“Leaving a Legacy” – The Class of 1963 Endowment

September 25, 2018

The Class of 1963 Standing in front of Earle Hall in 2011 – Wade Ponder, Al Tolson, Jim Rushton, Cliff Hattaway, John Cromer, Jerry Richardson, and John Elsey. Attending but not available for this picture were Larry Murdoch, Terry Kinard, and Dr. Barlage.

In May 2011, the Class of 1963 ventured back to the hallways of Earle Hall for a class reunion. At that time, some of them hadn’t been here since graduation day – 48 years earlier. This first reunion rekindled past friendships and stirred up plenty of memories of their days here at Clemson, and their hard work in Earle Hall. Since 2011, they have tried to come back every year, along with their wives, in order to keep in touch with each other and what is going on in the department. Now 55 years after their graduation day, experiencing successful careers, and raising wonderful families, they now have taken time to reflect on how it all started. They now want to leave an imprint of their footsteps for others to follow and make an impact on future Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering students’ lives. They want to Leave a Legacy with their new Class of 1963 Endowment. They have pooled their resources and created an endowment that will help enhance the educational programs in the department. Here are excerpts of their stories and their careers, as they reflect on what inspired them to create this new endowment . . .

Class of 1963 on a Field Trip to Olin-Mathieson Chemical Company in Brevard, North Carolina. Front Row (left to right): Dr. W.B. Barlarge, T.R. Kinard, A.D. Tolson, J.M. Clark, J. D. Rushton, W.H. Ponder, J.M. Harmon, L.B. Murdoch. Back Row (left to right): D.B. Watt, J.M. Brown, J.A. Goodson, J.B. Webster, J.N. Cromer, ?, W.H. Chelf, C.T. Hattaway, C.G. Hayes, C.H. Caban, G.F. Ruehling. Absent: J. I. Elsey, J.G. Richardson.

James Rushton “Most of my classmates and I came from small towns and farms, and without our opportunity to attend Clemson, our lives would be much less interesting and successful. I grew up under the influence of Greenwood’s textile mills, and without my ChE degree, would most likely have ended up as a “lint head” working in a textile mill. Thank God for Clemson!” Rushton worked at a paper company in Brevard NC several years after graduation until landing a job at J.E. Sirrine in Greenville SC. After 13 years and taking many graduate courses, he decided to go for his PhD in 1976, pursuing his interest in pulp and paper processes. He moved his wife, Judi, and their three small children to Moscow, Idaho, so he could attend the University of Idaho, under the tutelage of Dr. Lou Edwards, the creator of the GEMS pulp and paper simulation program. He finished his Master of Engineering degree in Chemical Engineering at Clemson, while pursuing his PhD in Idaho. After graduation, he joined the Georgia Pacific Corporation as corporate leader of process simulation and spearheaded the use of process simulation as a means to design and optimize pulp and paper processes, teaching and creating simulation models at GP mills across the U.S. After retiring in 2003, Jim created a consulting business, Cambridge Oaks Inc., and continues to serve as a Process Simulation Consultant for the pulp and paper industry.

Wade Ponder “My family could not afford tuition and a dorm room, but my Father (who only completed 8th grade) said if I really wanted to go, I could commute. So I drove six days a week or 34,000 miles for my Bachelor’s degree. I also helped with expenses by driving an ice cream truck in the summer months. After I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in 1963, I got married, and my wife and I moved to Clemson so that I could work on my Master’s degree in Chemical Engineering, which I received in January 1965. I participated in funding the endowment to the Chemical and Biomolecular Department at Clemson University because of the successes I have had as a result of the dedication and service of the professors in that department. They prepared me for a career that turned out to be beyond my fondest dreams. To me, it is just a way to say “Thank You” for what the department prepared me to accomplish.” After earning his degrees at Clemson, Wade Ponder’s work experiences included teaching chemistry, working for a petroleum company, and working 36 years for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which provided opportunities to work with other engineers in England, France, Germany, Poland, and Brazil. He was one of a team of five chemical engineers at the U.S. EPA who developed, demonstrated, and commercialized flue gas desulfurization technology, that is now used worldwide to remove sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and other pollutants from power plant emissions. Later, he served as a Branch Chief at EPA and as an Assistant to the EPA Administrator for Research and Development in Washington DC.

Lawrence Murdoch “My choice of chemical engineering and Clemson has provided me excellent opportunities throughout my career. The department was recognized for its quality, which was a result of the dedication of Dr. Littlejohn and the entire faculty. For this reason, I wish to repay the department and help in maintaining the quality and reputation that continues to exist. Because of Dr. Littlejohn’s excellent reputation and contacts, I received several offers to continue graduate studies. As a result, I attended Iowa State University and was well prepared for my studies and for receiving my MS in Chemical Engineering. Even though much of my career was in management, the chemical engineering knowledge, discipline, and work ethic developed during my Chemical Engineering education at Clemson was key to my success.” Larry Murdoch was employed for 50 years, starting in chemical plant production, and soon thereafter moved to the engineering and construction industry. During this period, the varied industries served and the global range of his responsibilities always brought interesting and challenging opportunities.

