Oldest Living Alumnus Reflects on Lessons Learned at 'Dear Old Rose'

Friday, October 23, 2015
Marv Shelley

Fond Memories: Marv Shelley, a civil engineering graduate from the class of 1949, is the institute's oldest living alumnus at 99 years old. He attended Rose Polytechnic Institute after returning from military service and being in a German prison camp.

It has been nearly 70 years since Marv Shelley first walked across the grounds of Rose Polytechnic Institute, but the memories and lessons learned on campus are still vivid and meaningful to the 99-year-old, the institute's oldest living alumnus.

"Oh, it was a special place, filled with great, generous people…and still is," says the 1949 civil engineering graduate who was led here by serendipity.

Returning to his hometown of Mooreland, Indiana, after helping America win World War II and being in a German prison camp for six months, Shelley joined lifelong friend Bernie Erickson (another 1949 alumnus) in attending an information session in nearby New Castle for a small, private engineering college in Terre Haute that was accepting returning veterans through G.I. Bill educational benefits.

"Frankly, I had never heard of the school, and just went along for the ride. I was interested in applying some of the skills that I had learned in the war in some way," Shelley recalls in a telephone interview from his home in Scottsdale, Arizona. "Rose seemed so far away for me, a boy from a little town in the middle of Indiana. They took a chance on me, and I took a chance on them."

Shelley was among the oldest members of Rose Poly's entering freshman class in 1946 and had been out of high school for 13 years. He also had a wife, Liz, and a two-year-old son, Terry. The young couple lived in a trailer in a nearby community before joining other returning veterans and their families in military-style barracks built on the growing campus.

Needing a way to support his family, Shelley became an entrepreneur. He served as the campus' water superintendent, organized a weekly laundry route to a Terre Haute dry cleaner for the nicely dressed faculty and administrators (at 75 cents per load), and did home repairs for legendary mathematics professor Ted Palmer.

"Rose was like one big family," Shelley recalls fondly. "The faculty bent over backward for me and the other G.I.s. If we needed something, it got done, somehow and some way."

Meanwhile, lessons learned on campus provided Shelley a solid foundation for a rewarding engineering career, and comfortable lifestyle for his family, which later added two other children. As sales manager for Jones & McKnight Electric Steel Works in Indianapolis, he helped build Indiana University's Memorial Football Stadium and became president of the firm from 1964 to 1974. He later bought out the company and formed J&M Construction Products in Chicago, which he led until his 1982 retirement. Along the way, he helped build the parking garages at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, and once had 11 high-rise buildings under construction at the peak of the company's success. He consulted with other companies on a part-time basis through 1988.

"The lessons instilled by the fine and demanding professors at Rose were the secret to my career success. I haven't forgotten that," he says proudly. "Next to marrying my wife and having a great family, Rose was the best thing that ever happened to me."

Shelley made his last trip to campus for Homecoming in 1999 to sing "Dear Old Rose" while celebrating the 50-year reunion for the class of 1949.