Putting Together Yin and Yang

Celebrating the career of Bill Drake Sr.

Often the most important people are not the ones in front but the ones making sure the people in front have what they need. Purdue University isn't just professors and students but also the thousands of dedicated men and women who work every day to make this institution one of the world's finest. One such individual is William Drake Sr., a recently retired member of the staff of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Drake spent 20 years as shipping and receiving clerk in ECE. In that time, he interacted with thousands of students, teachers, and staff. He handled the incoming and outgoing mail in an era that spanned postage machines and large tubs of hand-written letters and documents to the rise of e-mail, fax machines, and teleconferencing. "Communications have changed quite a bit," says Drake. He was also a jack-of-all-trades for ECE; he helped out wherever he was needed, handling 15 crates of incoming mail, the delivery of reactors, or the salvaging of dead computers. He also enjoyed interacting with students.

"I've met people from just about every country in the world, every religion, creed, and race. I find that people are amazingly similar, in that they all love their families, their countries, and they all have come here to achieve as much as they can for themselves and the rest of the world," he says.

Drake spent his career in one department because he valued the friendships and connections he had made there. "I was really happy where I was," says Drake. He was eventually made an assistant program deputy, and was recognized for his hard work. "I was unaware that I was nominated for an award. To be identified and recognized by the entire university was a real honor," he says. When he retired in September 2008, his friends and co-workers gave a party to show him how much he meant to them. "I was amazed at the number of people that turned up and the gifts they gave. Perhaps the best gift they ever gave me was their friendship. It was really emotional for me."

Drake's deep connection to the university was forged not only through work but in the writing and real estate courses he took on campus. His eldest son, Bill Drake Jr., attended Purdue and, until his recent death, worked at the university for 20 years as a technical graphic artist.

It is Drake's opinion that the university's staff members and its educators make up the yin and yang of Purdue. "You've got the support staff to do the physical labor like building research facilities and setting up classrooms, while you have the professors who provide the education and the technical expertise to the students," he says.

In retirement, Drake plans to travel on the southeastern coast. "I want to visit state and national parks, do silly things like pan for gold," he says with a laugh.

-Joseph Fowler