Jerry Richardson “Chemical engineering was hard- very hard. Chemical engineering taught us to think for ourselves. It taught us to face any problems with the total confidence that we could solve them. I worked mostly in the polyester film industry, so I never did classical chemical engineering. Instead I worked on advanced technology to make ultra-thin films, which went into a variety of industrial uses. The work I am most proud of was working on a team to develop a computerized film thickness system to automatically control the thickness profile of thin films to very tight tolerances. It was the first industrial use of computers according to Hewlett Packard. I received a US patent for that work 46 years ago. My degree afforded me the luxury of meeting and working with and becoming friends with some of the most intelligent engineers in the USA, Germany, and Japan. The most important thing that my Clemson experience did for me is what it is doing for me now – Chemical engineering gave me a great gift – “the love of learning.” I retired at age 58. That was 21 years ago. I have spent the past years, giving away most of what I earned, learning many new things, and putting my new knowledge to work. I started three new careers and two companies since retiring. To paraphrase another one of my classmates, I am extremely grateful for what Clemson has done for me. They made me what I am today and is why I give to Clemson. My choice of chemical engineering and Clemson has provided excellent opportunities throughout my career.”

John Cromer “I also have benefited personally and financially from my Chemical Engineering degree from Clemson. My career has afforded me the opportunity to interact with many extraordinary individuals, many of them engineers. The one goal we all shared was to solve or eliminate problems that came our way. During the last few years, several of us from the ChE class of ‘63 have been returning to Clemson each spring for a reunion. I have taken two wonderful revelations from those reunions: My ‘63 classmates stand high on my list of extraordinary people. The list now includes many more of the Clemson Family, especially the ChBE Department staff. I never thought much about a Clemson ChE Class of ‘63 legacy. Last year at our reunion, the group did what we do best, problem solve. We proudly came together to agree on our class legacy and establish an Endowment. In closing I would appeal to all Clemson Alumni to consider establishing similar class Endowments to cement their Clemson Legacy, which lives on long after we’re gone. It’s a great way to give back to the institution that has contributed so much to who we are.”

Cliff Hattaway “I never had a problem obtaining a worthy job with an Engineering degree from Clemson. Back in 1963, I was one of the first ChEs to be offered a job with Gulf Oil in Port Arthur, Texas, prior to entering the Army. Later, it didn’t hurt to have been a Captain in the US Army back in the sixties. I retired from Phillips 66 back in 1994, where I had several different jobs. Besides receiving my Chemical Engineering degree in 1963, I also received a masters in business from the University of Virginia. Basically my employers always figured that a ChE could do anything from Marketing and Engineering to Financial Accounting.”

Alfred Tolson “My Clemson Chemical Engineering Degree first earned me a job. I had five (5) job offers upon graduation. When I started working, I found I was well prepared for the transition to the real world of chemical manufacturing. There was solid knowledge of chemical engineering principles plus practical skills that had resulted from the Unit Operations Laboratory, Plant Design, a Senior Thesis Project, and Senior Seminar experience. My professional career was spent with one company, Tennessee Eastman Company, later Eastman Chemical Company (with a two-year interruption for military duty.) I basically worked up through the ranks in a manufacturing division as an individual contributor, area supervisor, group leader, development section head, to department superintendent of three (3) different departments: one development and support and two manufacturing. There were also a few staff assignments sprinkled in along the way. I did get my Professional Engineers License, which we were encouraged to do at Clemson. Some of our class started gathering annually at Clemson for a few days about six years ago. We were impressed with the welcome and attention we received from the Department. Along the way, realizing what our degrees had meant to us in our careers, someone in the group suggested that we do something to give back to the Department. That something, with the help of the Clemson Staff, became the Chemical Engineering Class of 1963 Endowment. I suggest to all other classes to reconnect with the Department and maybe be inspired to find a way to give back.”

Enoch (Chip) Hurst “My ChE degree opened the door into a much wider world, totally different from my agrarian upbringing. I started Clemson with the class of ’63, but was withdrawn for a year to serve in my National Guard unit because of the Berlin Wall military deployment in 1961-62. While I returned and graduated with the class of ’64, I have always returned to join the more active class of ’63 at reunions. I did eventually get a masters degree in finance from UNC-Charlotte and a Professional Engineering Certificate. I worked in industrial settings for 32 years and retired at age 56 from Bridgestone-Firestone at the same time as my French-teacher wife. My wife and I sold the house, gave our possessions to our three children, and backpacked around the world for 5 years. We settled in Florida, where I taught math online for awhile, and now I am writing my first book. I am currently in my 79th year and expect to publish 3 non-fiction books this summer. My wife and I cruise a few times a year with friends, and I am scheduled to play tennis and golf six times a week if it is not raining. We spend three to four weeks a year with our three kids (all are Clemson grads) and six grandkids (future Clemson grads). We are living the dream!”

Dr. Barlage and John Elsey in 2011

Back at Earle Hall in 2016: John Cromer, Wade Ponder, Al Tolson, Jerry Richardson, Jim Rushton, and Larry Murdoch