several years later in 1987, and continuing today.

This participation in the Greater Lafayette area set the precedent for Purdue’s long history of community support in motion.

Purdue and United Way

In the early 1980s, under the leadership of Purdue President Stephen Beering and Senior Vice President of Development Charles Wise, Purdue began incorporating an organized United Way campaign on campus. Purdue leadership recognized that other institutions had utilized a dedicated staff person to raise funds for their local United Way campaigns. This led to the creation of a director of Purdue United Way position, first held by Joyce Koelzer. Support services from the university helped locate employees, distribute pledge cards, and keep records. Pledge reporting was conducted by university development, and confidential pledges and donation information were shared with United Way of Greater Lafayette. Some of these early practices continue into the present.

The United Way of Greater Lafayette Vanguard Leadership Giving Program was established in 1987 with a grant from the Great Lakes Chemical Corporation. The Purdue United Way campaign grants the status of “Vanguard” leader to individuals donating $1,000 or more to the campaign. Since 1987, Vanguard leaders have made community-leading contributions to the campaign, and the Purdue United Way campaign has one of the largest vanguard memberships in Greater Lafayette.

Purdue United Way in the Present

2023 Purdue United Way Campus Kickoff

Today, Purdue serves as one of the largest collective contributors to the local United Way campaign. From 2004 to 2022, the University’s campaign raised an average of 15% of the total annual United Way campaigns. In 2022 alone, Purdue United Way campaign contributions totaled $657,910.

Recent decades of United Way of Greater Lafayette initiatives show a changing approach to serving the community. Modern programs such as Kindergarten Countdown Camp, Read to Succeed, Volunteer Engagement Center, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), Poverty Simulation, and Peer Union Counseling empower individuals and provide opportunities to grow. The VITA program, for instance, provides free tax filing for those with a household income of less than $73,000. Since its inception in 2011, the program has served more than 12,000 clients.

For more than 100 years, United Way of Greater Lafayette and Purdue University have worked together to strengthen the Greater Lafayette area. Through community-leading campaign contributions; student, staff, and faculty engagement with the local network of 27 United Way partner agencies; and countless volunteer hours, Purdue University and United Way of Greater Lafayette ensure our community’s persistence and prosperity.

Source: Office of Engagement intern Adan Diaz.