We entered a new era for Purdue Northwest yesterday. For years, the university was just the one location in Hammond and was considered a commuter campus. If you were a warm body and you graduated high school, you could get into what was then known as Purdue Calumet.
That’s how it was for about 60 years. Fast forward to 2017. The new chancellor, Tom Keon, a few years ago came into town to make Purdue Calumet and Purdue North Central, which is about 40 miles away near Michigan City, into one big regional university. Purdue president Mitch Daniels may have had something to do with the original idea for this plan.
Keon got it done. Now Purdue up here in the northwest corner of Indiana is one 13,000-student or so university with two locations. Two good locations. Both places have big buildings for classrooms and huge unions and excellent basketball courts and athletic facilities. WJOB is on the Hammond campus.
One of the steps in transforming what is now the Purdue Northwest unified campus was to not just let in anyone. I remember a few years ago interviewing Keon for the first time.
“And we’re going to change Purdue Calumet from a commuter campus to a regional university.”
I didn’t really understand what that meant. And neither did the three or four of you. It had always just been Purdue Calumet. You could, if you applied yourself, get a really good education there. But it wasn’t known as a “university” as such. It started out as “the extension” of Purdue down in West Lafayette and was pretty much perceived as such.
A couple years after Keon came to town – it was maybe 2014 – I was interviewing him in our temporary studios on the Purdue campus, and he laid it out in numbers. This made sense.
“Last year, we denied 60 applicants admission to Purdue Calumet. This year, we denied 1200.”
Yikes. That means a whole bunch of kids lazed their way through high school with the joker in their back pocket that they could always go to Purdue Cal. Not anymore.
And then Purdue in Hammond merged with Purdue in Westville and you have what is known as a “regional university.”
There was one step missing – athletics. And it was yesterday that we officially took that first step. I was honored to be a part of it.
For decades, both Purdue in Hammond and Purdue in Westville had athletic programs. Back in the 1970s, I hung out around Purdue Cal baseball practice with my uncles Jimmy and Dennis. I think they helped coach there or something. We played in the fields where the brand new dormitories are now on 173rd.
My dad, actually, played basketball for Purdue Calumet in the late 1950s before he transferred down to the main campus in West Lafayette, where I was born in 1962. My dad did not play basketball for Purdue in West Lafayette.
As you can see, there’s a long history with my family and Purdue Calumet and, now, Purdue Northwest. Twenty-some years ago, Alexis was going there for her undergraduate degree. Jeanie was an infant with cholic. Horrible cholic. She cried all of the time, for apparently no reason.
One of the ways to silent her was to drop Alexis off at Purdue for class – we only had one car – and drive around. The motion of the car kept Jeanie quiet for a while. When Jeanie started crying again, I would pull into the Purdue Cal parking lot and bring her into the library building. There’s a whole bunch of tables in the hallways of what is essentially the union, I would plop the cradle on the desk and read books. There was enough activity of students laughing and grab-assing each other that Jeanie would be quiet for a good hour or so before she started up with the crying again.
I have a ton of good memories of Purdue Cal. You can go back even further. My ancestors actually settled on some of the land where the Hammond campus was built. It was after the Chicago fire in 1871. They all walked down from Chicago, soot-filled and hungry, and settled on land just a couple of blocks from where I stand on Indianapolis Boulevard and broadcast every day.
There’s actually a little section of Hammond just to the north of the “university” that is called the Dedelow section of Hammond. Every once in a while someone will come up to me with the deed to their house.
“Look at this, JED, it says that I live in the Dedelow section of Hammond.”
While I’ll be. That’s why it meant so much to me yesterday to be able to announce the first-ever division II GLIAC men’s basketball game in Hammond, Indiana. Purdue combined the two campuses and then applied to join the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which is one of the best division II conferences in America.
PNW had to jump through a lot of hoops to get the division II designation. They, I mean “we” as a community, had to add a bunch of sports and enter into an agreement with the city of Hammond to build artificial turf fields at Dowling Park along 80-94. It was a huge undertaking to do everything that division II NCAA wanted.
And we got it done. I of course had a bird’s eye view. During this process, we moved WJOB seven blocks from our antiquated bomb shelter behind Smith Chevrolet into brand new studios at the Commercialization and Manufacturing Excellence Center along Indianapolis Boulevard.
Yesterday, everything came together. The players and coaches marched in the Hammond Holiday Parade, and then the women played Wayne State University out of Detroit at 1pm And the men played at 3pm. It was kid’s day. It was alumni day. It felt like a real university.
Of course, both teams lost. It is a huge jump from NAIA basketball to NCAA division II. It’s a quantum leap. Our deal with PNW is that we work together to broadcast all home games on Facebook Live in video and, when possible, also on the radio at AM 1230 and 104.7 FM.
For the women’s game against Wayne State, Ryan Walsh was on the call and Sam Michel did color. Jimmy Mullaney produced the audio. Ben Cowert produced the video. We even have replay now. Just like the athletics program itself, our broadcasts of PNW games is a work in progress. There’s a whole bunch of improvements we’ll make, but the fact remains that the university which I now attend - and someone in my family has attended for the past 60-plus years - has completed a transformation.
“We” are no longer the sleepy little commuter campus. There’s these huge dorms along 173rd that are at 100% capacity. There’s a new 40-million dollar Biological Sciences building going up on the Hammond campus (right around the corner from the WJOB studios). And PNW has now played its first division II GLIAC basketball game at home, just a couple hundred yards from where my ancestors plopped down 146 years ago.
As you can tell, I’m quite proud of all of this, although my involvement in making it happen is minor at best. I’m just another person in the community cheerleading for the university. Yes, I have a microphone and at times my show can sound like an infomercial for PNW, but make no mistake, the three or four of you, I’m proud as hell this Sunday morning. We made it.
…. All of this chest-pounding for PNW doesn’t escape the fact that I have to wake up early on a Sunday morning to blog to the three or four of you and then starting studying for my Accounting final at PNW. My professor, Ken Pogach, was in the stands yesterday, He goes to almost all of the games. I stopped and talked to him before the game and we both pretty much were resigned to the fact that we were gonna lose both the women’s and men’s games. But he too was proud as hell at what we’ve become at PNW.
I also told Pogach that I spent my Friday night studying Accounting. In case any of the three or four of you haven’t been to college in a while, here’s how you hand in assignments. First, you do not do the homework throughout the week and then hand it in in class. Instead, you do the homework at your leisure on the computer, and then you have to submit it by a specified time. My specified time is 8:30am on Saturday morning.
“So let me guess, you were up late doing your homework last night?”
Yes, I was. I had warned Alexis – “Hey, I know you might want to do something on Friday night, but I have about six hours of homework that I gotta get in by Saturday morning. So just know that.”
I started the homework at 7:36pm (during the Purdue-Maryland basketball game on ESPN), and I worked straight through until 11:50. Four hours and 12 minutes of studying Accounting. I have no idea if I’m going to pass this class. But I do know that for the next eight days I will be studying every day for a few hours. Overhead application rates are difficult to hold in your head along with contribution margin ratios and double-declining depreciation.
I’m 55 years old. I’m a student. I’m a radio personality and I’m a husband and father. I live in a community where my people have been for almost 150 years. I’ve got relatives all over the place. It’s a good, solid radio life… with a regional university right in the midst of it all.