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October 27, 2007

Donors, alumni played major role in funding Neil Armstrong Hall

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Private donors paid for more than one-quarter of Purdue University's new $53.2 million Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering, which is being dedicated Saturday (Oct. 27).

The building was financed with $37.7 million in state funds, and the balance came from private sources, including Caterpillar Inc., the John Deere Foundation, Purdue alumni Stephen D. Bechtel Jr. and Kenneth O. Johnson; and Heddy Kurz, whose late husband was a Purdue alumnus. Several Purdue alumni who went on to become NASA astronauts also were donors or helped raise gifts in Armstrong's honor.

"Contributions from private donors are the key to excellence and were crucial to this project," said Purdue President France A. Córdova. "Their generous support has made Neil Armstrong Hall the magnificent facility it is."

Caterpillar provided $2.5 million for three learning modules. The company has a long history of giving to Purdue. Many of its earlier gifts have helped fund activities in the College of Engineering, as well as in the colleges of Agriculture and Technology and the School of Management. Caterpillar has been particularly supportive of Purdue's efforts aimed at increased student diversity.

Company representatives also serve on several Purdue advisory committees, including the School of Mechanical Engineering, Engineering Education and Engineering Professional Education. Among its more than 70,000 employees, Caterpillar employs more than 500 Purdue alumni, of whom approximately 45 percent are engineering graduates. The company, in addition to its other locations around the world, operates its Large Engine Center in Lafayette, employing about 1,400 people.

Bechtel provided $1 million to support the project. He serves as chairman emeritus of Bechtel Group, one of the nation's largest engineering and construction companies. He was named president of the company in 1960 and became chairman in 1973, holding both positions until 1990. While under his direction, Bechtel guided the company into an era of large-scale projects in fields including nuclear power, transportation, defense, and environmental protection and cleanup.

He began his education at the University of Colorado in 1943 but transferred to Purdue, where he received a bachelor's degree in civil engineering in 1946. He earned an MBA from Stanford University and has been awarded honorary doctorates from Purdue and the University of Colorado. Bechtel has served under presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford in six federal appointments and, in 1991, President George H.W. Bush presented him with the National Medal of Technology, the nation's highest honor for technical achievement.

Bechtel was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1975, and from 1982-1986 served as its first chairman. He has received many prestigious awards in the field, including the Herbert Hoover Medal in 1980, and both the 1982 Chairman's Medal and 1997 National Engineering Award from the American Association of Engineering Societies, and the Founders Award from the National Academy of Engineering.

Johnson of Cincinnati was a 1950 graduate of the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics who gave a $1 million gift to this project. He passed away in 2005. Johnson worked for General Electric from 1966 until his retirement in 1986. While at GE's Large Gas Turbine Design Operation in Cincinnati, he helped develop, introduce and patent the unducted fan engine, a breakthrough that led to reduced fuel consumption for commercial aircraft. He continued to perform research and development for Belcan Engineering in Cincinnati. He was an associate fellow for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, to which he has belonged for 52 years. Johnson was inducted into the General Electric Aircraft Engineering Hall of Fame in 1987 and was awarded a NASA Certificate of Recognition. He also was a former P-47 fighter pilot.

Kurz, whose late husband, Herman, earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Purdue in 1925, gave $1.9 million. Kurz, who lives in Louisville, also gave Purdue $2 million toward the construction of its new $20 million Richard and Patricia Lawson Computer Science Building, which was dedicated last year, and the purchase and maintenance of instruments for the Purdue "All-American" Marching Band.

Herman Kurz had retired as a partner in Kurz Market, a grocery store in Louisville, by 1964. The couple then created an investment business called Herman & Heddy Kurz Investments. While a student at Purdue, Herman Kurz was a treasurer of the Literary Society, a member of the Debate Team, Purdue Band, Kappa Phi Sigma honorary society, YMCA, Purdue Athletic Association and the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.

Heddy Kurz graduated from the University of Louisville in 1938. She married Herman Kurz on Oct. 29, 1935.

The gift from the John Deere Foundation, will make possible an educational, interactive exhibit, scheduled to open in the fall of 2008.

"The exhibit will use the state-of-the-art media technology to emphasize the role of engineering in addressing societal grand challenges, as well as the leadership role that Purdue Engineering is playing in this regard," said Leah Jamieson, Purdue's John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering. "It will be designed to spark interest in engineering among elementary school children, as well as providing new views of engineering for alumni and engineering professionals."

Mary Jo Kirk and her husband, Purdue alumnus Bob Kirk of Washington, D.C., donated the money for a sculpture of Armstrong in front of Neil Armstrong Hall. In recognition, the area in which the sculpture is located has been named Kirk Plaza.

Mary Jo Kirk has lived in Washington, D.C., for nearly 40 years. During that time she completed a master's degree in English literature from The George Washington University, held several professional sales and marketing positions, married Bob Kirk and raised three daughters.

Bob Kirk, a retired chairman of British Aerospace Holdings Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of British Aerospace plc., earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue in 1952 and received an honorary doctorate in engineering from Purdue in 1993. In recent years, he has served as a member of the board of directors of such companies as Harsco Corp. and First Aviation Services Inc. He also has served on the Defense Industry Advisory Council Committee on Military Experts, and he was a charter member of the U.S. Delegation of the NATO Industrial Advisory Group.

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

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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