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  • Jack Bowerman

Who is the Pulliam Center at Baker named after?

Ever wonder who the Pulliam Center for Journalism and Communications on the Baker campus is named for?  

Eugene Collins Pulliam was an American newspaper publisher and businessman who was the founder and longtime president of Central Newspapers Inc., a multi-billion-dollar media corporation.  He was born May 3, 1889 in a sod dugout house in Ulysses, Kansas, 50 miles southwest of Garden City, to Irvin Brown Pulliam and Martha Ellen Collins Pulliam.  Eugene’s father was a Methodist minister and the family moved frequently around the state of Kansas.  From 1904 to 1909, Irvin was a trustee of Baker University while serving as the pastor of the First Methodist Church in Baldwin City.  Eugene attended the Baker Academy during this time and in 1907 he entered DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana.  Eugene had three sisters, one of whom, Corinne, attended Baker.  

While at DePauw he established the Daily DePauw, a student newspaper.  He dropped out of college after his junior year and landed a job as a reporter for the Atchison Champion newspaper.  A few months later, he received a job offer from the Kansas City Star and moved to Kansas City.  in 1911, at age 23, he became one of the youngest newspaper editors in the country when he took over operation of the Atchison Champion.  In 1912, he married Myrta Smith, a former college classmate, and with financial backing from her family, he purchased the Atchison Champion.  This would be the first of 47 newspapers he would come to own.

Eugene and Myrta had a son, Eugene S. Pulliam, in 1914, but in 1917 Myrta died.  Two years later, Eugene married Martha Ott and they had two children, Corrine and Suzanne.  Corrine married James Quayle, who was also a newspaper publisher, and a distant relative of Bishop William Quayle, a former President of Baker.  Corrine and James were the parents of former Vice President of the United States, Dan Quayle.  Eugene and Martha divorced in 1941 and Eugene married his third and last wife, Nina Mason.  

Eugene became one of the most prominent newspaper publishers in the country.  Among the newspapers he owned were The Phoenix Gazette, The Arizona Republican and the Indianapolis Star and News.  He served three successive terms as a member of the Associated Press Board of Directors and was a major stockholder and director of the New York Central Railroad   He was an active supporter and confidant of Dwight Eisenhower in the 1952 election.  He served on the Board of the William Allen White Foundation at the University of Kansas and received the Foundation’s 21st annual National Award of Journalistic Merit.  He was the recipient of many other national awards and honors.

In 1958, he received an honorary LL. D. degree from Baker and also delivered a lecture in the Markham lecture series at Baker.  He also received honorary degrees from DePauw University, Indiana University, Huntington University, Vincennes University, Franklin College, Wabash College, Indiana Technical College, Arizona State University, Norwich University, Hillsdale College and Butler University.  

Pulliam was a generous contributor to Baker during his lifetime.  In 1971, he funded the Corinne Pulliam Chandler (Pulliam’s sister who also attended Baker) endowed scholarship which would generate $1,000 a year.  The next year he funded the Reverend Irvin B. Pulliam and Martha Collins Pulliam endowed scholarship for sons and daughters of ministers which would generate $10,000 a year.  In 1973, he was named “Citizen of the Year” by Baker and while he could not attend the awards ceremony due to ill health, he did provide a gift of $100,000 in stock to Baker.  Pulliam died in 1975, but in 1977, his wife gave $250,000 to Baker to fund the renovation of Stone Hall and to establish the Eugene C. Pulliam Center for Journalism and Communications.  This gift included the Pulliam Collection of memorabilia to be put on permanent display at Baker.  In 1988, Dan Quayle, who was then running for Vice President of the United States, gave the commencement address at Baker and he and his parents, Corinne Pulliam Quayle (Eugene C. Pulliam’s daughter) and James C. Quayle (a distant relative of Bishop William Alfred Quayle) toured and were impressed by the Pulliam Collection.  

While these gifts had a value of over $550,000, they did not represent the greatest impact that Pulliam had on Baker.  In the late 1980’s, when Dr. Dan Lambert had just taken over as President of Baker, he learned that Baker owed $3 million to a local banker that needed to be repaid soon.  In searching through the endowment funds, it was discovered that there was some stock in Pulliam’s newspaper company that had been given to Baker much earlier, probably around the late 1950’s.  Since the stock was not actively traded, Baker had no idea what is was worth, but it was being carried on the books at $250,000.  After contacting the representatives of the newspaper company, Baker was initially offered a little over a million dollars for the stock, but Dr. Lambert and Baker’s attorney, George Blackwood, decided they needed to investigate further.  They flew first to Indianapolis and then to Phoenix to meet with representatives of the company and after extensive negotiations they found a buyer who agreed to pay $5 million for the stock.  The proceeds of the sale were used to pay back the bank loan, restore the $250,000 to the endowment and to address other needs at Baker.  

In his Markham lecture “Freedom Is Everyone’s Business” he had this to say about Baker: “I have never been so aware of the swift passage on time as I have today as I came across the campus.  It seems only yesterday that I was an eager beaver son of a Methodist preacher attending Baker Academy.  My father was the pastor of the Methodist Church here.  Into our home came the giants of Baker tradition: Bishop Quayle, Dr. Merton Rice, Dr. Murlin, Dr. Parmenter, Mr. Markham, Dr. Alice Porter, Helen Jones and Ruth Baker.  . . . The Counts boys were my buddies, and Ralph Dyke O’Neil, later to become Commander of the American Legion, was my roommate.  Dyke and I were on the basketball team.  Prep students could play varsity in those days.  In one year, we beat K.U., Washburn, Ottawa and William Jewell, and the toughest of these was the little William Jewell.”  . . . I am especially happy that my sister, Corinne, could come with us today.  She too attended Baker and is reveling in the sweet nostalgia which today has brought us.  … You have made amazing progress on this campus, but you have richly deserved every bit of it.  You know Baker University is a symbol of the great pioneer spirit which has made Kansas the great state that it is.  I have always been proud of the fact that I was born in this state - out on the windswept prairies of Grant County.  If Kansas is anything, it is a symbol of true freedom in America, and Baker University is truly symbolic of the Kansas spirit." 

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