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HAMMOND — A young John Friend could've played the TV lead in any of today's popular police, fire rescue or court dramas.

He had that John Wayne persona — a natural leader, fearless, firm and fair, widely respected and all business from head to toe.

As a long-time coach, Friend had more "sons" than all the Biblical characters combined. As an administrator, he answered more questions and solved more puzzles than Siri.

So it's no surprise Purdue Northwest on Thursday night honored the Cedar Lake native, in his eighth year as a consultant and chief fundraiser for the university's athletic department.

It's a position he began in 2007 after a illustrious career as the school’s athletic director.

In all, he's given more than 30 years to the university, twice coming out of retirement to help.

The current location of PNW, originally Purdue Calumet, opened in 1951. To those associated with the university, John Friend is Purdue Northwest.

"I think that's an overstatement," he said. "The guy who started this program, Bob Hayes, was the first AD. He did it on a shoestring budget and when I came here, I got a much better deal and he helped me without any resentment.

"I had two fortunate breaks at that time in my life -- the new Munster High School and then coming here when the chancellor decided let's have an athletic program, however modest, with men's basketball.

"And I had ground-floor opportunities, which meant I could go out and hire people that I wanted. I could get a Larry Liddle, a Tom Megyesi," Friend added.

"Larry was a helluva coach. He won two or three sectionals at Clark when it was a tough 16-team sectional. Megyesi's got a (girls) state (high school) championship under his belt. I was proud of that hire, too."

Friend never considered his tenure here as a job, wrapping both arms around the university like a proud father.

"I truly respect what they do here, academically," he said. "When I came here in 1980, I used to say it was one of the best kept secrets in the Region because, academically, they've done terrific things here."

Over the years, there were attractive offers elsewhere that Friend turned down. "I probably got too close to this place," he said.

The evening featured two big, unexpected surprises as Friend was named Athletic Director Emeritus and the basketball court was renamed John Friend COURT.

Several former athletes were among a crowd of 200 at the PNW Fitness & Recreation Center who came to honor the 82-year-old "legend."

They included ex-Hammond star and '92 Purdue Cal grad Ben Simmons, the program's No. 2 career rebounder and now an analytics shooting coach with training centers in San Antonio, Miami and Houston; Crown Point's Scott Sparks, a labor union leader; River Forest alum Dr. Vickie Baker and Dr. Eric Culp, a Merrillville grad.

"These kids came here to get their degrees, not just play," Friend said.

PNW Chancellor Dr. Thomas Keon, director of athletics Rick Costello and assistant Rob Huizenga also got a big shout out from the honoree.

Simmons, in particular, had plenty to say.

"To me as an athlete, John represented high integrity, truthfulness and honesty," Simmons said. "For the student, the university has always had the highest standards academically because we're the hard-working Region and I think John represented the Region, which is bigger than Purdue."

There were no dorms on campus and Simmons didn't want to live at home, so he wasn't very interested in the Hammond campus at first.

That's when Friend stepped in, making phone calls around the area to get Simmons and his roommate, both African-Americans, an apartment.

Friend had no luck with the small-minded people who refused, but Ben's older brother found a place.

"Coach Friend personally recruited and signed me -- and I attended classes at Purdue Cal before I even met the coach," Simmons said, smiling.

Now that's making quite an impression.

The rest is history.

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