The Fish Fry


The initiation of the annual meeting in conjunction with the winter extension conference and its gradual evolution into an annual banquet get-together has been noted previously. At the outbreak of World War II, attendance at these get-togethers was running between five and six hundred and advance sale of tickets in the counties was initiated.

Just what happened during the World War II years is not clear from the records. It is noted however, that an "annual meeting and fish fry" was held during 1949 winter conference with 749 tickets being sold. (Records show that for the next several board meetings there were discussions as to whether fish should continue to be the menu. A pork barbecue was proposed, but fish won out!)

As the years progressed, special outside speakers were headlined. Governors and other dignitaries began to attend. In 1954, about 1,000 attended and the Ag Engineering facilities were becoming inadequate.

In 1958, the event was moved to the Armory with E. L. Butz, the new Dean, the featured speaker. The next several years saw a parade of scientists, politicians, and comic speakers, culminating in 1970 with Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon as featured attraction.

Beginning in the 1970's the annual event developed around different themes. Costuming and sets became more elaborate. More and more signs and gag events made fun and roasted all the dignitaries. The opening parade featured old cars, circus performers, and patriotic themes. The Purdue Glee Club and Bands became featured parts of the programs and major speeches were downplayed. Having fun at a memorable event became the goal.

As the event got bigger and more complex, more and more planning and people became involved. Committees began functioning in the early fall. Department heads and faculty became waiters. Ag student fraternities and honoraries were recruited to help. Several man hours were necessary to fill the "goodie bags" for each person attending as more and more companies wanted to supply advertising souvenirs for the event.

This event was initiated as a strictly stag affair. (After all, Ag Alumni in the early years were all male!) In the mid-1970's the inevitable occurred -  women began attending, and Ag Alumni continued its evolution into the new age. Attendance was 2,500 in 1984. The University now charged for labor, etc. and set-up costs were $5,600 and the food bill $6,240; tickets were $8. Every year, collective breaths were held for fear the event might be snowed out; but luck held.

This event started as a meeting held in conjunction with the winter extension conference so that alumni would come. It gradually evolved until the Ag Alumni Fish Fry far outshone the conference as a drawing card event. In 1960, the morning program, Fish Fry Science Forecast was designed as a gathering point for those attending the noon event. Here the scientists of the Ag School showcased their most recent findings. The guiding directions for their presentations were to be brief, understandable, and humorous.

In 1990, the Association had another major bridge to cross. Mauri Williamson, who had been the major architect of the Association for nearly forty years, retired. The search committee reached out for a new talent to open the second century. They appointed Donya Lester as the new Executive Secretary. 

In 2017, Donya Lester retired and left big shoes to fill. She had transformed the Fish Fry into an event held at the Indiana State Fair showcasing many big name speakers. Alumni had the opportunity to network and learn more information from departments prior to the event. Later that year, a new era began. Danica Kirkpatrick took over as the new Executive Director. 

The upcoming years no doubt will bring a continuing challenge of change. But, compared to many states, Indiana's and Purdue's agricultural operations have shown resiliency and vitality. The Ag Alumni Association has been a part of the vigor. We hope that you'll be part of what the future brings.