HAMMOND - Kathryn Beckett made sure she was on hand Sunday to take a look
at the newly refurbished interior of Porter Hall at Purdue University Calumet.
Purdue used a dedication ceremony Sunday afternoon to unveil the former
elementary school that was gutted to make way for television and radio studios,
elevators, student lounges, classrooms and other modern amenities.
The ceremony was highlighted by a one-woman play that focused on the life of
Gene Stratton Porter, the Indiana author for whom the original and current
building are named, and the opening of the cornerstone of the former elementary
Beckett, one of the planners of the elementary school, said she couldn't
believe the changes in the 12-room schoolhouse that was opened in 1949.
"It doesn't look anything like it did when I was there," said Beckett, who
taught fifth and sixth grades and special education students at the school from
1957 to 1962.
Although the wholesale change in the building was hard to accept at first,
Beckett said, "Gene Stratton Porter knew you have to have change to have
Still, Beckett said it would have upset the naturalist to find the woods and
wildflowers that were so carefully cultivated by the students, teachers and
principal of Porter School destroyed to make room for a parking lot.
Purdue Chancellor James Yackel shared Beckett's concerns.
"I can't help but think that what Gene Stratton Porter would not be happy to
see what has happened to the woods," he said.
Unlike other education buildings that are named for an administrator or
teacher, the school was named for Porter, who had numerous books published, was
a celebrated photographer and was one of the first true naturalists, a woman
who valued wildlife and animals.
Yackel said Hammond administrators had no trouble in choosing a name for the
new elementary school, which was built for school-age baby boomers in 1949.
"With its lovely location, its lush growth and wildflowers, trees and
animals, the choice to name it after Gene Stratton Porter was easy," Yackel
Although the university could have changed the name, Wes Lukoshus, director
of university relations, said it was never considered.
Beckett said there was a deliberate attempt by then-Principal Helen
Jorgensen to cultivate that love and appreciation of nature at the school.
"The woods were very important to Porter School," Beckett said. "The
children would go out to dig to find things in the earth, to plant trees and
That love of nature was evident in some of the items pulled from a box of
artifacts sealed in 1949.
During the opening of the time capsule, Hammond School Board President
Albertine Dent carefully unfolded a large picture in vivid greens and browns of
a cluster of trees.
Other items included in the sealed, square blue box were a New Testament, a
collection of poems by former school Superintendent Lee Caldwell, Christmas
cards, newspaper clippings announcing the opening of the school and memoirs of
Hammond Superintendent David Dickson said the artifacts will be on display
at the school administration building and at Purdue Calumet.