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September 30, 2003

4 Purdue alumni donate funds for engineering, bands, arts

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University today (Tuesday, 9/30) announced alumni donations of more than $5 million for a wide range of projects, including ultramodern classrooms and teaching labs for mechanical engineering, the new Visual and Performing Arts Building, and scholarships for students in band and electrical and computer engineering.

recognition ceremony
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An 11 a.m. program in the Purdue Memorial Union, Room 118, was dedicated to donors John and Nancy Bratt; Robert and Catherine Romano-Orth; the late Stanley Welch and his surviving spouse, Rosella Welch; and Herbert A. and Janice A. Wilson.

"This money will directly impact the quality of research and education at Purdue," said university President Martin C. Jischke. "Whether you're talking about new facilities, faculty support or student scholarships, alumni are backing our strategic plan and our vision for the future of Purdue and the state of Indiana."

Money donated by the Bratts, Orths and Wilsons will be used for a variety of purposes as part of the School of Mechanical Engineering's $128 million fund-raising campaign. The campaign is raising private donations for the construction of a new wing for the mechanical engineering building, renovations to existing facilities and expansion of the mechanical engineering faculty from the current 51 to 65, adding eight endowed professorships in the process.

Purdue's mechanical engineering programs already are among the best in the nation; the most recent U.S. News & World Report surveys ranked both the graduate and undergraduate programs seventh nationally.

"Our alumni are making an enormous contribution to the future of mechanical engineering at Purdue," said E. Dan Hirleman, the William E. and Florence E. Perry Head of the School of Mechanical Engineering. "Their gifts will enable the university to build truly modern classrooms and labs and ensure that we have the very best faculty."

Janice and Herbert Wilson

Herbert and Janice Wilson are giving $2.28 million, with $500,000 going toward the mechanical engineering campaign and $500,000 to support the new $38 million Visual and Performing Arts Building, which is located at the corner of Wood and Marsteller streets. The remaining $1.28 million will go to provide $800,000 in scholarships for Purdue's "All-American" Marching Band and $480,000 for athletic scholarships.

"The Wilsons are a great example of Purdue's alumni who have been touched by the art programs in the School of Liberal Arts," said David Sigman, department head for visual and performing arts. "The new building, including the theater division which will move in during 2005, will integrate technology and art to enhance Purdue students' opportunities in artistic expression."

Sigman said the Wilsons' contribution to the Visual and Performing Arts Building will be acknowledged by naming the building's green room after them. The green room is where the cast of productions prepare to take the stage.

"I have enjoyed the performing arts all of my life," Herbert Wilson said. "I used to frequent the theater in Chicago. I continue to enjoy the theater, and I want to support Purdue's first-class theater program."

The mechanical engineering portion of the gift will be used for various projects and programs, including the new mechanical engineering wing. The Wilsons will be recognized in the naming of a graduate student commons in the new wing. A timetable for construction of the $26 million wing has not yet been set, but the university has raised about half of the $16.3 million in private funds needed for its construction, Hirleman said.

Herbert Wilson earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue in 1951 and an MBA from the University of Chicago in 1959. He was the owner, president and chief executive officer of Micro-Surface Finishing Products Inc., in Wilton, Iowa, from 1977 until retiring in 2000. The Wilsons now live in Iowa City, Iowa.

Herbert Wilson said he grew up in Chicago admiring Purdue.

"I went down to Purdue and I met a terrific bunch of fellows in my freshman year," Wilson said. "These people are lifelong friends.

"I received a great education and went out into the world. I worked with a lot of engineers, and I always felt my Purdue experience qualified me to dance with the best of them. So, I really thank Purdue for having given me that high-quality education."

The Wilsons have been giving to Purdue for decades. They have funded scholarships for both engineering and the university's band program.

"My wife and I believe in scholarships for students in the band because they do an awful lot for the school and don't get much recognition," Herbert Wilson said.

David A. Leppla, director of university bands at Purdue, said the funds would go a long way toward rewarding the best students for their hard work and sometimes thankless service.

"The spirit of volunteerism has been such an important part of our Purdue Band history," Leppla said. "Our students put in so many volunteer hours beyond their musical ensembles. It's wonderful to receive this kind of recognition from one of Purdue's most distinguished alumni."

Janice Wilson is a nurse by profession and former vice president of Micro-Surface Finishing Products.

"All of these gifts we've given are from Herbert and Janice Wilson," Herbert Wilson said. "We do everything together."

