|Centre: One family's tradition
RELEASED: May 13, 2004
DANVILLE, KYTracing one's roots back several generations isn't always easy. One Centre senior, however, can track four generations of his familyright to the lobby of Old Centre.
Bryce Carpenter '04 can walk into Old Centrethe College's 1820 administrative buildingand view portraits that his great-grandmother Lillie McMullen painted of former Centre presidents. He can also visit the dorm room where his father once lived, look at his grandfather's picture in the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house and hear stories about how both his grandparents and his parents met at Centre.
From 1924 to 1944, Bryce's great-grandfather Charles McMullen taught Bible and ethics courses at Centre. Charles and his wife, Lillie, had three children who attended Centre during those years, Bryce McMullen '43, Catherine McMullen Craig '37 and Haynes McMullen '35.
Bryce McMullen graduated early because of World War II and set off for training in the Navy, leaving behind his Centre sweetheart. He returned in April 1944 to marry Eileen Steiner McMullen '43. The couple, who recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, met in the chemistry lab where he was an assistant and she took classes..
"The nicest thing that happened to me at Centre was Eileen," says Bryce McMullen, a chemistry major.
Later he and his wife brought their daughter to visit campus.
"My father was in the original Young Hall and had taken classes there," Connie McMullen Carpenter '73 says.
The building was destroyed by fire while Connie was a student and the current Young Hall was built in its place.
Buildings aren't the only changes she witnessed.
Her freshman year the residence halls had housemothers and each freshman was assigned a sophomore big sister. The freshmen had to wear little gold and white beanies for a week and learn a song from each fraternity. On Sundays a family-style dinner was served in Cowan. The men had to wear ties and jackets and the women had to wear skirts. There were no sororities at Centre then, just fraternities.
"There weren't too many girls then, and it was a big deal to be a Centre woman," Connie says.
Connie's family lived in New Jersey at the time. While waiting at the airport for a plane home, she met her husband, Paul Carpenter '75, a Centre student who was also from New Jersey.
"Paul went to Centre because his guidance counselor had just been to Centre and suggested it. I went because both of my parents went," she says.
Although the Carpenters and the McMullens would have never insisted that their son and grandson attend Centre, they were pleased when Bryce, originally from Chicago, decided to carry on the tradition.
"It surprised us and delighted us," Connie says. "We took him to visit Centre because we loved it. We always went back to reunions when we could. It was so nice to get reconnected. It's amazing to see old classmates who have children here at the same time we do."
Bryce Carpenter will graduate in a few days with a degree in government, the same degree his father received 29 years ago. He is also a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Bryce McMullen recalls he joined the SAEs his senior year when the fraternity was down to just two members.
"The SAEs almost went out of business, and Dr. Wilbur Cook '23, a biology professor who had been an SAE at Centre, recruited eight or 10 of us our senior year to keep it going," Bryce McMullen says.
Bryce Carpenter remembers visiting Centre as a child with his parents and has had a few of his parents' professors for class.
"My dad had Dr. Matheny and I've had him five or six times," Bryce Carpenter says. "He and my dad have stayed connected over the years. Dr. Matheny had fond memories of my dad. Hopefully I haven't tainted them much." Larry Matheny is the John Marshall Harlan Professor of Government at Centre.
Bryce also took classes with Eric Mount, Rodes Professor Emeritus of Religion, while at Centre. His mother babysat the Mounts' children while she was a student.
"I don't know anyone else who went to another college who had the connection with their professors that we did," Connie says. "I don't think there's another place like Centre. There's a unique connection that you have and you just don't let go of it."
Bryce and Eileen McMullen live in Baltimore, Md., and will return to Centre to attend their grandson's graduation on May 23. Connie and Paul Carpenter, who recently moved to Nicholasville, Ky., from the Chicago area, will also be at the commencement family reunion.
"We didn't think about it being a tradition as it started," Bryce McMullen says.
Eighty years later, the McMullen-Carpenter tradition at Centre is still going strong.
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