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April 8, 2007

Former Purdue Calumet Chancellor Richard J. Combs dies

Richard J. Combs
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Richard J. Combs, who served Purdue University Calumet for nearly 36 years, including 15 as chancellor, directing a period of noteworthy campus growth and development during the 1970s and 80s, died Sunday (4/8) following an illness. He was 80.

During Combs - years as chancellor - 1975-90 - Purdue Calumet enrollment grew from 5,200 students to nearly 8,000, while faculty increased from 140 to 260. Major campus facility additions during his tenure included construction of the Fitness & Recreation Center, Donald S. Powers Computer Education Building and the University Services Building, as well as acquisition from the Hammond School System of Gene Stratton Porter Hall, a former elementary school.

Additionally, during his administration, numerous academic programs were developed, including undergraduate offerings in engineering; engineering technologies; and restaurant, hotel and institutional management (now hospitality and tourism management), plus master's degrees in nursing and communication. Also, scores of campus services were introduced for students, residents and the professional community.

Combs received an honorary doctorate from Purdue during Purdue Calumet Commencement Exercises just prior to stepping down as chancellor in 1990. Effective with his retirement from the university in 1991, he was named Chancellor Emeritus. He lived in Munster with his wife, Audrey, throughout his retirement years.

"The passing of Dick Combs is a sad day for Purdue Calumet and northwest Indiana," current Chancellor Howard Cohen said. "Dick was very generous with his time and his extensive network of relationships in northwest Indiana. I am very grateful for all the help he gave me in my transition to our region. Dick had a deep love for Purdue Calumet and maintained his interest in the university throughout his retirement. I will miss his wise counsel."

Born and raised in De Smet, S.D., Combs, a South Dakota University graduate, began his four-decade career in education in 1951 as a public school teacher and administrator in his native state. He came to Purdue Calumet in 1955 as an instructor in mathematics and physical sciences. In addition to his faculty duties, he went on to serve Purdue Calumet in various administrative capacities, including acting director in 1958-59, assistant director (1959-68), associate dean (1968-74) and executive vice chancellor and acting chancellor (1974-75).

His appointment as chancellor in 1975 came the same year Purdue Calumet was granted undergraduate academic autonomy from Purdue's West Lafayette campus.

In 1989, when he announced his decision to step down as chancellor the following year, then Purdue President Steven C. Beering called Combs "a solid leader and an astute administrator. . .He took over a campus that was still in its adolescence and brought it to full maturity."

Combs was active in numerous professional and civic organizations at national, state and local levels  during his years as chancellor and continued to serve various community organizations during his retirement years.

In addition to his wife, Audrey, he is survived by son Robert; daughter Rebecca; and numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren and other family members. Preceding him in death was daughter Melanie.

Visitation and funeral arrangements are pending.

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