ALUMNI

Ag alumni share their Purdue Pete lore

By Tom Campbell

November 9, 2020

E

ach school day afternoon, the buses line up outside Woodbrook Elementary in Carmel, Ind. In bus #168, driver Van Betulius, BS’76, and passenger Brayden Krueger patiently wait to get to the front of the line by playing math games.

“There must be seven buses in front of us,” says Betulius, intentionally miscounting the number to challenge Krueger’s math skills.

The two became bus buddies earlier in the school year when Betulius told Krueger he had once been Purdue Pete.

Former Purdue Pete and local family in front of bus
Once Carmel, Ind. bus driver Van Betulius (right) told Todd, Liz and Brayden Krueger he had once been Purdue Pete, they all became Boiler buddies for life. (Photo by Tom Campbell)

“He’s cool, but he always forgets how many buses are in line at school. I told him for being a Purdue Pete, he’s not very smart. Maybe he spent too much time inside that head,” says Krueger.

As Purdue Pete in 1975, Betulius balanced a 35-pound amalgamation of chicken wire, paper-mache and sweat on his shoulders.

“That chicken wire was rough. It would cut your neck,” Betulius said.

When wrestling injuries cut short his athletic career, his fraternity brothers convinced Betulius to try out as Purdue Pete.

Today, the tryout involves a battery of interviews, a performance skit and a mentoring program. Betulius says his tryout wasn’t so tough.

“I think they were just looking for someone strong enough to carry the head around.”

Betulius found a fabricator in Evansville to make a lighter head and an artist who painted the face free of charge.

“We didn’t have any money for Pete back then, so we had to do everything as cheaply as possible.”

Purdue Pete was only a cartoon drawing when University Book Store hired artist Art Evans to create him in 1940. Pete became real when engineering student Larry Brumbaugh pieced together a costume to appear at a football pep rally on Sept. 28, 1956.

Since then, the hammer has been passed to nearly two dozen College of Agriculture alumni portraying Pete with equal parts honor, spirit and humor.

The word Randy Cates, BS ’74, uses to describe his days as Pete is “awkward.”

 “It was nasty,” Cates said. “It was a major undertaking just to put it all on. There was a big strap to hold it in place, then two more strings so it wouldn’t tip to one side or the other.”

Cates and Dave Rhoads, BS ’72, split time as Purdue Pete. Not with each other, but with the Purdue Livestock Judging Team. Rhoads gave up being Purdue Pete his senior year to participate on the judging team that won the Chicago International Livestock Judging competition.

Cates played Pete for home football games only so he could travel with the livestock team when the Boilermakers were on the road.

“The way those fans treated Pete on the road, I think that was a good decision,” Cates said. Rhoads agrees.

“In 1970, we had to park a long way from the Notre Dame Stadium,” Rhoads recalls. “Their fans were pretty rough. I thought, if we win the game, we may never make it back to the car alive.”

The Irish ensured Pete’s safe passage by beating Purdue 48-0.

Michael Parks, BS ’70, finds no common ground between being Purdue Pete in 1969 and his current role as minister of the Newtown (Ind.) Community Church.

“As Pete, I had to be silent. Believe me, as a minister, I am anything but silent.”

Charles “Shorty” Whittington, BS ’68, has four photographs on his fireplace mantle. There are photographs of his three grandchildren. The fourth is a photo of Shorty and his son, John, posing with Purdue Pete on the sidelines of a football game in Ross-Ade Stadium in 2016.

The first College of Agriculture student to perform as the unofficial mascot (The Boilermaker Special is the official mascot), Shorty Whittington was looking to fulfil his fraternity initiation requirements when he became Pete in 1967.

“I was farming at home every weekend and didn’t have much free time. But we had to get involved in a campus activity to get into the fraternity,” Whittington recalls.

 Whittington joined the campus pep squad and helped organize the Old Oaken Bucket Pep Rally.

 “Early on, I saw the benefits of getting involved,” Whittington said, “of giving something back.” That spirit of giving something back shaped his life, not just his career as Purdue Pete.

“To this day, one of my mottos is, ‘If you give, you will get.’”

John Whittington, BS ’96, wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps as Pete, but he didn’t make the cut when he first tried out in 1993.

So, he tried again in 1994 with a skit featuring the Ray Stevens comedy song, “Joggin.” Whittington practiced in his fraternity room, playing the song almost non-stop. He rehearsed without the Pete head.

“When I tried out before the spirit committee with the Pete head, I was flat out winded,” Whittington said.  Nevertheless, it paid off. The Whittingtons became the only father and son Purdue Petes.

Father and son Purdue Pete in front of field
The only father and son to ever perform as Purdue Pete, Shorty (left) and John Whittington posed with a current version during a 2016 Purdue Pete reunion at Ross-Ade Stadium (Photo Provided)

Charlie Nichols, BS ’04, and brother, Woody, BS ’09, may have one upped the Whittington’s.  

They also performed as Purdue cheerleaders when they weren’t being Pete. Charlie was the first Pete to appear in an ESPN commercial.

Purdue Pete and John Wooden
Charlie Nichols was thrilled to get to pose for a photo with legendary coach John Wooden in Indianapolis in 2002. (Photo Provided)

Andy Fordice, BS ’06, became a television sensation as Pete by surfing at Mackey Arena during a nationally televised game against Clemson.

“We got about a dozen students from the crowd,” Fordice said. “They all laid down on the court and I put a surfboard on top of them and surfed from one end of Mackey to the other as they rolled across the floor.”

The crowd went crazy. On his way to class the next morning, Fordice got a call from fraternity brother Joe Dykhuis.

“Fordice,” Dykhuis screamed. “You’re on Sportscenter. They just did the top 10 Plays of the Day and you are No. 7!”

Andy Fordice as Purdue Pete
Andy Fordice, shown displaying Purdue's 2003 Great Alaska Shootout trophy to the Mackey Arena crowd, earned a spot in ESPN's Top 10 Plays of the Day when he crowd surfed across the court on a wave of Purdue fans. (Photo by Tom Campbell)

Pete Bodine figures his name must have something to do with his becoming Purdue Pete. “With my name, I guess I must have been born to play the role of Pete,” Bodine said. “To this day, I think I still have gold and black running in my veins.”

“It was a great honor to be Pete,” summed up Ted McKinney, BS ’81, now USDA Under Secretary of Agriculture for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs.

“What a great way to be of service to the university.  I loved every minute of it. And who doesn’t love Pete?” 

Braydon Krueger knows how his bus riding experience could be enhanced even more than having a former Purdue Pete as his driver.

“If Purdue Pete could take me to school in the Boilermaker Special, now that would be really cool.”

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