A Soaring Spirit

From the time he could toddle, Peter Blake Mueller lived life with a dream in his heart and his eyes on the sky

Passionate about aviation, Peter was fascinated by all aspects of flight: Stopping mid-sentence, or mid-activity, to watch and identify a plane cruising overhead; constructing paper airplanes and flying them around the house; traveling to air shows and aviation museums—and always persuading his parents to stop at every airport along the route.

Although he inherited some aspects of aviation—his father, Rud Mueller, is director of architecture for Tampa International Airport, and his mother, Corinne Mueller, recently retired after 25 years as a reservation agent for Delta Airlines — Peter embraced the field on his own terms, with dreams of earning a pilot’s license and designing airplanes. His career path, Peter often told his parents, would lead from their Tampa, Florida, home to Purdue University, where he planned to study aeronautical engineering.

The journey, however, ended abruptly. While on an instructional flight at Culver Academies Aviation Specialty Camp in August 2005, Peter, then 14, was killed when his plane plunged into Lake Maxinkuckee. His flight instructor, Purdue University senior Brent Bauman, also died in the accident.

While the Muellers were left to cherish memories of a beloved son described as “kind, sensitive, and mature beyond his years,” they also were inspired to ensure his legacy would soar through the accomplishments of students in Purdue’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

“The thought of a scholarship came into my mind the morning after Peter’s accident,” Rud recalls. “Corinne and I considered alternatives, but we always came back to Purdue. We knew that was where Peter wanted to be.”

Impressed by Purdue’s roster of aviator and astronaut alumni, Peter had ranked “attending Purdue” as his top goal in an eighth grade essay. A trip to campus in  spring 2004, and the chance to roam Grissom Hall, heightened Peter’s enthusiasm. “We bought him two Purdue t-shirts,” Corinne says, “and he wore them all the time.”

The Peter Mueller Memorial Scholarship in Aeronautics and Astronautics honors this extraordinary young man, and the vision he exemplified. Beginning in fall 2008, the scholarship will be awarded annually on the basis of merit and financial need and is designated for an undergraduate who is committed to studying aeronautics.

“As funds are added through the years, there may be several scholarships awarded,” says Rud of the endowment. “Purdue also was willing to make contact between us and the recipients, and we look forward to meeting these students.”

Equal in value to the assistance provided is the message this memorial conveys—one that the Muellers witnessed every day of Peter’s life.

“It’s so important to let your children find their passion, and live their dream,” says Corinne. “Peter’s destiny was established early on, and he died doing exactly what he loved most.”

“The school counselor who spoke at his funeral said Peter did more in 14 years than many people do in a lifetime.”

- Jan Mathew