• Volume 14  Number 2  Spring 2005

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Beat-up chair snags forester’s attention
Small brass plaque leads her to investigate ’61 tragedy

In class, students like Kristi Zimmerman evaluate different wines each week.
Photo by Tom Campbell
One simple gesture by Purdue’s Rita McKenzie (left), has helped a family keep the memory of a departed member fresh in their minds. McKenzie rescued this chair, dedicated to Dick Cadle (in portrait) and presented it to Cadle’s mother, Grace (center) and his sister, Virginia.

For more years than anyone can remember, a wooden captain’s chair sat in the corner of the student commons in the Forestry Building. It was just a chair.

Over the years, students spent countless hours in it, studying, snacking, hanging out, and, as students are wont to do, catching a little shuteye.

But when the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources moved into the remodeled Pfendler Hall last October, the maple chair — nicked, chipped and scraped from use, more than abuse — was no longer needed.

The chair would be sent off to Purdue Salvage, where it would be sold, or, most likely, turned into kindling.

But there was something about that chair that caught the eye of urban forester Rita McKenzie, BS ’92, MS ’96.

A small brass plate, no bigger than a fleeting thought, gave the chair an identity and McKenzie an idea.

In Memory of Richard Cadle 1938-1961.

“I saw that brass plate and I’m not sure why, but I just couldn’t let that chair go to salvage,” McKenzie says. “I had to do something, so I put the chair in my office so it wouldn’t get thrown away.”

McKenzie enlisted the help of the Purdue Agricultural Alumni Association’s database.

Cadle, records indicated, was to graduate in 1962, and he had plans to move west, become a forest ranger, and explore the country. He was about to start his senior year in forestry in September 1961 when he was killed in an accidental shooting.

McKenzie dug back and found the 1962 Purdue Log, the forestry department yearbook. There, McKenzie found this tribute to Cadle.

It was with deep regret that we learned of the tragic death of Dick Cadle one week after his return from Senior Summer Camp.

Dick, who was only 23 at the time of his death, is no stranger to the forestry department. Probably best noted for his mechanical skill in fixing anything and everything, he was the department’s insurance of getting the bus (the Black Mariah) to its destination in running condition.

Dick started out in engineering, but within a year switched to forestry. He was very active in sports in high school where he participated in football and track, and fought his way to the runner-up position in the state championship wrestling tournament, heavyweight class, in 1956.

Dick was a member of the Hope Chapel Presbyterian Church where he sang baritone in the choir. He was also baritone soloist and chief song director on all forestry trips and at club functions.

The forestry department has lost one of its best friends and ardent boosters. His passing leaves a gap that cannot be filled, and we shall miss him greatly. A fitting tribute to Dick’s love of forestry is a small plantation of red and white pine behind the house of his parents, Grace and Melvin Cadle, which Dick planted with seedlings from the Jasper-Pulaski State Nursery.

The collection of wood and a small brass plate McKenzie rescued from salvage had become more than a just another captain’s chair. It was the only link between a university and one of its own, one whose bright promise had gone unfulfilled.

McKenzie went to the phone book to see if there were any Cadle listings. Back then, she thought, Purdue did not draw its undergraduates from the same worldwide pool it is known for today. Perhaps, she hoped, Dick Cadle had been a local boy.

“I was just grasping at straws,” McKenzie says. “But memories are important to me, and I figured they might be important to somebody who was related to Dick Cadle. So I had to try and get the chair back to the people it meant something to. To them, it would be more than just a chair.”

There were two Cadles listed. McKenzie called. No answer. But she struck gold on her second call when she reached Grace Cadle, Dick’s mother,

McKenzie cleaned up the chair as best she could, polishing the brass plate to bring back some of its original shine.

Then she returned the chair to the Cadle family, Dick’s 88-year-old mother and his 66-year-old sister, Virginia.

“This means so much to me,” Grace says, “so much to us.”

Adds Virginia: “It means a lot because it represents a part of his life at Purdue. We certainly appreciate somebody taking the time to make an effort to get this chair back to us.”

The chair now occupies a special place in Grace’s bedroom, right next to an oil painting of a young, vibrant Dick Cadle. And when Grace rests in that old, wooden chair with the small brass plate, she has a perfect view of her son.

Contact McKenzie at mckenzie@purdue.edu