Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 8, 2009

At the Heart of Purple

The centennial celebration for the Kansas State University Royal Purple yearbook was a gala affair, complete with royalty, a silent auction, reminiscing, much laughter and a special dessert - a peach melba parfait adapted from the recipe of Clementine Paddleford, a Riley County gal and K-State graduate who went on to make a name for herself writing about food. The parfait was tasty, but the best dessert was yet to come.

The program included the crowning of the 2009 Royal Purple king and queen, a tradition that started in 1928, but was discontinued after 1971. This year's pair was chosen by Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius for their K-State pride, knowledge and involvement. Prominent judges for past queen contests included Bing Crosby, Cary Grant, Hugh Hefner, Alfred Hitchcock, Joe Namath and Norman Rockwell.

I was never a Royal Purple Queen, but as a K-State student in the 1970s, my "mug" appeared in the Royal Purple alongside the many other faces of Ford Hall residents. And since I worked for the K-State Collegian, there were pictures of me hard at work at the news desk in Kedzie Hall. When I returned to K-State in the 1980s, I started appearing in group photos with other faculty members in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

I knew I'd see some of my '70s gang at the banquet and I was looking forward to reminiscing with them. But I was attending for more than just personal reasons. As a family history nut, I know how valuable yearbooks such as the Royal Purple are in documenting the history of a particular time and place.

University Archivist Tony Crawford also appreciates the Royal Purple's historical value. Almost every week, his office has visitors who use old yearbooks for some sort of research project or family history quest. Tony recalled a recent visitor, whose eyes lit up when she saw Royal Purple photos of herself as a young K-State student.

The 2009 Royal Purple quoted Tony in its pages.

"Yearbooks are going out of style at many universities, but the Royal Purple is a historical document and a record of K-State," he said. "Without it, the university history would be lost."

In its 100 years, the Royal Purple included 65,926 pages and hundreds of thousands of faces. The RP told the story of K-State's students, faculty and organizations. But it also reflected the role of K-State in the world and historic events such as presidential elections, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Manhattan's 2008 tornado, wars and economic crises.

This year, in addition to publishing the 2009 book, Royal Purple staff members - past and present - put together a "book about the book" to chronicle the history of the Royal Purple itself.

This book, "At the Heart of Purple," was presented to us on silver trays at the end of the banquet. Its pages were filled with time lines, lists of former and current staff members, stories about Kedzie-Hall romances that resulted in marriages, articles about technological changes in printing the book - including the addition of CD and DVD versions, comments from Herff Jones printing plant staff members, a list of all the awards this most award-winning college yearbook in the nation has received, stories about former Royal Purple advisers, and quotes from past editors and business managers.

"In a way, a yearbook should perform some of the duties of a newspaper," said George Hart, 1936 Royal Purple editor-in-chief. "Yet a newspaper is like a breakfast dish, or an aperitif before dinner, taken from force of habit and quickly forgotten. The yearbook is like a bottle of rare wine, the older it becomes, the more value it has, until it becomes cherished beyond monetary valuation . . ."

Current Royal Purple adviser Linda Puntney described the "biography" of the Royal Purple as a "labor of love" and said it took more than 1,000 man-hours of research and writing.

1995 editor Todd Fleischer and 2008 editor Sarah Thomas, who edited "At the Heart of Purple," wrote, "In 1909, the Royal Purple Board of Editors said, 'We trust that the record of college life contained within, is complete.' We still want the same things. We still want our books to be complete. We still want them to tell the stories of the year. We still want to win awards. We still want them to be worth celebrating in 100 years. We still want to be at the heart of purple."

2009 Index