Organizers hope statue of Purdue's founder connects him, students

July 12, 2012  

Cordova Foster students John Purdue statue

A statue of Purdue University founder John Purdue is scheduled to be unveiled in late fall. The statue will be on Memorial Mall, near Purdue's grave and across from University Hall. The project has been spearheaded by the Order of the Iron Key, a Purdue student society devoted to service-oriented leadership. Iron Key leaders and advisers, gathered outside University Hall, are (front row from left) associate professor of history Nancy Gabin, Sam Lame, Purdue President France A. Córdova, Alex Robinson, Katie Haller, society adviser and first gentleman Chris Foster, (back row, from left) Mike May, Tyler Teykl, Stu Shippee, Mike James and Ted Murphy. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Helping Purdue students form a stronger connection to the university's founder is the goal of a group building a statue of John Purdue.

The project is being spearheaded by the Order of the Iron Key, a Purdue student society devoted to service-oriented leadership.

The statue, honoring the man who started Purdue University, will be located near Purdue's grave on the west side of Memorial Mall, across from University Hall. The statue is scheduled to be unveiled late this fall. Purdue was founded in 1869 as a land-grant university under the Morrill Land-Grant Acts. This year is the 150th anniversary of when President Abraham Lincoln signed the acts into law.

"We believe that many students did not have a clear understanding of who John Purdue was," said Mike James, the president of Iron Key in 2012 who has been involved with the project. "Although people recognized the name, their connection with the university's founder did not go much deeper. We want to put a face to John Purdue's entrepreneurial spirit, passion for education and his willingness to give back to the community."

Chris Foster, Purdue's K-12 STEM coordinator and adviser to Iron Key, said the students did extensive research about Purdue and were impressed with what they learned.

"They found out he had a lot of the attributes we like for students to have at Purdue today," Foster said. "He was an entrepreneur who worked very hard and started a lot of businesses. He also was very philanthropic and helped a lot of people, especially his family and friends."

 "He was a self-made man and was passionate about education," James said. "He came from very humble beginnings and had to drop out of school at the age of 12. His first profession was teaching. Not only did he donate the land and money to start Purdue University, he felt very strongly about how the university should be run. In fact, he and the trustees clashed during the university's first few years."

The statue, which will be 1 1/4 life-size scale, will feature Purdue seated on a bench, or plinth, and will allow space for students and visitors to sit with him.

"The students wanted to put the statue in a place where students and visitors would have easy access and be able to sit next to him," Foster said. "There will be information about him available so the students can learn more about him."

Campus landscape architect Don Staley said the site of the statue was chosen for two reasons.

"The Iron Key students felt it was important to associate the statue with the oldest remaining building on campus, University Hall, " Staley said. The location was chosen so the statue and University Hall could be captured in a single photograph."

After deciding on their project, Iron Key students had to present it to faculty committees and have it approved by the Capital Projects Council. They then submitted the proposal to 10 artists and in June selected Julie Rotblatt-Amrany of Highland, Ill.

Rotblatt-Amrany's studio has made several statues, including tributes to basketball player Michael Jordan, Chicago Bears coach George Halas, astronaut James Lovell and hockey player Gordie Howe.

It will cost approximately $150,000 to build the statue, and Foster said Iron Key is now in a fundraising mode.

"We hope that by placing a statue of John Purdue on campus, students will gain an interest in learning more about him," James said. "We also hope that the statue serves as a source of inspiration to students for years to come."

Students are chosen for Iron Key based on leadership and character. Their mission is to accomplish something without individual recognition and to learn how to move behind the scenes to achieve goals.

Writer: Greg McClure, 765-496-9711,

Sources: Chris Foster, 765-494-2981,

                Mike James,

                Don Staley, 765-494-3424,

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