Nancy and John Bratt

John and Nancy Bratt are giving an estate gift of $1 million. John Bratt, chief executive officer of Tenax Corp. in Indianapolis, earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue in 1965 and an MBA in 1972 from Indiana University. He is a former chairman of the Purdue President's Council and was a member of the university's Vision 21 campaign cabinet.

John Bratt is a native of Terre Haute, Ind., and Nancy is originally from Kingman, Ind.

The Bratts, who live in Indianapolis, have been giving to Purdue for about 15 years and have funded several scholarships.

The Bratts' gift will be used for efforts to attract and retain faculty.

"I think it's important to play a role in recruiting the best professors to Purdue," John Bratt said. "The money we provide will support the research and teaching of an outstanding professor."

Bratt said he has fond memories of his time at Purdue.

"I said to someone not long ago that we used to call it 'going home' whenever we returned to campus because our oldest daughter was born there. And even though we were poor as church mice, we really had pretty good times there," he said. "We lived in married student apartments. Nancy is a nurse, and she worked at Home Hospital to help put me through school."

Catherine-Romano and Robert Orth

Robert and Catherine Orth also are giving $1 million and will be recognized through the Robert and Catherine Orth Undergraduate Student Commons in the new wing of the mechanical engineering building. The commons, an area for students to congregate and use wireless technology to collaborate on schoolwork, will overlook an atrium partially set aside for displays honoring outstanding alumni.

Robert Orth, who earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 1935, was vice president of sales for Wheelabrator Corp., in Mishawaka, Ind., where the Orths still live. The West Lafayette native retired 10 years ago after working for more than 60 years with the company, which produces machinery used to clean surfaces, strengthen automotive leaf springs, shape aircraft wings and numerous other purposes.

"Teamwork is crucial for success in business, and the new undergraduate commons will foster that same sort of teamwork in Purdue students," Robert Orth said. "I'm excited to play a role in the lives of these future entrepreneurs."

The Orths have funded scholarships at Purdue, Indiana University and other universities. They also have participated in programs to help high school students prepare for college and provide aid to students already in college who are having difficulties completing their studies.

"Education opens doors," said Catherine Romano-Orth, a nurse who holds a bachelor's degree from IU in sociology and women's studies. "Education changes a person's outlook on life so that he or she is able to make better decisions.

"We believe this is the best investment we can make in the future of Purdue and our nation. We also mentor students. If they need help getting into schools, we help them fill out the forms and apply for scholarships and write letters and then we also provide stipends to help them through school."

Stanley B. Welch

The Welch's deferred gift will support scholarships for students in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Stanley Welch, a native of Fort Wayne, Ind., who earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Purdue in 1942, passed away on Aug. 25, 2001. He was a senior systems engineer for General Electric Co. and held scores of patents for his work with microwave and self-cleaning ovens during his more than 40 years with the company in Ft. Wayne, Bridgeport, Conn., Schenectady, N.Y., and Louisville.

"Stan always told me that we should give back," said Rosella Welch, also a Fort Wayne native who lives in Louisville. "He felt that he had so much and that each of us should share with other people what we were given."

The Welches' annual gift enabled the school to provide merit-based scholarships to 49 students last academic year and 82 students this year. The Welches also have given a significant, deferred one-time gift to support the scholarship program.

"I can't tell you how many letters I've received from students who received the scholarships," said Rosella Welch, a former elementary school teacher who holds a bachelor's degree in education from the University of Louisville. "So many of these students are from other countries, and I think their time at Purdue is giving them a wonderful exposure to American culture and life.

"This, I think, is extremely important in today's global society. When they return to their homelands, I think it is very likely that they will speak highly of the United States."

Rosella Welch worked in libraries to help put her husband through school at Purdue, continuing a family legacy that began in 1901, when his father, Alfred F. Welch, graduated from Purdue with an electrical engineering degree.

The alumni will receive the Purdue Distinguished Pinnacle Award, the university's highest recognition.

Writers: Emil Venere, (765) 494-4709,

Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723,

Sources: Martin C. Jischke, (765) 494-9708

David Sigman, (765) 494-3056,

E. Dan Hirleman, (765) 494-5688,

David A. Leppla, (765) 494-0770,


Members of Purdue University's pep band serenade Purdue alumni during a ceremony today (Tuesday, 9/30) to recognize them for donating more than $5 million to the university. From left are Rosella Welch, Nancy Bratt, John Bratt, Janice Wilson and Herbert Wilson. (Purdue News Service photo/David Umberger) A publication-quality photograph is available at https://