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Horseplay led to 50–year teaching career


"So much has changed in the 50 years Bob has been a teacher at Purdue. But one thing that has never changed is Bob's dedication to this university and to its students. It is rare today to see someone like Bob who has dedicated so many years to a single institution. And Purdue is much the better for the years he has devoted to our university."

∼ Tim Sands, provost, Purdue University


Photo by Tom Campbell

For most of his 50 years as a professor of agricultural economics, Bob Taylor started class the same way, by passing out a quiz to his students, as he does here one day during the spring semester.

The path that led Bob Taylor to his retirement in May from Purdue's Department of Agricultural Economics began on a small farm in western New York state during the winter of 1947.

That winter had been oddly mild in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The only one disappointed that the pasture on the Taylor farm was green and not white just a week before Christmas was 11–year–old Bob Taylor.

Since 1815, the Taylor family had farmed near Lawtons, about a half hour south of Buffalo. Bob's parents, Clayton and Annie, raised purebred Angus cattle and grew grapes. During the hard, western New York winters, the cattle were kept in the barn so they wouldn't churn the pasture into a mess of earthy ooze.

"Oh, if it would just get cold," thought young Bob. The pasture ground would firm up and maybe, just maybe, he could go for a ride on Ginger, his bay quarter horse.

"I wanted a horse to ride and we had beef cattle, so I tried to justify getting him as a cow pony," Taylor recalled years later.

Taylor had picked Ginger out himself that fall and paid $50 for the horse with earnings from selling a couple of pigs and some chickens he had raised.

Like the cattle, Ginger was restricted to the barn, and Bob hadn't been on his pony's back for nearly three weeks. When a cold snap finally blew into Lawtons and decided to stay for a while, the footing in the pasture improved greatly. So did young Bob's demeanor.

He could hardly mask his glee. When he looked out at the pasture and spotted ice, he knew the ground was finally firm enough to support the weight of his horse. It was time for a ride.

With Ginger, there was no walk, canter or saunter. It was more like a hang–on–for–your–life sprint. Taylor once clocked Ginger at 45 miles per hour, the black mane flowing straight back off his neck like it was trying to fly off for its own safety.

Taylor was a proficient rider. On this day, he chose to ride bareback to save some saddling time and his father's ire. Bob had chores to do, and Clayton Taylor would not look kindly on his son wasting time on the back of his horse while there was a barn to muck out.




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