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Ford inspires commencement crowd

“Make sure your dreams are larger than yourself,” William Clay Ford Jr. advised graduates during his keynote address on May 12. The executive chairman of Ford Motor Co. reflected on his own college graduation 33 years ago and concluded his speech with a story about his great-grandfather, Henry Ford. While the inventor’s goal more than a century ago was to build a car for the average American, his great-grandson’s passion has been the environment. He was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters degree during the ceremony.

“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go into the family business,” he told the crowd at the Peoria Civic Center. “I was a budding environmentalist. Back then, the auto industry was considered the problem, not the solution…. I was considered a radical and was asked to stop associating with any known or suspected environmentalists,” Ford added. Illustrating the value of perseverance, he revealed it took a decade to really change attitudes, followed by another decade for the automaker to develop the innovative technology offered today. Looking to the future, Ford praised Bradley’s plan for the new engineering and business convergence initiative. 

On May 10, JAMES SHADID ’79, chief U.S. District judge of the Central District of Illinois, spoke at the commencement ceremony for the Graduate School. “Have the courage to make good choices in the face of judgment and criticism from others, and don’t forget along the way that just as you needed help, someone else does, too,” the former Bradley baseball star said during his address at the Renaissance Coliseum. 

Officially, 744 undergraduate degrees were conferred in May. Graduate degrees were awarded to 170 students. 

— Gayle Erwin McDowell ’77
Photography by Daryl Wilson

 


 

Faculty retirements

Four longtime faculty members, with a total of nearly 140 years of service to Bradley, retired recently. All four were awarded emeritus appointments. To be considered, faculty and professional staff typically have at least 15 years of service. Particular attention is given to those who have excelled as teachers and helped enrich the student experience. The year they began teaching at Bradley is listed below with their departments.

  • Dr. Henry Helenek, chemistry and biochemistry, 1967
  • Dr. Paul Lermack,* political science, 1971
  • Dr. REBECCA FAY ’71, child study center, 1982
  • E. GAY LEATHERS, MA ’88, English, 1988

*Retired in December 2011

 


 

Along for the ride

Long before Thelma and Louise cruised the nation in their old Thunderbird, Americans were smitten with travel. In the mid ’30s, Amelia Earhart was flying solo and speaking out about women following their dreams. Locally, dozens of adventurous young women were taking to the highways for some wholesome summer fun. 

For example, four Bradley coeds departed Peoria in a Ford Model A for an “adventure trip” to Silver Lake, Michigan, in 1935. Lambda Phi sorority sisters VIRGINIA DUFFY ’38, HAZEL SOMMER RUTHERFORD ’38, HARRIET COOK RINGEL ’38, and JANE PETERS BOURLAND ’38 (shown at right) drove the 400-some miles to the dunes north of Muskegon for the cool breezes of Lake Michigan.

Another group of young women, many from nearby Bradford, turned summer travel into a near-obsession. Nicknamed the “Gypsy Coeds,” their inaugural trip was to Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin in 1935. Annual road trips in the “Silver Streak,” their 1926 Ford Model T, continued through 1941, and each year seemed to become more ambitious — California, Quebec, New York — attending World’s Fairs and sometimes meeting celebrities. They were celebrated, too, often making headlines in the towns they passed through in the old “Tin Lizzie” owned by their friends, the Dorgan sisters.

In 1938, teacher ROSEMARY MORAN RANDOLPH ’46 was one of the five Gypsy Coeds who met Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan. She was along for the ride when they visited with the inventor on two subsequent trips. “They were all amazing women and stayed very close through their lives,” said her daughter, Jane Randolph Sellers.

Two Gypsy Coeds, Helen Hickey and Winnie Hays, pose with William Clay Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Co. They are two of the 17 women who made up a group that traveled more than 71,000 miles in a Model T Ford they called the Silver Streak.

Five Gypsy Coeds first met Bill Ford’s great-grandfather, Henry, in 1938. Bradley coed ROSEMARY MORAN RANDOLPH ’46 is in the front passenger seat. Winnie is in back wearing a floral sundress. Seventy-four years later, the Silver Streak has a new home in central Illinois.

Naturally, other Gypsy Coeds’ children grew up hearing stories about their mothers’ escapades, too. After Regina Fennell Butte died last year, her son John tracked down the Silver Streak in Oregon and purchased it. Butte arranged to have the eye-catching jalopy outside the Hayden-Clark Alumni Center when William Clay Ford arrived in Peoria to deliver Bradley’s May commencement address. 

Seated in the backseat, the two surviving “gypsies” chatted with the great-grandson of the legendary inventor who took them under his wing all those years ago. “They were starstruck country girls, but Henry Ford was as gracious as he was encouraging to them,” Sellers said.  

Online

Visit bradley.edu/go/ht-gypsycoeds to read more about the Gypsy Coeds.

— Gayle Erwin McDowell ’77